China’s Nobel Laureate Mo Yan Defends Censorship

At a press conference in Stockholm Mo Yan defended the need for censorship and also declined to repeat earlier comments in support of Liu Xiaobo, the imprisoned Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

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Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP / Getty Images

The 2012 Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Mo Yan of China gestures during a press conference of the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize laureate on Dec. 6, 2012 in Stockholm.

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.”

(MORE: Chinese Novelist Mo Yan Receives Nobel Prize. But Is He Politically Correct?)

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.”

MORE: For Chinese Nobel Laureate’s Wife, Peace Prize Means Silence

12 comments
LEEFUCHEN
LEEFUCHEN

尊重不同的观点最重要.不能因为莫言没有批评政府,就否认他的文学成就. 至于刘晓波,他真的一无是处,除了会批评中国政府这个人人都正在做的事情.

LEEFUCHEN
LEEFUCHEN

Tell me how the FBI could arrests those people who type some words like I'll make another Connecticut if there isn't any censorship within USA which is self-call Free?

BingJou
BingJou

Mo Yan is a moral dwarf, who for years supported and profited from Chinese Communist Party.  He mocked those who have spoken truthfully about an oppressive regime and have suffered a great deal by the hand of CCP.  It is OK to award him for his literature merit, but he disgusts me by squaring with airport security the brutal policy and tactics of censorshop employed by CCP.  Now he parried the question about his earlier statement.  Yes I admire his work.  I also find his coawardice contemptuous and his duplicitousness repulsive.

my-new-life-in-asia
my-new-life-in-asia

The Nobel Prize in Literature, as far as I understand, is a Prize in Literature, where the talent of an author, not his political views should be considered. Is it better to bestow the prize on a mediocre author such as Hertha Mueller, who was herself shocked by the news that she'd been awarded it? 

People say that a writer ought to defend freedom of speech because it is the precondition under which publishing is possible. Censorship has often in history suppressed the talent of many a writer. However, this is a misconception. 

The real problem for people who write books is the politicization of literature, the fact that authorities and public opinion expect from an author to be the voice of a certain political viewpoint. The fact that people in the West ask from an Mo Yan to endorse democratic values is, per se, another way of politicizing literature. Political battles should be fought elsewhere.  

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Awarding a Nobel Prize in literature of all things to a man that supports repression against free speech is a joke.

shuami
shuami

"Others have defended Mo Yan, saying it is unreasonable to expect every important Chinese writer to be a dissident, a requirement that isn’tapplied to Western authors."

While trying not to be too greedy and get ahead of ourselves--how about every other one? That's a bargain, you know!

JasonBras
JasonBras

mega ditto. U.S. is even WORSE.  in China, you know it is govt. imposed censorship. here in good ol' USA, the liberal media volunteers to be Obama propaganda dogs. fact #1. except for Fox News, all U.S. media did not report Obama's disastrous failure in Banghazi and continues to insist the event was a "video" related "spontaneous protest".  fact #2. "main stream" media, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, in this Fiscal Cliff talk, frames the story as "rich is not taxed enough" but failed to point out that even the rich *including Bill Gate surrendered their total wealth, it's still not enough to pay back the $6 trillion Obama borrowed in the last four years and the additional $1.5 trillion he is to borrow every year forward. U.S.  what is worse? volunteer to be govt.'s propaganda dog (US) or govt. imposed censorship (China).   

Keith_Lau
Keith_Lau

Come on !  Mo has repeatly responded to the subject regarding Liu, but it is just not the answer  which the reporters and the media like.  The media just want to hear Mo saying "China sucks", that is.

LEEFUCHEN
LEEFUCHEN

@BingJou seems your are the tallest man in the world. please save the Chinese people from China. open the visa. please

BingJou
BingJou

What are you talking about?  Mo Yan lacks moral principle, responsibilities and courage.  It has nothing to do with merit of his writing.  Your mention of Herta Müller is an impertinent answer, irrelevant of Mo's squaring Chinese brutal censorship policy and practice with airport security.

my-new-life-in-asia
my-new-life-in-asia

@BingJou Your reply shows exactly how different your opinion is from mine. Mo Yan is a writer, he is not a political activist. I don't see literature as the place where political battles should be fought. I am myself a supporter of democracy, but I think that democracy can be best served through the good example of our democratic societies and our successes, which should inspire others. But I am absolutely against the politicization of literature and art, as you seem to envision. And as to my "impertinent answer", I have a very low opinion of the use of big words for rhetorical purposes and concentrate on the arguments others express.