14 October 2012

Africa: One Nobel Prize, Many Controversies

Chinese writer Mo Yan was Thursday announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but not everyone is happy about it.

Chinese writer Mo Yan has clinched the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in a news that has surprised many across the world and delighted millions across China, including the Chinese government.

Mo Yan is little known outside China but has been described as a fascinating and prolific novelist and short story writer in the genre of Magical Realism. He has cited Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and American William Faulkner as influences. Now he joins them on the pedestal of the most prestigious prize in literature.

The latest Nobel laureate was born Guan Moye in 1955 and dropped out of school to work in a factory during the country's cultural revolution. He joined the People's Army in 1981 and started writing while still in the force. He took up the pen name Mo Yan, which means 'Don't Speak', which he explained came from a warning issued to him by his parents about not speaking his mind in public due to the state's intolerance to dissident views. He is most known outside China for his novel Red Sorghum which formed the bases for a film with the same title.

But in his native China he is quite famous, with a litany of his novels and short stories pirated. The Swedish Academy which awards the prize described him as a writer who "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary."

The writer himself said he was "overjoyed and terrified" by the news, which has cast a celebratory ambience over the country that has been in the news recently for its persecution of artist and activist Ai Wei Wei.

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Peace Winner Liu Xiaobo was in prison when he received news of the prestigious award being offered to him. He is still languishing behind bars and his wife has been in virtual house arrest since 2010.

Famous Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei, who is facing tax evasion charges in China, is however full of outrage at the award of this year's literature prize to his fellow countryman. He described it as an "insult to humanity and to literature."

Ai Wei Wei, who believes his persecution by the state is as a result of his refusal to associate with the Chinese government sees the Nobel Prize winner as a government collaborator. He is particularly piqued because Mo Yan is never to known to have been critical of the Chinese government.

"His [Mo's] winning won't be of any help for Liu Xiaobo, unless Mo Yan expresses his concern for him," Ai was quoted as saying in The Week.

"But Mo Yan has stated in the past that he has nothing to say about Liu Xiaobo. I think the Nobel organisers have removed themselves from reality by awarding this prize. I really don't understand it."

However, Mo Yan's latest work, the 2009 masterpiece, Frog, has been described as a "searing depiction" China's One-Child policy and the officials who go about enforcing it using forced abortions.

The reaction has been mixed in his native China where some writers have expressed delight at his win, praising his style.

Other writers have expressed dismay, criticizing his work as being unoriginal, borrowing heavily from South American magical realism while his close ties with the ruling communist party has been sighted also as a stain on him.

The party incidentally issued a congratulatory message to the author through a state run newspaper saying the Chinese people have been waiting for the prize for long.

Mo will be receiving his prize December 10 in Oslo at a ceremony that coincides with the birthday of the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel.

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