What a bummer: Nobel laureate Mo Yan defends censorship

Chinese author Mo Yan was announced in October as the recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature; he’s in Sweden now and will be presented with the award Monday. It was at a news conference in Stockholm that Mo made his disappointing statements in support of censorship.

The Associated Press reports, “Mo said he doesn’t feel that censorship should stand in the way of truth but that any defamation, or rumors, ‘should be censored.’ ” The Nobel laureate then compared censorship to airport security checks.

Here in America, the censorship that exists takes relatively benign forms: Alan Moore’s graphic novel being banned from a single library system is upsetting, but an enterprising reader could find another way to get her hands on it. In China, censorship can be a grave matter. For example, a writer of a manifesto calling for democratic reforms might be thrown into prison.

That’s exactly what has happened to Mo’s fellow countryman Liu Xiaobo. Liu, an author of Charter 08, is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The choice of Mo for the literature prize met with approval from Chinese state television but criticism from outspoken opponents. “For him to win this award, it’s not a victory for literature; it is a victory for the Communist Party,” Yu Jui, a writer and democracy activist, wrote in a blog post after the announcement.


Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin sees Mo as being positioned in a precarious middle ground. “Although he has been called ‘one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers,’ he recently was one of ‘100 writers and artists’ who participated in a tribute to Mao Tse-tung,” he explained.

But with his latest statements about censorship, Mo seems to be tipping in an unfortunate direction: 134 Nobel Laureates signed a petition this week calling for the release of Liu and his wife, citing their detention as a violation of international law. Mo has not signed the petition.


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