Archive | October, 2012

Who is this “no name”? How China’s Nobel Literature Prize winner became celeb stereotype for all seasons

24 Oct

There are two steps to a Chinese person becoming a big deal in the West:

1) Do something arty

2) Say something dissidenty

There are two steps to a Chinese artist becoming a big deal in China:

1) Win a big prize

2) Get a monument built to you

Mo Yan – real name 管谟业, Guan Moye – was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 11 this year.

His name was already a pretty big deal among the arty literati and Sinophile bluestockings. He made his name as author of Red Sorghum, the book that inspired Zhang Yimo’s 1997 film of the same name. Fans – and the Nobel committee – praised the author’s characteristic “hallucinatory realism” and his ability to blend folk tales with history and contemporary literature.

Smiles shone out from behind the “Free Tibet” banners the Western world over. Liberals from Hackney Wick to Washington State rejoiced in the fact that (first point) the first  Chinese person EVER had been awarded the Nob Lit and (second point) that that Chinese person celebrated his victory by saying he hoped dissident Liu Xiaobo would soon be given a reprieve.

The same Mo Yan (his “no name” pen name, which sounds so delightfully subversive over here in the West, is also what he uses in China) is pretty well-regarded in China too. And by those baddies in the CCP, too.

He is said to have transcribed passages of Mao Zedong’s speeches, and joined in with recent celebrations of the 70th anniversary of a speech Mao gave on the role of art and literature. As Vice President of the Chinese Writers Association, he’s likely to be a party member as well.

In fact, one of the few people to slam Mo Yan outright is Mr Arty Dissident himself, Ai Weiwei. “He will always stand on the side of power and he will not have one bit of individualism,” Mr Ai said. How confusing for us Western democracy-huggers.

Ai Weiwei might have a point about the “individualism” bit.

Not only has Mo Yan also managed to tick Chinese box 1 with his Nobel, he is also looking at his own monument – in the form of a Mo Yan theme park.

According to the Beijing News, authorities in  Gaomi, the municipality that administers Mo Yan’s home village of Ping’an, plans to build a £67m “Mo Yan Culture Experience”. 650 hectares of red sorghum will also be planted in honour of his breakthrough novel.

It’s the classic hero treatment reserved for those who do really, really well – think of the ever-increasing numbers of Yao Ming statues or cartoony pictures of revolutionary hero Lei Feng. Think of Mao.

As far as I’m concerned, Mo Yan thoroughly deserves that Nobel prize.

I’ve read the book, I’ve seen the film it inspired, and both are genuinely fantastic. Gabriel García Márquez, eat your heart out.

More than that, though, it’s impressive to find one person who can be revered by almost everyone in both China and the West – even if none of us can really decide who Mo Yan really is.

I guess that’s what the “no name” was all about.


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