Chinese Author Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Mo Yan, the Chinese author best known for his 1987 novel Red Sorghum, has received the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature.

After months of speculation, the announcement was made at a press conference in Stockholm early today by Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who described Mo Yan’s work as “hallucinatory realism,” and lauded the author for his stylistically unique and culturally important contributions to the international literary community. 

Mo Yan was born in 1955 to a farming family and raised in the rural Shandong Province of China, which serves as the setting for many of his novels and short stories. He grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and began writing while serving in the People’s Liberation Army. His first short story was published in 1981. Including Red Sorghum, which was published in English in 2003 by Viking and adapted for film by Zhang Yimou, Mo Yan is the author of ten novels, among them The Garlic Ballads (1988, published in English in 1995), The Republic of Wine (1992, published in English in 2000), Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996, published in English in 2004), Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (2006, published in English in 2008), and Sandalwood Death (2004, to be published in English in 2013), and more than eighty short stories. His most recent book, Wa, was published in Chinese in 2009.

Widely recognized for his pointed criticism of contemporary Chinese society, the author—whose given name is Guan Moye—adopted the pen name Mo Yan, which means “don’t speak,” to reflect the time in which he grew up, when citizens were unable to safely criticize those in power. “There is a very strong moral core in [his writing],” Englund said in an interview following the prize announcement. “It’s about ordinary people struggling—struggling to survive, struggling for their dignity—sometimes winning, but most of the time losing.”

One of China's most prolific and well-known writers, Mo Yan is celebrated not just for his engagement with Chinese history and politics, but also for his unique craft. “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 García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition,” the Swedish Academy said in a statement.

Mo Yan is only the second Chinese writer to receive the Nobel Prize, following novelist Gao Xingjian in 2000. Other recent recipients have included Turkey's Orhan Pamuk, Britain's Doris Lessing, France's Jean-Marie Gustave le Clezio, Germany's Herta Muller, and Peru's Mario Vargas Llosa. Last year, the prize went to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer.

Speaking to the China News Service, Mo Yan said he was overjoyed to have won. “But I do not think that my winning can be seen as representing anything,” he said. “I think that China has many outstanding authors, and their great works should also be recognized by the world.”

Administered annually since 1901 by the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm, Sweden, the Nobel Prize is awarded internationally for outstanding achievements in literature, physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and peace. Candidates for the prize in literature are invited to submit by the Nobel Committee, and recipients are selected by the eighteen-member Swedish Academy. Mo Yan will receive the prize, which includes a cash award and medal, on December 10 in Stockholm.



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Francesco Sinibaldi