It wasn’t just the unexpected award of the peace prize to the European Union that was attracting Nobel-controversy this week. The literature prize caused its own storm.
The Chinese papers’ enthusiasm for the award of the Nobel gong for literature to Mo Yan (“Say Nothing”), at least, was unanimous.
The People’s Daily hopes the sight of “the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel literature prize” will inspire “other Chinese writers with hope, courage, and strength to adhere to literature, and inject some vitality into China’s sluggish literary scene”.
Literature, it added, is “an important part of a country’s soft power”.
Some deplored the award, however, to a man regarded as part of the pro-government establishment.
Among the most vocal was Ai Weiwei, China’s most famous artist.
“Giving the award to a writer like this is an insult to humanity and to literature, he told the Independent.
Ai, who was especially appalled at Mo’s failure to condemn the state imprisonment of activist and writer Liu Xiaboa (more below) had even stronger words on Twitter.
“A writer that is unable to face reality is nothing but a liar,” he wrote. “A literary prize that avoids the question of justice is a curse on benevolence and conscience.”
In the New York Times, author and translator Julia Lovell, has this to say:
Contemporary Chinese literature is, for the most part, not a Manichaean struggle between spineless appeasers of the regime and heroic, dissident resisters (although China has no shortage of exceptionally brave individuals willing to speak truth to power). Rather, a spectrum of voices strives to operate within a realm of political possibility that is at times surprisingly broad; some (including Mo) periodically push at its edges.
Mo alluded to this ambiguous situation himself when he answered his critics in a post-Nobel press conference: “Many of the people who have criticized me online are Communist Party members themselves. They also work within the system. And some have benefited tremendously within the system … If they had read my books they would understand that my writings [have taken] on a great deal of risk.” …
Intriguingly, the attacks seem to have nettled Mo out of his habitual political reticence. Since winning the prize, Mo has publicly expressed hope that [jailed Liu Xiaobo would “achieve his freedom as soon as possible.”
The 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature may augur interesting times for its laureate.