No words by Mo Yan?

Finally! That must have been the word on many Chinese lips this evening as the Swedish Academy (瑞典学院) announced that Mo Yan (莫言, real name Guan Moye 管谟业) would be given the Nobel prize in literature 2012. Almost instantaneously some Chinese voices got overexcited, and professor Zhang Yiwu (张颐武) from Peking University claimed that ”Mo Yan getting the prize is really an outcome of China’s rise and development, and Chinese civilization can no more be neglected” (莫言的得奖其实是中国的崛起和发展带来的结果,中国文明已经不能被忽视). Zhang is a professor at the Chinese Department and Vice Director of Peking University Centre for Research on Cultural Resources (北京大学文化资源研究中心). Is Mo Yan now a ”cultural resource”?

Apparently people still read – and like – his books. This evening I was giving a lecture on ”Sinology, literature and translation”. As the prize announcement coincided with the start of my lecture I put on the webcast from Stockholm, and to all our surprise ”Mo Yan” were the words pronounced. The students, all except two Mainland Chinese in their 20s, were laughing and clapping hands, and they had all read Red Sorghum (红高粱) – or at least seen the film, some has also read Big Breasts and Wide Hips (丰乳肥臀) and Frog (蛙).

Despite the Nobel Prize, this year has not only been positive for Mo Yan. Earlier this year he was severely criticized for taking part in copying by hand a part of Mao Zedong’s Talks at the Yan’an Forum for Literature and Art (在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话). 99 other writers and artists did the same. One wonders why. One can also wonder if his choice of pen name may have gone too far – Mo Yan means ”no words” or ”no speech”. He has claimed that it was taken to remind himself not to speak too much, as he was earlier known for his outspokenness. Being a Nobel laureate will give him time and space to reconsider and maybe start speaking again. He could start by mentioning the other Chinese citizen who has won the Nobel prize, Liu Xiaobo.