STOCKHOLM — This year’s Nobel Literature Prize winner said Friday that his greatest challenge as a writer has been to reflect the social realities of his native China without allowing personal political opinions to suppress his work.
In his much-awaited Nobel lecture in Stockholm, Guan Moye, who uses the pen name Mo Yan, mostly steered clear of politics, but described the constraints he has experienced when he has allowed politics to hamper his writing.
Mo, 57, the first Chinese national to win the literature award, said “heated emotions and anger allow politics to suppress literature and transform a novel into reportage of a social event.”
He gave his work “The Garlic Ballads” as an example. The novel, which depicts a peasant uprising and corruption, was banned in China after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Mo, whose popular, bawdy tales bring rural China to life, is the first Chinese winner of the literature prize who is not a critic of the authoritarian government, and he has been criticized for being a member of the Communist Party and vice president of the party-backed writers’ association.
Mo Yan, which means “don’t speak,” something he describes as “an ironic expression of self-mockery,” said that even though novelists are entitled to their opinions, they “must take a humanistic stance, and write accordingly. Only then can literature not just originate in events but transcend them, not just show concern for politics but be greater than politics.”
Mo also has been accused of not defending free speech enough, and refusing to appear with dissident writers at overseas literary seminars.
He said he was upset by the controversy following the announcement that he had won this year’s literature prize.
“But over time I’ve come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me. Like someone watching a play in a theater,” he said, noting that “for a writer, the best way to speak is by writing.”