Absurdity, Allegory and China

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Just Leave Mo Yan Alone

October 13th, 2012 · 3 Comments

The Chinese writer, Mo Yan, won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday, and already he’s struggling to get out from under the bus. Mo is in the unenviable position of being a Chinese writer in a world where Western expectations of who he is and how he ought to be are as straight-jacketed as the Chinese literati’s dysfunctional Nobel Envy responses. See Ai Weiwei’s comments here, as well as Wei Jingsheng’s here.

The Guardian went so far as to publish a piece with the headline Mo Yan, Nobel literature winner, calls for release of Chinese dissident. The lede highlights the glaring contradiction between what Mo Yan was reported to have said, and how it was sensationalized into a Mo Yan call for action:

The Chinese Nobel literature prize-winner, Mo Yan, has unexpectedly called for the release of jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel peace prize two years ago to the fury of Chinese authorities.

Speaking hours after the judges announced his award, the novelist said: “I hope he [Liu] can achieve his freedom as soon as possible.” Liu should be able to research his “politics and social system”, Mo added.

There is a good deal of difference between hoping and calling for Liu Xiaobo’s release. If this point needs to be explained to a reporter or an editor, then someone needs a lesson in the difference between subjunctive and imperative.

That Mo Yan even mentioned Liu Xiaobo in the blast furnace of Chinese politics, especially in this psychotic transitional period of imminent leadership handoff, is encouraging. He has the stage, the goofball Party boys finally have a winner they believe they can promote, and then he has to go and bring up that! A personal hope, not a call for action. Mo Yan didn’t get where he is by being a lapdog as Ai and Wei would like the world to believe. Or as the translator @bokane succinctly tweeted yesterday: “People who call Mo Yan a stooge don’t know what they’re talking about.”

I have followed Tania Branigan of The Guardian for years, and I believe her to be one of the top journalists in China. I want very much for this inaccuracy to be an editorial botch, though I don’t expect we’ll ever know that. I’ve had issues with The Guardian in the past, and getting them to correct missteps is not an easy process, one I’ve had only moderate success doing. I assume that this particular stretch of language will remain unchanged, since the melodramatic “call for release” is all over Twitter now, and the Guardian’s page stats for this piece are ticking on up. But, of course, it’s at Mo Yan’s expense. Let’s hope it doesn’t lead to another empty chair at another Nobel award ceremony.

Tags: Liu Xiaobo · Mo Yan

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 woovictor // Oct 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

    Apparently the Swedish Academy have considered other Chinese writers such as Jia Pingwa and Su Tong, etc. If that’s true, I can’t help but think that the academy has made a clever move and that they fully anticipated the controversy surrounding Mo’s award. Mo’s literary merits aside, everything from the country’s political problems, cultural traditions and the Chinese ambivalence towards the prize have been brought into sharp focus. You can see that the central media have quickly cooled down after the initial euphoria.

  • 2 George Han // Oct 24, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    Are you still living in China?

  • 3 jg // Oct 24, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    No, I’m back in the US. Left at the end of June, but I try my best to keep up with certain issues. After 14 yrs there it’s hard to just walk away,

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