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The Dragon Goes Gangnam: China Celebrates the Nobel Prize for Literature

In 2010 the Chinese Dragon virtually breathed fire when the Nobel Prize for Literature was given to dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year sentence for his pro-democracy views. Officials in China went into a fit of rage. They summoned the Swedish ambassador in Beijing for a dressing down. China issued a statement that the award could jeopardize relations between the two countries.

However, 2012 saw a more cheerful face of the Dragon when the Swedish Academy gave the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan, who is an important member of the ruling Communist Party of China. Official networks went viral with the news to celebrate Mo's triumph. This time the liberal world stomped its feet in anger and anguish. In the Indian context the decision to honor Mo was akin to Britain's decision to do business with Gujarat, an Indian state.

The argument may be slightly stretched, but Mo can be equated to Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujrat. Mo is a part of the official establishment, which to the outside world has consistently trampled over the universally accepted parameters of free speech and human rights. He's guilty of all these violations through his association with the establishment. Modi was charged with having committed a far greater sin in 2002, because of which Britain, among other countries, broke off direct ties with Gujarat. In a manner of speaking the Swedish Academy's decision acknowledges the position of free societies' willingness to do business with China. The same explanation would hold good for Britain, which was known as the nation of shopkeepers.

Liao Yiwu, a close friend of Liu and a celebrated Chinese writer living in exile in Germany, was stunned by the Swedish Academy's decision to honour Mo. He was upset with having to see Liu and Mo on the same page. He told Der Spiegel, "Mo Yan... is a state poet. I am utterly bewildered. Do these universal values not exist after all? Are they so arbitrary that a Nobel Prize can be awarded to someone behind bars and stripped of their rights one year and another year to someone in the service of the very people who put people behind bars and strip them of their rights?"

Liao is not alone in attacking the Swedish Academy for picking Mo for the literary honor. Almost the entire liberal establishment was as stunned as Liao. But the Academy stuck to its guns.

A Swedish Academy member defended Nobel Prize in Literature-winner Mo Yan, saying the Chinese novelist's win "has nothing to do with politics, friendship or luck." Goran Malmqvist, a sinologist and one of the 18 members of the Swedish Academy, told Xinhua that he felt irritated at media accusations against Mo.

The critics, however, insisted that the decision was flawed. They said that as a member of the Communist Party of China and vice president of the China Writers Association Mo did not qualify for the award.

The history of China's links with what is considered to be the highest literary award dates back to the last century. (America would like to put its Pulitzer Prize on the same pedestal.) In 1933 Peral S. Buck won the Pulitzer for The Good Earth, about family life in a Chinese village. This paved the way for Buck to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938. The Good Earth is part of the trilogy including Sons and A House Divided.

But the most astounding fact is that since 2000 the prestigious award has gone to three Chinese writers. Gao Xingjian, a Chinese dissident living in exile in France, was the first to receive the Nobel for Literature in 2000. A decade later Liu became the second Chinese to receive this award. And now Mo.

According to information coming out of independent sources in China the establishment is keeping a hawk's eye on the discussion revolving around Mo and the other two Chinese winners of the Nobel for Literature. China Digital Times claimed to have a procured a copy of the translation of a leaked directive. It reads:

To all websites nationwide: In light of Mo Yan winning the Nobel prize for literature, monitoring of microblogs, forums, blogs and similar key points must be strengthened. Be firm in removing all comments which disgrace the party and the government, defame cultural work, mention Nobel laureates Liu Xiaobo and Gao Xingjian and associated harmful material. Without exception, block users from posting for ten days if their writing contains malicious details.

Whatever the merits and demerits of the award to Mo, there is a publisher in Kolkata, India who has a special reason to rejoice. According to a report in the Times of India Kolkata's Naveen Kishore discovered the literary talent of Guan Moye, who write under the pen name of Mo Yan.

Kishore, publisher of the city-headquartered Seagull Books, commissioned... Mo Yan to write a novella as part of Seagull's What Was Communism series on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009. The novella, Change, sold about 800 copies worldwide in the last three years. But over the last 24 hours, publishers from across the globe have started calling Seagull for copies. Seagull will now bring out a paperback edition.

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