On October 11, the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012 was awarded to Chinese writer Mo Yan, making him the first Chinese national to ever win the award. I think Mr. Mo deserves the prize, and this indeed is an event worthy of immense pride for the Chinese people. However, as we reflect further into why the Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to a Chinese writer now and not in the past, there are reasons that might be of enlightening significance.
First of all, Mo Yan¡¯s winning the Nobel Prize should be examined within a geopolitical context. At present, the global geopolitical balance is shifting toward the East and South, while a multi-polarized world is gradually emerging. In the past three decades, especially following the end of the Cold War, the Nobel Prize in Literature has increasingly been awarded to writers outside of Europe and the US. Writers from Africa, Latin America and Asia, for example,are gaining rising international recognition, whereas the prize was almost the exclusive domain of westerners in the past. This is a manifestation of the increasingly complex geopolitical reality of the world today, which is being decentralized and shifting towards non-western countries in a multi-polarized fashion. The Nobel Prize for Literature is no exception in terms of this geopolitical transition.
Secondly, we should also take into consideration the characteristics of Mo¡¯s works. The Nobel Prize for Literature as a world-class award is standardized in recognizing books that focus on human destiny, and Mo¡¯s works reflect his concerns for literature per se and the common fate of human beings. In fact, the style and perspectives of Mo¡¯s writing is quite westernized, as he has been deeply influenced by magical realism in Latin America, especially One Hundred Years of Solitude by Columbian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Mo Yan writes about Chinese people and Chinese stories, but the concern for humanity revealed in his works goes far beyond that.
Nevertheless, this does not suggest that Chinese literature has been truly understood and embraced by the West. The perspectives in which the Swedish jurors view modern Chinese literature have barely changed and they are still not able to grasp the complexity of Chinese literature. Such Chinese writers like Jiao Pingwa and Chen Zhongshi are just cases in point, who have minimal chances to win the prize simply because their works are too ¡°Chinese¡±. Chinese culture has its own peculiarities and complexities, which is hard for Westerners to comprehend. Although the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to writers from all over the world, Chinese writers have never had the honor before. Similarly, the sole writers from the Islamic world, Egypt¡¯s Naguib Mahfouz and Turkey¡¯s Orhan Pamuk, who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, write in a style familiar to a western audience, largely because the contradictions in values between the West and the Muslim world are irreconcilable. The main reasons why South America and Africa have breed Nobel laureates is that they were colonies of the West for a long period in their history and have absorbed western cultures. China and the Arab world, on the other hand, hold resilient and distinct characteristics in their culture. In this regard, the universal values of the works outweigh geopolitical factors.
After Mo Yan brought home the first Nobel Prize in Literature for China, do the chances for future Chinese writers to win the prize become any greater? I think it does. As to who might win the prize in the future, I believe Yu Hua has a better shot than others, since both his worldwide prestige and understanding of literature are comparable to Mo Yan.
Last but not least, I¡¯d like to express some of my own opinions: this award is thought-provoking for us. Currently China is going through a new transition period while rising as one of the world¡¯s major powers. China should take a more active and open stance in its global participation of building universal values. In this sense, this award to Mo Yan is quite conducive.
Original Author: Liu Kang
Liu Kang is the Director of the Institute of Humanities and Arts at Shanghai Jiaotong University and a professor at Duke University
Translator: Chen Hong
Chen Hong is a current undergraduate student majoring in Diplomacy at China Foreign Affairs University
Editors: Xiaoyuan Li and Andrew Dirks
Original Publication Date: October 11, 2012
Original Article: http://opinion.huanqiu.com/culture/2012-10/3180795.html