BEIJING – Mo Yan’s Nobel lecture did little to dispel ongoing controversy in China’s literary circles Saturday, with state media widely covering the 2012 literature prize winner, while dissident artists piled on derision.
In the traditional Nobel lecture in Stockholm on Friday, Mo, the vice chairman of the government-backed China Writers’ Association, took a swipe at his critics.
“The announcement of my Nobel Prize has led to controversy. At first I thought I was the target of the disputes, but over time I’ve come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me,” he said.
The best way for a writer to speak is through his work, he argued, adding that everything he needs to say can be found there. “Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated,” he told the audience.
Mo has walked a tightrope during his stay in Stockholm, where he will pick up the award Monday, with some pundits supporting his own claims that he is “independent,” and others casting him as a Beijing stooge.
In China, his lecture did little to dispel the divide.
“In the last few days, he has defended the system of censorship . . . then in his lecture he talks about story-telling — to use a Chinese expression, he is like a prostitute insisting her services are clean,” dissident poet Ye Du, a member of the nongovernment Independent Chinese Pen Center, said.
“As far as an assessment of him, in literature he has some merit, but as a living human being, he is a dwarf.”
Ye said Chinese intellectuals had hoped Mo would use the lecture to renew his call for the Chinese government to release jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, but instead he voiced support for China’s system of state censorship.
The Chinese staged a black-out on coverage of human rights champion Liu’s 2010 Nobel win. He is still serving an 11-year prison sentence handed down on Christmas Day 2009 after leading a manifesto for democratic change called Charter 08.
Friday’s lecture came after more than 130 previous Nobel laureates published an open letter Tuesday, urging the Chinese Communist Party’s new chief Xi Jinping to release Liu.
State media covered Mo’s lecture widely, focusing on how he grew up in rural China with an illiterate mother and detailing the inspiration he drew in penning such novels as “Red Sorghum,” “Frog,” “Life and Death are Wearing Me Out,” and “Big Breasts and Wide Hips.”
His victory had brought Chinese literature into the world spotlight and will help bridge the gap between Chinese culture and the rest of the world, Xinhua news agency cited Lan Lijun, China’s ambassador to Sweden, as saying.
“This is the first time that a nondissident Chinese has won a Nobel Prize, so it is not Mo Yan’s fault that the state media is praising him,” a Beijing intellectual, who only wanted to be identified by her surname Wang, said.
“It is clear he is against censorship, but he lives in China and he has the freedom to choose not to take on the views of a dissident.”
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei condemned the lecture in a tweet, saying “Mo Yan’s talk about story-telling is about covering things up and hiding, it was powerless, disgraceful, a betrayal and a sellout.”
Elsewhere in the reading, the writer honored his illiterate mother, who held people who could read in high regard but who also worried that her son’s story-telling could land him in trouble.
“Talkative kids are not well thought of in our village, for they can bring trouble to themselves and to their families,” he said.
At a press conference on Thursday, the writer stood by his call for the release of jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, but refused to elaborate on the issue.
“I have already issued my opinion about this matter,” he said, in response to questions from journalists.