The pen name of Mo Yan, the Chinese writer who will be awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature on Monday, means “don’t speak.” He says he chose it as a reminder not to say things that would get him into trouble. At a press conference in Stockholm he followed his own advice carefully, describing China’s censorship as sometimes necessary, and declining to repeat earlier comments in support of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“I’ve never given any compliments or praised the system of censorship but I also believe that in every country of the world, censorship exists,” Mo Yan said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The only difference is in the degree and way of censorship. Without censorship, then any person could on television or online vilify others. This should not be allowed in any country. As long as it is not contrary to the true facts, it should not be censored. Any disinformation, vilification, rumors or insults should be censored.”
The author of bawdy tales of life in rural China, often centered around his hometown of Gaomi in eastern Shandong province, Mo Yan has addressed sensitive topics of official corruption and China’s one-child policy while working within China’s system of censorship. In a 2010 interview with TIME he said he thought such restrictions could be an advantage, as they force writers to “conform to the aesthetics of literature.” While Mo Yan’s Nobel has been officially celebrated in China, his firmly entrenched position inside China’s Communist Party-controlled system has triggered criticism. Herta Mueller, the Romanian-born 2009 Nobel Literature prize laureate, called his win “a catastrophe.” Others have defended Mo Yan, saying it is unreasonable to expect every important Chinese writer to be a dissident, a requirement that isn’t applied to Western authors. After the prize was announced in October, Tang Xiaobing, a professor of comparative literature at the University of Michigan, described Mo Yan as “a writer who is widely read and respected, whose work does not get attention simply because it is claimed to be dissident or oppositional.”
In October after his Nobel Prize was announced he told a press conference in his home town that he hoped Liu Xiaobo, who is four years into an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power,” could “achieve his freedom as soon as possible,” Reuters reported. But on Thursday he was unwilling to repeat that position. “I’ve already issued my opinion on this matter. I think you can go online to do a search,” he said.
While Mo Yan chose to silence himself on the subject of Liu, another voice that had been forced into silence was surprisingly heard once again. Liu’s wife Liu Xia, who has been under tight house arrest since his Peace Prize was awarded two years ago, was interviewed by Associated Press reporters who slipped by guards outside her apartment while they were apparently on lunch break. “I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize,” she said in a brief interview during which she cried and trembled. “But after he won the prize, I really never imagined that after he won, I would not be able to leave my home. This is too absurd. I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this.”