It sounds incredible that the Chinese would honor a literary guru by stealing radishes from his garden and pulling the bricks out of the walls of his home. But this did happen to Mo Yan, the first writer residing in China to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Mo's hometown of Gaomi, Shandong Province, has emerged as the new holy land for Chinese tourists. As soon as Mo was announced as the 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, this little-known town rose to fame overnight. Soon after the announcement, all the radishes in the garden of Mo's family home were plucked and taken away by tourists, in the hope of sharing Mo's literature talent.
Mo's fans took this "sharing" up a few notches over the recent Qingming Fesitval, China's tomb-sweeping holiday, which took place earlier this month.
As the new crop of radishes hasn't been planted yet, tourists turned to the walls of Mo's former home. Some scratched out earth from the walls, while others dug out small bricks from its corners.
One wonders: If Mo knew what would befall his childhood home, would he rather give up the Nobel Prize?
It's a mystery how these radish, earth or brick thieves are now treating these apparently holy relics. It's hard to imagine that they air-dry Mo's radishes, chunks of earth or bricks and then force their school-age children to kowtow before them and give homage in the twilight. It's more likely that the sacred radishes receive a relatively more pragmatic treatment, and are eaten so that their essence, their affiliation with world-class literature, may be absorbed by the faithful.
And according to Mo's sister-in-law, those who took away hunks of earth said they would spread the soil around their own house so that they may share Mo's literary gifts.
The bricks, I imagine, will simply sit on a shelf and be taken out whenever the time comes to show off in front of relatives and friends.
The Chinese obsession with learning from role models by taking something tangible away is baffling. Fundamentally, those who damaged the walls of Mo's family home are no different from tourists to scenic spots who can't resist writing that so-and-so was here right on an important historical relic. This behavior seems to be more about proving one's own existence in a place rather than about truly enjoying literature or history.
Mo's family members who currently live in this old house are quite frustrated with the febrile tourist carnival following Mo's award. The army of tourists coming in the name of a "literature pilgrimage" seems altogether unstoppable. While those who have taken items from the property certainly have the right to visit Mo's hometown, they obviously have little reverence for real literature.
Over the short three-day holiday, more than 1,000 tourists visited Mo's house in Gaomi, and the fever may spread further during upcoming holidays. No one in Mo's family can guess what will go missing in the future.
One thing that can give us comfort is that these people do not reflect the majority of Chinese citizens, and that public opinion condemns such deeds.
After all, if all the country's "literature lovers" had swarmed Mo's childhood home and each one took away pieces of the walls, bricks, window glasses or tiles, the house would certainly have been taken down before Qingming Festival could even come to an end.
The author is an opinion editor with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org