Knives come out over China writer’s Nobel win

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Some of the works of Chinese author Mo Yan have cast an unflattering eye on official policy (AFP/File)
Some of the works of Chinese author Mo Yan have cast an unflattering eye on official policy (AFP/File)

(AFP) – BEIJING — Chinese dissidents assailed Mo Yan’s Nobel literature prize as a disgraceful vindication of the Communist Party’s control of creative expression Friday, accusing the author of being a stooge of officialdom.

While China continued to bask in the prize with an outpouring of pride that contrasted with the fury that greeted previous awards linked to the country, critics of China’s government branded it a shameful validation of state controls on publishing.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei ripped into Mo Yan as a government stooge and ridiculed the official response by Beijing, which lashed out at earlier Nobel peace prizes for Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama and dissident writer Liu Xiaobo.

“(Mo Yan) will always stand on the side of power and he will not have one bit of individualism,” Ai told AFP, adding “so people don’t know if they should laugh or cry over this Nobel prize.”

Ai called Mo Yan — who is reportedly a Communist Party member — a “very ordinary” author and accused Chinese authorities of double standards, saying the names of other China-linked prizewinners “will never be seen inside China”.

Prominent Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng, considered by many the father of China’s modern democracy movement, criticised the prize as an effort to appease Beijing after the angry reaction to Liu’s 2010 peace award.

Wei praised Mo Yan, 57, as a writer but questioned his independence, noting that he had copied by hand a speech by late Communist founder Mao Zedong — delivered at his rebel base at Yanan during China’s civil war — for a commemorative book this year.

In the speech Mao says art and culture should support the Communist Party.

“Just look at the elated hype on the Nobel prize by the Chinese government before and after the announcement. We could tell that this prize was awarded for the purpose of pleasing the communist regime and is thus not noteworthy,” Wei said.

In sharp contrast to its past Nobel vitriol, China’s government mouthpieces went into overdrive to praise Mo Yan, the first Chinese national to win the literature prize.

“Chinese authors have waited too long for this day, the Chinese people have waited too long. We congratulate Mo Yan!” said the People’s Daily, official outlet for the ruling Communist party.

Official Xinhua news agency said the government deserved credit for its policy of gradually opening up the economy and society since Mao’s era.

“Without China’s opening up and reform policy, his (Mo Yan’s) ilk would not have flourished,” it said.

Mo Yan has said he was “stunned” and delighted by the award.

But Yu Jie, an exiled dissident writer, was quoted by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle as calling it “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature”.

“That an author who copied Mao Zedong’s Yanan text and sang the praises of Mao Zedong can earn the prize — the number of people Mao Zedong slaughtered surpasses even that of Stalin and Hitler,” he reportedly said.

The prolific Mo Yan is known for exploring the brutality of China’s tumultuous 20th century with a cynical wit in dozens of works.

But even some state-run media implied ulterior motives were behind the award.

“Could the decision also be a sign of the Nobel committee seeking to mitigate tensions with China after awarding the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in 2010?” asked the Global Times.

Some of Mo Yan’s work has cast an unflattering eye on official policy, such as his 2009 novel “Frog”, which looks at China’s “one child” limit and the local officials who implement it with forced abortions and sterilisations.

Literary critics have said Mo Yan has dodged censure by deftly avoiding overt criticism of authorities. He is also vice-chairman of the officially endorsed China Writers’ Association.

Mo Yan, a pen name for the author, who was born Guan Moye, is best-known abroad for his 1987 novella “Red Sorghum”, set amid the brutal violence that plagued the eastern China countryside, where he grew up, during the 1920s and 30s.

It was later made into an acclaimed film by leading Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

AFP has been unable to reach Mo Yan, whose mobile phone has remained powered off. He received the news of the award at his home in rural Shandong province, where many of his works are set.

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