Public opinion seems to agree that Mo Yan merits the award. Since his first literary efforts in the 1980s, his books have been both prolific and superlative. From Red Sorghum, The Garlic Ballads, Big Breasts and Wide Hips, Sandalwood Death, and Forty-one Guns, to Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out and Frog, he has contemplated the fate of Chinese farmers, writing with a vivid imagination and majestic pen.
Mo Yan has mined the soul of the Chinese people.
Beyond the novels, he has also created a huge number of essays and works of prose. We can say that Mo Yan’s literary achievement is a rich part of the lush harvest of Chinese literature in the past three decades.
However, before and since the announcement of his winning the Nobel, there has been no lack of criticism and questioning. Prior to the news, some critics said that rumors that he would win were “shameless hype” because Mo Yan was not qualified.
Such criteria for qualification are based on the grounds that former winners have always been politically liberal. On the contrary, in their view, not only does Mo Yan lack the spirit of social criticism, but the fact he is the Vice Chairman of the Chinese Writers Association would in itself reduce the value of his winning the award.
After he had won the prize, Mo Yan was criticized even more directly for rarely speaking about public issues; and his victory was labeled “somewhat weak.” One celebrity even went as far as saying categorically, on China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblogging site, that future Nobels will be devalued by this year's choice.
In a pluralistic society, different voices have the right to exist and this is valuable. I naturally respect the rights of all people to make their remarks. However, I also have to point out that the comments about Mo Yan are equally worthy of discussion. What I regret is that some criticisms are made too hastily. Not only will this not help in understanding the facts, but we should reflect on their value and their psychological aspects.
As a matter of fact, Mo Yan is certainly not someone unconcerned by real social and political issues. The fact that he won this award is precisely a demonstration of the victory of realist literature. The Nobel Committee describes Mo Yan’s style as “a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives." Those who have read his books will easily recognize that the historical style is but the outer shell of his novels. The real soul of his works is the persistent concern for reality.
In 1987, the local government of a Shandong township refused to buy the garlic crop from the local farmers. Attacks by local ruffians also depressed the price of the crop, and the garlic was left to rot in the fields. The farmers took to the streets and rioted in front of the county government. Mo Yan wrote the book The Garlic Ballads based on this true story and completed the more than 200,000-character novel within 35 days. He was motivated by real passion.
Since then, his pen has never stopped demonstrating a true concern for reality. In 2008, he wrote the novel Frog, which reveals the harm that China’s family planning policy has caused to ordinary Chinese people. We can even say that among well-established Chinese authors, Mo Yan is one of the few to continue to confront the dismal life of the general population. Commentators who criticize him as not caring for reality or as flattering authority are simply ignorant of the facts.
In particular, Mo Yan’s writing stresses the unambiguous social role of literature. In recent years, he has stated that “In such an era, literature carries a significant responsibility, that is, to save the world and salvage humankind. With our works, we must tell the rich and the powerful who have obtained their wealth and power through improper means that they are sinners and that God will not bless them. We ought to tell those hypocritical politicians that so-called state interests are not paramount. What is truly paramount are the long-term interests of the human being.”
His remarks cannot possibly be more plain than this. The reason I quote it at length here is to remind commentators that before one evaluates a writer, at a minimum, one should carefully read his works. Criticizing freely while relying merely on symbols is extremely irresponsible.
A view of the statements regarding Mo Yan’s award shows that in our society, some social critics have to adjust their own mentality and values. Criticism of a society and a system should be on the grounds that one hopes the society or the system will perform good deeds. We must avoid the spread of a psychology of hatred resulting from “tough love,” or a flat-out denial that the society has indeed progressed. It also must be noted that in any society, labor has its divisions. One cannot ask a writer to be a writer, fighter and saint all at the same time.
As a writer, Mo Yan has done quite well. We join in congratulating him for his award and the honor it bestows upon all of Chinese literature.