Mo Yan's Delicate Balancing Act

China's Nobel-winning writer has been heavily criticized for being too close to the regime. Yet a close reading of his work shows he's far more complicated than his critics think.

Issue: Mar-Apr 2013

TWENTY YEARS ago, on my first day in a PhD program, my mentor Joseph Lau gave me a stack of ten novels. When I expressed doubts about fitting in this leisure reading on top of my coursework, he held up Mo Yan’s Republic of Wine and shook the book at me. “This writer is going to win the Nobel Prize,” he said. Such was the impact of Mo Yan’s writing on those familiar with it long before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012. Yet, since winning the prize, Mo Yan has become a scapegoat for the sins of the regime in which he must survive. Mo’s literary range and philosophical depth have received little attention in the recent flurry of press coverage, which has concentrated on his apparent acquiescence to the Chinese government’s repression of dissidents. Secure in the comfort of Western freedoms, myriad writers have lambasted Mo for his public statements and silences. Few writers have noted that Western authors seldom are judged on their politics or that writers in China have reasons for working within as well as outside of the system.

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