Mo Yan Grants First Interview Since Winning Nobel Prize, Rebukes Ai Weiwei, Makes Very Interesting Cultural Revolution Comparison

Mo Yan Der Spiegel

Since accepting the Nobel Prize in Literature on December 10, the controversial Mo Yan has turned down every formal interview request from every publication in the world. But he finally broke his silence last week, granting a sit-down with Germany’s Der Spiegel, one of Europe’s largest news weeklies. The article was published in this week’s (February 25) issue, roughly coinciding with the German debut of Mo’s novel Frog. The author promised only a “very short” interview but ended up talking for two hours, according to Spiegel, and the result probably could not have been better for the venerable magazine.

Mo Yan called his writing style “un-Chinese,” though said his novels contain “hope, dignity and power.” He said that he “realized that the Cultural Revolution was the mistake of individual leaders. It had less to do with the party itself,” which could have been the sound bite of the interview if he hadn’t proceeded to rebuke Liao Yiwu’s criticism of him, then turn his focus on Ai Weiwei.

“Another one of your critics is Ai Weiwei, an artist particularly well-known in Germany,” the Spiegel interviewer says, and one can almost picture Mo snapping:

“What does he have to say about me?”

(We don’t know that he actually snapped; the published account gives no stage directions.)

And then:

SPIEGEL: He too accuses you of being to close to the state. He says you are detached from reality and cannot represent current China.

Mo: Aren’t many artists in mainland China state artists? What about those who are professors at the universities? What about those who write for state newspapers? And then, which intellectual can claim to represent China? I certainly do not claim that. Can Ai Weiwei? Those who can really represent China are digging dirt and paving roads with their bare hands.

Other highlights follow. Let’s start with this excerpt, out of which Der Spiegel pulled three words — “I am guilty” — for its headline:

SPIEGEL: Unspeakable things happen in many of your novels. In “The Garlic Ballads,” for example, a pregnant woman, already in labor, hangs herself. Still, “Frog” seems to be your sternest book. Is that why it took so long to write?

Mo: I carried the idea for this book with me for a long time but then wrote it relatively quickly. You are right, I felt heavy when I penned the novel. I see it as a work of self-criticism.

SPIEGEL: In what sense? You carry no personal responsibility for the violence and the forced abortions described in your book.

Mo: China has gone through such tremendous change over the past decades that most of us consider ourselves victims. Few people ask themselves, though: ‘Have I also hurt others?’ “Frog” deals with this question, with this possibility. I, for example, may have been only 11 years old in my elementary school days, but I joined the red guards and took part in the public criticism of my teacher. I was jealous of the achievements, the talents of other people, of their luck. Later, I even asked my wife to have an abortion for the sake of my own future. I am guilty.

Mo talks briefly about his writing…

SPIEGEL: Your books paint a bleak picture of modern China. There seems to be no progress. Neither your figures, nor society, nor the country as such seems to be heading anywhere.

Mo: I may be rather un-Chinese in this respect. Most Chinese stories and dramas have a happy ending. Most of my novels end tragically. But there is still hope, dignity and power.

…before dropping this semi-bombshell about the Cultural Revolution:

SPIEGEL: How do you yourself think about this? After all, you were forced to interrupt your education during the Cultural Revolution. And yet, you are still a member of the party.

Mo: The Communist Party of China has well over 80 million members, and I am one of them. I joined the party in 1979 when I was in the army. I realized that the Cultural Revolution was the mistake of individual leaders. It had less to do with the party itself.

The Cultural Revolution is referenced again as he addresses the media pressure that surrounded his Nobel win in the context of freedom of speech and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo:

SPIEGEL: But there are people in this country who are harassed, even arrested for what they write. Do you not feel an obligation to use your award, fame and reputation to speak out on behalf of these colleagues of yours?

Mo: I openly expressed the hope that Liu Xiaobo should regain his freedom as soon as possible. But again, I was immediately criticized and forced to speak out again and again on the same issue.

SPIEGEL: Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. And indeed, repeated statements of support would make a greater impression than a single comment.

Mo: I am reminded of the rituals of repetition in the Cultural Revolution. If I decide to speak, then nobody will stop me. If I decide not to speak, then not even a knife at my neck will make me speak.

He also turned his attention to Chinese exile Liao Yiwu, one of his most vocal critics. (Liao organized a naked-run protest outside the Nobel Banquet Hall in Stockholm the night that Mo received his prize.)

SPIEGEL: When Chinese writer Liao Yiwu was awarded with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade last year, he criticized you in SPIEGEL as a “state writer” and said you don’t keep enough distance to the government.

Mo: I have read his statement and I have read the speech he gave at the award ceremony. In the speech, he called for the split of the Chinese state. I can absolutely not agree to this position. I think that the people of Sichuan (the province where Liao is from) would not agree to cut their province out of China. I am sure Liao’s parents could never agree to this position. And I can not even imagine that he himself can, in the depth of his heart, agree to what he said there. I know he envies me for this award and I understand this. But his criticism is unjustified.

Mo clarifies that by “criticism” he’s referring to Liao’s accusation that Mo praised Bo Xilai in a poem.

Mo: … in a poem. Actually, the opposite is true. I was sarcastic, I wrote a satire. Let me jot it down again for you.

(Mo Yan takes a notebook and writes)

Sing-red-strike-black roars mightily,
The nation turns its head to Chongqing.
While a white spider weaves a real net that catches bugs,
A black horse with loose bowel movement is not an angry youth.
As a writer one should not be afraid of either a left or right party,
As an official one should hold dear one’s good name before and after his death.
A gentleman, a bedrock in turbulent waters, that you are,
The splendid cliffs shine on Jialing River like fire.

And he addresses the infamous book, which features his writing, that celebrates Mao Zedong’s 1942 Yan’an speech:

Mo: Honestly, it was a commercial project. The editor of a publishing house, an old friend of mine, came up with the idea. He had convinced around 100 writers before and when we attended a conference together, he walked around with a book and a pen and asked me, too, to hand-copy a paragraph of Mao’s speech. I asked “What should I write?” He said: “I chose this paragraph for you.” I was vain enough to take the opportunity to show off with my calligraphy.

There’s more over at Der Spiegel’s website. Go give the interview a read.

Nobel Laureate Mo Yan: ‘I Am Guilty’ (Der Spiegel)

11 Responses to “Mo Yan Grants First Interview Since Winning Nobel Prize, Rebukes Ai Weiwei, Makes Very Interesting Cultural Revolution Comparison”

  1. RhZ

    That’s a joke to say that the Cultural Revolution was individuals rather than the party. First of all, the situation could not have spiraled out of control as it did without the party’s perverse structure of raw unlimited power.

    Second, the entire event started as a power struggle within the party, which had and has no limitations or systems to control these struggles.

    Party hacks love to criticize corrupt officials while leaving the party blameless. Then the party can make more corrupt leaders…its a vicious cycle. The problems have to be blamed on the weakness of individuals, otherwise it would become obvious that corruption is a feature not a bug.

    Reply
  2. RhZ

    Jonathan, I have watched you use the exact same tactics and the wumao on a regular basis, and said basically nothing, because your comments are largely snark without much in the way of content.

    And then you decided that DVD’s childish taunts were witty, and that pushed me over the edge. That’s when I decided to call you out.

    What’s not to understand? You act like a wumao, and so people call you a wumao. I don’t know or care if you really are, but damn you sure love to use their moves, again and again.

    Even your snark above is hackish. Is it not obvious that a movement that swept the entire nation and involved basically every single party member and party official necessarily implicates the party itself? And yet, you snark that I must be an expert for this amazing insight into the CR.

    You just go ahead and do what you want man. There are times where the western media makes mistakes, lord knows I have no love for the media back in the states, they are a bunch of simpletons. There are also areas of valid disagreement. People who first arrive here tend to want to empathize with China, even with the Chinese government, I know I did, for probably the first 3+ years.

    But you shouldn’t be surprised when certain actions lead to certain consequences.

    Reply
    • Jonathan Alpart

      The only reason I am snarky to you is because anything else is a waste of time on my part. I know this because you’ve already prejudged and pigeonholed me, and have your mind made up about the person I am, so any sincere arguments made on my part would fall on deaf ears. I know this because I’ve talked with many people like you online (I’m looking at you, r/china) who just love to throw out the “wumao” thing to anyone who tries to see all sides of an issue before finally falling back on the default “lol china sux” opinion.

      By the way, how many wumao people do you think are actually reading/writing in English on BeijingCream? It’s absolutely absurd, and quite narcissistic really to think that the Chinese government is paying agents to try and persuade idiots like us.

      You write with such conviction (read: pretension), but actually your tired ideas I’ve heard many times at 2 am from 20-year-old exchange students at Butterfly in Sanlitun. Anyone who has read the back cover of 1984 would reach the conclusions that you do, and feel really good about them, too.

      To be honest, I’ve taken what you’ve written here to heart, and you are obviously intelligent, but so many of your comments (or replies to me, anyway) stink of reactionary thinking bubbling up from a surface-level understanding. The Chinese government is really, really easy to hate, so it’s no wonder that people such as myself who aren’t on full-hate mode at all times get criticized and bullied. As I pointed out before, if you can’t see the irony in that, I don’t know what else to tell you.

      Or as Mo Yan himself put it:

      “Mo: I am reminded of the rituals of repetition in the Cultural Revolution. If I decide to speak, then nobody will stop me. If I decide not to speak, then not even a knife at my neck will make me speak.”

      By the way, regarding his “defense” of the Party – I think what I he means to say is that the Party of today was not the Party of the Cultural Revolution – except in name, in that it has improved and adapted greatly.

      Reply
      • RhZ

        Jesus you are even more of a jackoff than I gave you credit for. My opinion of you has sunk lower, which I really wouldn’t have thought possible. You are seriously as dense as a fucking black hole. I am amazed at your level of stupidity, its a wonder you can function on a daily basis.

        This so-called conversation is over. Engage me again and you will get nothing but base insults.

        Now, in all seriousness, fuck off home, you piece of supercilious shit.

        Reply
        • Jonathan Alpart

          I hope you take what I’m about to say to heart despite your superior judgement: you really should learn some people skills. I’ve met many highly-intelligent people like you, and many of them have the same problem as you; often lonely and have trouble making and maintaining friendships because they are so many levels of genius above everyone else. I know it’s extremely difficult for you, but try to at least dumb yourself down on the surface to be more personable to average Joe’s like me. It will be excruciatingly annoying for you in the beginning, but the richness and warmth you’ll gain from interpersonal relationships is well worth the intellectual self-sabotage. Anyway, I shouldn’t be telling someone like you what to do, but it’s just my two cents =)

          Reply
          • RhZ

            Fuck off, dickweed. If enough people tell you how incredibly stupid you are, then maybe one day you will recognize it. I really pity you but luckily you are an arrogant prick.

            Piss off now, asshole. Mama’s calling to change your fucking diaper.

          • 游侠

            I have no love for the See-See-Pee, and think that DVD is an arrogant douche-box, but Jonathan clearly won here. Jonathan I don’t think you are a wumao, but if you are, at least you’re the kind I could have a beer with :)

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