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.
Mr. Mo once left a book fair in Frankfurt, Germany, while a member of the Chinese delegation to protest of the presence of dissident writers from China.
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.
At present, China is threatening Japan daily with military action over the disputed island chain located south of Okinawa and north of Taiwan. Mr. Mo stunned the nation by announcing his opposition to a military solution to the dispute.
“If we resort to a war over the issue,” he noted, “even if China won, Japan was defeated, would we solve the dispute? Will a defeated Japan recognize China’s sovereign right to the islands?
“The same problem will exist if Japan defeated China. Therefore, a war between China and Japan won’t solve the problem, and I think the best solution is to set aside the issue now.
“No people should be allowed to go to a disputed area in the ocean, only let the fish go there. Fish will thank you.”
Throngs of “Angry Youths,” a euphemism for Chinese chauvinists, were upset and prominently showed their displeasure on Internet postings.
The party-run Global Times, a bastion of neo-Maoist sentiment, promptly ran an editorial obliquely warning Mr. Don’t Speak to shut up.
“We hope Mo Yan will be able to use his status as the Nobel laureate to make contributions to the development of our motherland and the progress of our society,” the Saturday editorial stated.
“We hope he can transcend all groups and promote China’s social unity when there are schisms in social thinking and interests.”
In other words, Global Times wants Mr. Don’t Speak to serve the government’s current ideological watchword of “harmony” and unity under the one-party rule and not make waves.
• Miles Yu’s column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.