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Inside China: Mr. ‘Don’t Speak’ speaks
Question of the Day
China’s freshly minted Nobel Prize for Literature laureate, whose name, Mo Yan, literally means “Don’t Speak” in Chinese, in recent days spoke at ease on a wide range of issues, some of them highly sensitive — and thus controversial — in the current Chinese political environment.
Sweden’s decision to honor “Mr. Don’t Speak” with the award is not without criticism. By any standard, Mr. Mo is an enigma wrapped in Chinese characteristics.
A member of the Chinese Communist Party, he publicly said he had lost his faith in the party since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing. His writings usually expose astonishing brutality and numbing corruption within the Communist Party.
For more than two decades, he served in the People’s Liberation Army as a professional literary writer, and he currently holds the post of vice chairman of the official Chinese Writers’ Association.
Yet his criticisms of Communist Party policies — from forced abortion to the moral debauchery and political greed of party members — are often more scathing and devastating than many writings by China’s dissidents.
Since the announcement of the literature award on Oct. 11, China has been intoxicated with euphoria and celebrations because the official Chinese communist government, in state media reports, recognized Mr. Mo as its “first” Chinese Nobel winner, a notable falsehood.
Here are the facts: In 1989, the Nobel Prize for Peace was given to the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, whose homeland is claimed by China. The government considers all Tibetans “Chinese citizens.”
In 2000, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Chinese dissident writer Gao Xingjian, who was disgusted with the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre and emigrated to France, where he is now a citizen.
Ten years later, Chinese dissident writer, literary critic and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He remains in a Chinese jail serving an 11-year sentence on trumped-up charges.
Although Mr. Mo is accepted by China’s communist government, many of his views will not necessarily be welcomed by China’s ruling clique. On Oct. 12, during his first news conference after winning the prize, Mr. Don’t Speak said he hoped his fellow Nobel laureate, the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, would be freed as early as possible.
Currently, government-run China Central Television (CCTV) is conducting a self-congratulatory opinion poll on the question “Are You Happy?” — designed to show the Chinese people’s gratitude to the Communist Party’s “great socialist achievements.”
Mr. Mo was interviewed Sunday by CCTV pollsters. When asked “Are you happy?” Mr. Mo did not follow the routine by thanking the glorious Chinese Communist Party for his personal achievement, as party members are obligated to do in such circumstances.
Instead, Mr. Don’t Speak replied, “I don’t know.”
But his most outspoken statement since winning the prize already has stirred a national controversy. At the Oct 12 press conference, he steered himself into the politically troubled waters of the bitter dispute between China and Japan over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea.
About the Author
Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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