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Chinese novelist wins Nobel Prize

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 9:52 p.m.

BEIJING — Chinese novelist Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday — an honor that brings acclaim for an author whose work traces the turbulent history of China through a surrealist lens but that also underlines the nation's political complexities.

The news was immediately announced on Chinese state TV and the official Xinhua news service. The Global Times, a popular tabloid known for its nationalist leanings, posted a page on its website titled simply, “Mo Yan wins Nobel Prize.” The celebratory mood contrasted strongly with the accusations and anger that China displayed two years ago, when the Nobel Peace Prize for the first time went to a Chinese citizen: Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence on subversion charges after helping write a political manifesto.

The Nobel award for another Chinese writer, Gao Xingjian, who won the literature prize in 2000, is rarely mentioned officially. He was then, as now, living in France, where he gained citizenship after applying for political asylum.

Mo, the pen name of 57-year-old Guan Moye, has taken a different position within Chinese society. Although some of his stylistically daring fiction has been banned in the past, he has not pushed his commentary so far that it has run afoul of the government.

His books include “Red Sorghum,” an account of the hardships endured by generations of a family in the Chinese countryside, including the brutality of the Japanese invasion; and “Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out,” a darkly humorous work that starts off in Hell and then explores the tumult of China's recent history through a series of animal reincarnations.

In giving the award on Thursday, the Swedish Academy said: “Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition.”

Mo is a senior member of the government-backed Chinese Writers' Association. Intellectuals with an activist bent criticize him for being co-opted by China's authoritarian rulers. They note that Mo joined a group of authors who hand-copied excerpts from a 1942 speech by dictator Mao Zedong that set limits on artistic expression in China.

During a 2010 interview with Time magazine, Mo was quoted as saying of censorship: “There are certain restrictions on writing in every country.”

The article further quoted him as saying: “One of the biggest problems in literature is the lack of subtlety.”

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