Literature's Impact on Hearts and Minds Trumps Political Controversy
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 11, 2012
Summary: Mo Yan's achievements can be put on the same footing as the works of other Nobel laureates. They are able to withstand comparisons. Mo Yan's originality is apparent in the original text. The Chinese-speaking world can read it directly, without the need for translation.
Full Text below:
Have any Chinese ever won the Nobel Prize prior to Mo Yan? Yes, they have. But they include Chen Ning Yang, Tsung-Dao Lee, Samuel Ting, Yuan T. Lee, Gao Xingjian. None of them were Chinese nationals. Has no citizen of Mainland China ever won the Nobel Prize? Yes, but the only winner is currently locked away in a Mainland prison. His name is Liu Xiaobo.
This allows us to understand the significance of Mo Yan's Nobel Prize. It was never purely an individual achievement. It was the result of a century of longing for international respect and affirmation, and a concentrated effort to overcome repeated frustrations. These frustrations include two related but not identical matters. One is national culture. The other is national politics.
People of Chinese descent have been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics, chemistry, and other sciences. This allieviated some of the frustrations felt by Mainland Chinese regarding China's culture. But it did not affirm the PRC as a political entity. If anything, PRC leaders experienced even more frustrations. These frustrations were intensified when Gao Xingjian and Liu Xiaobo received awards. One disagreed with the Mainland authorities and sought self-imposed exile. The other chose to remain in the country, but as a staunch dissident. The Nobel Prize affirmed certain values. But these were clearly contrary to those of the Mainland authorities.
One may or may not like Mo Yan. One may or may not agree with him. But he is the first Mainland Chinese recipient of the Nobel Prize. He is the first Mainland Chinese recipient who agrees with the Mainland authorities, who accepts the Mainland authorities, whose receipt of the Nobel Prize represent recognition of the Chinese people. Compared to other Nobel laureates, he is on relatively good terms with the Mainland authorities. His relationship with the Mainland authorities is close. Naturally he stands out.
Therefore Mo Yan will inevitably will be put to the microscope. The Mainland authorities and the Nobel Committee have axes to grind. Therefore people will see Mo Yuan a certain way. They will define Mo Yan a certain way. They will see him and define him not by his literary contributions. They will see him and define him not by his creativity. They will say "He was not a dissident."
Some may pay special tribute to him because he is not a dissident. Others may slander him because he is not a dissident. It is true that Mo Yan is not a dissident. He is not particularly concerned about society's ills. He is an intellectual who holds no strong views about about society. This is a fact. This will not change merely because he was awarded the Nobel Prize.
But here is the important point. Mo Yan is just like hundreds of millions of other people on the Mainland. He did not choose to be a dissent. His relationship with the Mainland authorities. is no better or worse than most other people on the Mainland. Some will demean his work and his conduct. They will denounce him as a lackey. Such characterizations are unfair. They are vicious distortions. They are emotion based demonizations.
Hundreds of millions of people are non-dissidents. But only Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Why? The answer must be found in the field of literature.
The Nobel Prize is awarded only once a year. The award is awarded to only a single individual. This does not mean that the winner is "number one in the world." This does not mean others do not compare. It does mean however that his achievements have attained the highest possible level. Compared to his peers, circumstances this year were in his favor. Hence the award.
Mo Yan's work uses rural vernacular to create rich images and strange fantasies. Mo paints a picture of a northeastern China village that is both familiar and alien. This constitutes a remarkable literary achievement.
Mo Yan toiled long and hard on his novels. He deftly moves or shocks readers with novels of different lengths. He is noble, forceful, contemptible, vulgar, brutal, gentle. This too constitutes a remarkable literary achievement.
Mo Yan's novels fall between realism and fantasy. They echo trends in world literature. But they do not merely mimic existing techniques. They evince self-esteem and self-confidence. He endlessly searches and experiments with his novel writing technique. He is especially concerned about the magic of story-telling. In this respect he has achieved something that cannot be ignored. He has achieved something from which others can learn.
Mo Yan's achievements can be put on the same footing as the works of other Nobel laureates. They are able to withstand comparisons. Mo Yan's originality is apparent in the original text. The Chinese-speaking world can read it directly, without the need for translation.
We hope the political controversy will be temporary. We think it will be. Literature touches our hearts and minds. It is more enduring than political controversy. Mo Yan had no choice. He could not escape. He accepted this historic award amidst controversy. Hopefully, the dust from the controversy will subside. People the world over will reassert the primacy of literature over politics. They will recognize Mo Yan's real contribution to Chinese literature, and even world literature.
2012.12.11 03:28 am