Mo Yan Becomes Second Chinese Writer To Win Nobel Prize in Literature

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 11 2012 9:32 AM

Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Chinese author Mo Yan.
Chinese author Mo Yan.

Photo by STR/AFP/GettyImages

Mo Yan, a Chinese novelist sometimes compared by American critics to William Faulkner, became the second Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature this morning. He is the first Chinese winner of any Nobel Prize who has remained in the country and is not in prison there. In 2000, Gao Xingjian received the award; he has lived in France since 1987 and his work is banned in his native country. In 2010, the poet and critic Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize, but his award was criticized by the Chinese government, which has imprisoned Liu for "inciting subversion to state power." A handful of Chinese-born American and British physicists have also won Nobel Prizes.

Mo Yan is a pen name for Guan Moye, who was born in 1955; he was tapped early on as a favorite this year by Nobel watchers. Some his writing—such as his novel The Garlic Ballads—has been banned in his home country, but much of it has official recognition; he is not, according to the New York Times, considered a dissident. His novel Red Sorghum was made into an internationally acclaimed film directed by Zhang Yimou, who also based his film Happy Times on one of Mo's short stories. The most recent of Mo's novels to appear in English are Big Breasts & Wide Hips and Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out. Most of the English translations are by Howard Goldblatt; many of them, as M.A. Orthofer noted this morning, are abridged.


Mo is from the city of Gaomi in Shandong province in northeastern China, and, like Faulkner, he has set much of his writing in a fictionalized version of his native region. The literary magazine Granta has published an excerpt from one of his more recent works, and at their website you can also listen to an interview with Mo Yan conducted by their editor, John Freeman, this past spring.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.


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