Communist official wins Nobel Prize for Literature

Two years ago, Chinese author Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but he was not allowed to leave the country to receive it and is currently in jail for opposing the Communist government.  This year another Chinese author won the prize, Mo Yan, who is no dissident.  From Indian journalist Preetam Kauschik:

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. . . .

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. . . .

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.

via Preetam Kaushik: The Dragon Goes Gangnam: China Celebrates the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Another winner of the prize, Herta Mueller, who survived communism in Romania, is protesting this year’s award, saying that Mo Ya is a defender of censorship.

I haven’t read any of this writer’s works, but I have no problem with the possibility that one of the greatest writers in the world is a Communist, an enemy of the freedom of the press, or otherwise someone who possesses a twisted ideology oris a bad person.   Mo Ya would hardly be the first good author–or Nobel Prize winner–with noxious ideas.  In fact, having noxious ideas may be an occupational hazard of the profession.   It is Romanticism that assumed that good writing is not just a craft but an expression of a noble soul.  Thus we have the cult of the artist.  In the world of the fine arts, art is sometimes defined as whatever an artist does.  (One exhibition consisted of displays of the artist’s bowel movements.)  Such idolatry of the artist trivializes art.

And yet, some ideologies are intrinsically harmful to good art and good literature.  Marxism is one of them.  The insistence that individual uniqueness is a bourgeois trait and that people exist only as members of a social class inevitably results in characters that are stereotypes.  Not only that, authors who create highly-individualized characters–a mark of good fiction–are generally condemned and even persecuted for their anti-revolutionary bourgeois tendencies, something enforced by the “writers’ unions,” of the sort that Mo Ya leads.  This is why, in the former Soviet Union, artists who were original, who tried to achieve aesthetic rather than political effects, who wanted to try something different than the one officially required style of “socialist realism,”  or showed other signs of being good artists nearly all found themselves in opposition to the Communist regime.

What most bothers me about this award is that the world’s literary establishment has evidently lost its distaste for totalitarianism.  As the world is more and more attracted to the “China Model”–economic dynamism + authoritarian government–the allure of democracy and freedom may be waning.  The assumption has been that free markets will beget free societies and democratic governments, but we now know that is not the case.  Money is the opiate of the people.  And that bodes ill, and not just for literature.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Torvik

    Not surprising, considering the Swedish academy. While they did give the award to dissidents at some point institutions in Sweden have a tendency to cater to authoritarian regimes. One thinks of the citizens of Baltic countries after WWII dragged kicking and screaming back into the hands of kind Uncle Joe or the cowardly neutrality of the country itself during the war, a subjective morality and world view which has eroded much that is good in Sweden. Let us not look at the Swedish academy for guidance, it would be ill advised.

  • Torvik

    Not surprising, considering the Swedish academy. While they did give the award to dissidents at some point institutions in Sweden have a tendency to cater to authoritarian regimes. One thinks of the citizens of Baltic countries after WWII dragged kicking and screaming back into the hands of kind Uncle Joe or the cowardly neutrality of the country itself during the war, a subjective morality and world view which has eroded much that is good in Sweden. Let us not look at the Swedish academy for guidance, it would be ill advised.

  • Tom Hering

    If they wanted to give it to a Communist in a leadership position, why not Obama? No, he’s not a novelist, but he wrote some poetry in college. And he has experience accepting unearned Nobels. (Beat you to it, Vehse. Ha!)

  • Tom Hering

    If they wanted to give it to a Communist in a leadership position, why not Obama? No, he’s not a novelist, but he wrote some poetry in college. And he has experience accepting unearned Nobels. (Beat you to it, Vehse. Ha!)

  • SKPeterson

    He’s Kenyan, Tom. The Academy has had a string of African authors win the prize, so they had to go with the Asian this year.

    I’d also like to say that I completely support Sweden’s cowardly neutrality, and Switzerland’s, as models to be more emulated and less castigated.

  • SKPeterson

    He’s Kenyan, Tom. The Academy has had a string of African authors win the prize, so they had to go with the Asian this year.

    I’d also like to say that I completely support Sweden’s cowardly neutrality, and Switzerland’s, as models to be more emulated and less castigated.

  • Tom Hering

    By the way, the 2012 Ig Nobel prize for literature went to:

    The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
    REFERENCE: “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies,” US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.

  • Tom Hering

    By the way, the 2012 Ig Nobel prize for literature went to:

    The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
    REFERENCE: “Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies,” US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.

  • fjsteve

    SKP, he may be Kenyan but he got his Muslim education in the madrasas of Indonesia so he still meets the criteria.

  • fjsteve

    SKP, he may be Kenyan but he got his Muslim education in the madrasas of Indonesia so he still meets the criteria.

  • DonS

    The Nobel Committee has lost all credibility, and the prize has lost all prestige. It’s just money and a medal now.

  • DonS

    The Nobel Committee has lost all credibility, and the prize has lost all prestige. It’s just money and a medal now.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS, maybe for highly subjective areas like Literature and Peace. Not for Physics, Chemistry etc.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    DonS, maybe for highly subjective areas like Literature and Peace. Not for Physics, Chemistry etc.

  • DonS

    Klasie, perhaps. I haven’t really studied the issue with regard to the science prizes. But it seems to me that there is at least the potential for politics to play a role in which scientific achievements are most valued as well. The sciences are objective, but the politics surrounding them — available government grants, etc. — can be quite subjective.

  • DonS

    Klasie, perhaps. I haven’t really studied the issue with regard to the science prizes. But it seems to me that there is at least the potential for politics to play a role in which scientific achievements are most valued as well. The sciences are objective, but the politics surrounding them — available government grants, etc. — can be quite subjective.

  • RobQ

    Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2010 rather than the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though he is also a poet. Two years ago Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author, was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • RobQ

    Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2010 rather than the Nobel Prize for Literature, even though he is also a poet. Two years ago Mario Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian author, was recognized with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • Joanne

    Everyone who could be neutral was neutral in WWII, as I remember that was Spain, Switzerland, and Sweeden. Hum, all start with an S. These were all armed to the teeth countries that could have fiercely defended themselves had they had to, but their nutrality went unchallenged.

    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and Prussia, and Pommerania, and Silesia would all have liked their neutrality to be observed as well, but were occupied too quickly; it became a moot point. The Brest-Litofsk pact was a secret until it happened. Hitler particularly asked that all the Baltic Germans be evacuated to new German territory in former western Poland, around Posen. They were, that’s why we hear of so little civilian German suffering in the Baltics. However as the Balts were crossing the Baltic seeking refuge in Sweden, the Germans were fighting a hand to hand battle with the Soviets on a long peninsula on the Island of Saaremaa. They left huge amounts of war remains there as the last of the eastern German army was transferred west by sea.

    I have not heard though that the Swedes sent back to communist controlled territory any Balts that made it to Sweden, many then going to England and Canada. Many middle Europeans were sent back to Soviet Army controlled areas, but this was before we knew where and how long the Iron Curtain would stand. The Balts were in the way. First they got the German army treatment, then they got the Soviet army treatment. They fought both. I also believe that the Finns kept any Karelians and Ingrians that got there as the international lines and the ethnic clensing mopping up the old maps was in high dudgeon all over central and eastern Europe.

    People think that neutral countries are pacifist nations. Not at all true. They have very strong military capabilities and can inforce their neutrality when it suits them.

  • Joanne

    Everyone who could be neutral was neutral in WWII, as I remember that was Spain, Switzerland, and Sweeden. Hum, all start with an S. These were all armed to the teeth countries that could have fiercely defended themselves had they had to, but their nutrality went unchallenged.

    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and Prussia, and Pommerania, and Silesia would all have liked their neutrality to be observed as well, but were occupied too quickly; it became a moot point. The Brest-Litofsk pact was a secret until it happened. Hitler particularly asked that all the Baltic Germans be evacuated to new German territory in former western Poland, around Posen. They were, that’s why we hear of so little civilian German suffering in the Baltics. However as the Balts were crossing the Baltic seeking refuge in Sweden, the Germans were fighting a hand to hand battle with the Soviets on a long peninsula on the Island of Saaremaa. They left huge amounts of war remains there as the last of the eastern German army was transferred west by sea.

    I have not heard though that the Swedes sent back to communist controlled territory any Balts that made it to Sweden, many then going to England and Canada. Many middle Europeans were sent back to Soviet Army controlled areas, but this was before we knew where and how long the Iron Curtain would stand. The Balts were in the way. First they got the German army treatment, then they got the Soviet army treatment. They fought both. I also believe that the Finns kept any Karelians and Ingrians that got there as the international lines and the ethnic clensing mopping up the old maps was in high dudgeon all over central and eastern Europe.

    People think that neutral countries are pacifist nations. Not at all true. They have very strong military capabilities and can inforce their neutrality when it suits them.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Veith said:

    One exhibition consisted of displays of the artist’s bowel movements.

    Can we please stop picking on Thomas Kinkade?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Veith said:

    One exhibition consisted of displays of the artist’s bowel movements.

    Can we please stop picking on Thomas Kinkade?