BEIJING – Chinese novelist Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, an honor that brought acclaim for an author whose work traces the turbulent history of China through a surrealist lens but that also underlined the nation’s current political complexities.
The news was immediately announced on Chinese state TV and the official Xinhua news service.
The celebratory mood contrasted strongly with the accusations and anger Beijing displayed two years ago when the Nobel Peace Prize for the first time went to a Chinese citizen: Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges after helping write a political manifesto. The Nobel award for another Chinese writer, Gao Xingjian, who won the literature prize in 2000, is rarely mentioned officially here because he was then, as now, living in France, where he gained citizenship after applying for political asylum.
Mo, the pen name of 57-year-old Guan Moye, has taken a different position within Chinese society. While some of his stylistically daring fiction has been banned in the past, he has not pushed his commentary so far that it has run afoul of the government.
His books have included “Red Sorghum,” an account of the hardships endured by generations of a family in the Chinese countryside, including the brutality of the Japanese invasion, and “Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out,” a darkly humorous work that starts off in Hell and then explores the tumult of recent Chinese history through a series of animal reincarnations.
In giving the award, the Swedish Academy said, “Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition.”