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Mo Yan

Biobibliographical notes

Mo Yan (a pseudonym for Guan Moye) was born in 1955 and grew up in Gaomi in Shandong province in north-eastern China. His parents were farmers. As a twelve-year-old during the Cultural Revolution he left school to work, first in agriculture, later in a factory. In 1976 he joined the People’s Liberation Army and during this time began to study literature and write. His first short story was published in a literary journal in 1981. His breakthrough came a few years later with the novella Touming de hong luobo (1986, published in French as Le radis de cristal 1993).

In his writing Mo Yan draws on his youthful experiences and on settings in the province of his birth. This is apparent in his novel Hong gaoliang jiazu (1987, in English Red Sorghum 1993). The book consists of five stories that unfold and interweave in Gaomi in several turbulent decades in the 20th century, with depictions of bandit culture, the Japanese occupation and the harsh conditions endured by poor farm workers. Red Sorghum was successfully filmed in 1987, directed by Zhang Yimou. The novel Tiantang suantai zhi ge (1988, in English The Garlic Ballads 1995) and his satirical Jiuguo (1992, in English The Republic of Wine 2000) have been judged subversive because of their sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society.

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"I think this comes at a really important time for Chinese literature. China is an extremely literate and energetic society. The bookstores are full. There’s a lot of interesting writing going on now," said Larry Siems of Pen American Center — which promotes literary freedom and free exchange of literature around the world.

Mo, Siems said, is one of the most notable writers to come out of a system that’s been “a rigid combination of patronage and censorship.” Mo has produced compelling literature as he navigated that line, he said, but many in China think the author has been too “reticent” on some topics.

Siems said the award is “a really good thing for Chinese literature.”

"I think in some ways, the award may be recognizing the fact that there’s lively literature happening in China and I hope this stimulates people to read Chinese writers, not only Mo Yan," he added.

Patrick Poon, executive secretary of the independent Chinese Pen Center, said Mo is famous for the book on the country’s policy that restricts couples — with few exceptions — to having one child.

Poon called Mo “one of the most influential” contemporary writers and a “good writer.” However, he said, there are better and bolder writers who didn’t get a Nobel. He said he senses that the award appears to be a recognition of — or trying to please — the Chinese government.

"I don’t think it’s a very wrong decision to give it to Mo Yan," he said. But "we can’t understand it."

However, Poon said, now that Mo won the prize, maybe he can ask the Chinese government to free the more than three dozen or so imprisoned writers in the country.

"He should have this responsibility," Poon said.

(Source: CNN)


WHEN the Swedish Academy called the Chinese writer Mo Yan to tell him he had won this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, the novelist reportedly told them, in what must be one of the most poignant Nobel reactions in memory, that he was “overjoyed and terrified.”

It isn’t hard to imagine why a writer who chose “Mo Yan” as his pen name would find fear at the heart of such a happy occasion. The name, meaning “don’t speak,” was his parents’ admonition when they sent him out to play in the Maoist 1950s and ’60s. Half a century later, Mao’s party, stripped of ideology but intact in its machinery, remains in charge, and at least 40 of Mo Yan’s less circumspect contemporaries are locked in Chinese prisons.

As a novelist, Mo Yan has dipped his toe in the waters of official taboos, but he also has credited state censorship with spawning the formal innovations that helped garner him the Nobel Prize last week. And throughout his life he has done little to jeopardize his status as one of the country’s most honored writers; he is currently vice chairman of the state-run Chinese Writers Association.

In 2009, when the People’s Republic of China was the official guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Mo Yan was part of a delegation that boycotted events that included Chinese dissident writers. More recently, he was one of around 100 writers to pay tribute to Mao by hand-copying a passage from Mao’s 1942 Yan’an talk on literature and art — a speech that the dissident Liu Binyan once described as boiling down to the injunction “Writers should ‘extol the bright side of life’ and ‘not expose’ the darkness.”

Read the full article here