Allure of literature prize strong for China

Source:Global Times Published: 2012-10-10 1:10:03


Illustration: Liu Rui
Illustration: Liu Rui


Editor's Note:

Chinese writer Mo Yan is considered a plausible candidate for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. His victory would be the first in literature for a Chinese citizen who is resident on the mainland. Some link the influence of Chinese writers with the country's rise. Is the argument justified? What's behind the enthusiasm for a Chinese mainland winner? The Global Times invited two academics to contribute their thoughts.


Nobel valuable, but not sole benchmark of artistic value


It is often said that a great era gives birth to great writers. But it depends on how you define a great era. A great era could be one that is witnessing a far-reaching decisive socio-cultural transformation, or it could also be one that has achieved new heights in economic development. China has had many great writers in the 20th century such as Lu Xun in the 1920s and 1930s, Wang Meng in the early years of economic reform, and Wang Anyi, who has indeed become a significant figure in world literature today.

I would not like to attach too much importance to the linking of China's rising national strength with the possible emergence of another Nobel laureate in China. Some great works of literature has been produced in societies with very poor national strength, as we understand the term today.

Moreover, many great representative works of Chinese literature were written in those decades of the 20th century when China's national strength was not really comparable to the present.

There is no harm in any country attaching importance to the Nobel Prize in Literature, as long as it is clear that it is not the only benchmark of literary excellence.

While there could be a healthy academic debate about the politics of Western and non-Western evaluation, there is no doubt that beauty can be appreciated across cultures and times.

Incidentally, next year is the centenary of the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Rabindranath Tagore in 1913. The youth and intellectuals of China welcomed this award with tremendous enthusiasm at that time. I will be equally happy and excited if a Chinese writer is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.

Contemporary Chinese literature is dynamic and diverse. It has certainly successfully contested the popular notions about Chinese literature in the world.

This is as much because the international readership has become more aware of the cultural and philosophical legacy of China, as it is because writers, critics and translators within and outside China have been able to engage in a dialogue through a gradual process of acculturation.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Sabaree Mitra, professor at the Center for Chinese and South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies.



Laureate award Western, but carries less political tinge


In the current global sphere, many rules, social structures and cultural mechanisms are dominated by the West. The Nobel Prize is an example. It reflects the Western opinion on human achievement.

The Chinese public's attention to the Nobel Prize dates back to the 1980s, when China opened itself to the world and international literature arrived in China again. The most notable case was that of Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian novelist who won the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. Some people thought that, since writers from developing regions such as Latin America could win such a prize, why couldn't those from China?

Some Chinese people felt anxious that China couldn't win a prize as they thought China was isolated from the mainstream international arena. But on the other hand, some worry that the world didn't understand our culture and our standpoint as Chinese values are different from those of the West. These fears were not alleviated by the victory of Chinese-born but Paris-resident Gao Xingjian in 2000.

Unlike the Nobel Peace Prize, the literature prize doesn't have as strong a political impact. The peace prize granted to Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991 had a direct impact on the democratization process in Myanmar, but one shouldn't expect the literature prize to have such influence.

Sometimes the panel avoids controversial decisions. For instance, it hasn't yet granted the prize to frequent nominee Salman Rushdie, perhaps because of the death threats against him from Iran over his The Satanic Verses.

Most people easily relate the literature prize to politics. But in fact, the mechanism for running the literature prize is quite complex. Writers must have worked for years, and have specially appointed translators who can translate their work elegantly into different languages, so that they can be appreciated by readers worldwide.

Meanwhile, the features of a laureate that the panel of judges most look for is his or her ability to discover deeply rooted and complicated humanity and exquisitely put it in a way that's easier for international readers to understand. Chinese writer Mo Yan's literary achievements make him a serious competitor for the prize.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Wang Wenwen based on an interview with Zhang Yiwu, professor and director of the Cultural Resources Research Center of Peking University.





@Yin Junguo

If Mo Yan wins this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, it will surely promote China's serious literature, especially novels. More writers will engage in writing novels, and the international literary field will pay more attention on Chinese modern literature.


@Sun Haitao

If another Chinese writer can win the Nobel Prize in Literature, it means Chinese values could be accepted by the world. It's a form of progress.

At the moment when we follow our interest in Mo, we should also think of those who narrowly missed the prize, both at home and abroad.


@Zifeng Yiyu

Many people relate Mo's work to his political stance. I think his literary achievement should be decided by his works. A profound humanitarianism and idealism embedded in the writer's rich imagination and enthusiastic style are the most valuable things.


@Feng Tang

Mo is an excellent novelist. But it's unlikely that he will get the prize, because the prize is already politicized. It's ridiculous that a number of foreigners who don't know any Chinese judge whether the work of a Chinese writer is good or not through translation. 


@Wang Ying

It's not important if Mo can win the prize. Even if so, the new era of thought that people are eager for has not yet come.

China will have more Nobel Prize winners sooner or later. There's still quite a distance between China and the world's academic and literary powers.

Only in a time when great thoughts prevail can winning a Nobel Prize be a common thing.

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