|Mo Yan - Associated Press|
The comments, made in response to a question at a press conference on Friday, illustrate the difficulties the writer faces amid criticism in some corners that he is an establishment figure too cozy with authorities to be worthy of a Nobel. They also illustrate the challenges faced by Beijing as it seeks to celebrate the novelist’s ground-breaking Nobel win while simultaneously ignoring the Nobel Peace Prize winner it has hidden away behind bars.
“We congratulate Mr. Mo Yan on his winning of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said at a regular press briefing on Friday. “The Chinese people have a long history and a glorious culture. This is a treasure shared by all humanity. We hope our friends in every country around the world can better understand Chinese culture and get a better feeling for the charm of Chinese literature.”
Mo Yan and Mr. Liu are the only two Chinese people to have won a Nobel prize while still citizens of China.
Mr. Liu, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of subversion in 2009 for his leading role in the production of a pro-democracy manifesto, was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2010. China’s government called the Nobel committee’s decision to recognize Mr. Liu “a desecration” of the prize.
Mo Yan was pressed to comment on Mr. Liu’s case by reporters gathered in his hometown of Gaomi in eastern China’s Shandong province, according to wire reports. “I hope he can achieve his freedom as soon as possible,” the reports quoted him as saying.
The writer’s willingness to speak publicly about Mr. Liu flies in the face of criticisms leveled by some other writers and human rights activists in China that the novelist, once celebrated for his sly subversiveness, had recently grown too close to the authorities. It also means Chinese authorities will likely need to step carefully in trying to exploit the soft power potential of the writer’s award, human rights advocates say.
“Mo Yan certainly has a mind of his own. He’s not a government puppet. His novels make very clear that he’s not a cheerleader for the state of Chinese society today,” said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch. The novelist’s willingness to talk about Mr. Liu, he added, “will make it a little more difficult for China to conceal that they’re holding a Nobel Peace Prize winner in prison.”
|Liu Xiaobo - Zuma Press|
Beijing has been enthusiastic in touting the award, eager to portray it as a reflection of the country’s growing influence. On Friday, shortly after Mo Yan was made his comments about Mr. Liu, the state-run Xinhua news agency published part of a letter to the China Writers Association from Li Changchun, China’s top propaganda official, congratulating the writer on his accomplishment.
“Basing their writing on the life of the people and the traditions of the nation, Chinese writers have created a great many excellent works of Chinese characteristics, styles and spirits,” the letter said.
The difficulty authorities face in encouraging celebration of Mo Yan’s Nobel win while trying to minimize discussion of Mr. Liu’s was neatly illustrated on Sina Corp.’s Weibo microblogging service on Friday, where users found themselves unable to post links to the original press release about the literature prize because the Nobel website is blocked.
Some Sina Weibo users posted Mo Yan’s comments about Mr. Liu to the site on Friday afternoon, though censors were quick to them down.
While Mo Yan’s willingness to discuss his fellow laureate was surprising to some, Mr. Bequelin of Human Rights Watch said he didn’t consider the writer’s comments an outright expression of support for the jailed dissident. Both he and Mr. Ai said they didn’t think the comments were likely to have any direct effect on Mr. Liu’s case.
“It does put the government in a bind because it doesn’t look good, but I don’t think that it’s likely to affect the government’s position on Liu Xiaobo at this time,” Mr. Bequelin said, adding: “From the government’s perspective it’s a small price to pay compared to the benefit of being able to say China has a Nobel literature prize winner.”
– Josh Chin