A Nobel Laureate gets more than he bargained for.
Mo Yan, a writer who enjoyed delving into the realms of the absurd, must be feeling like he stepped into one of his novels in the days since he became China’s first Nobel Laureate in Literature.
First, a Chinese philanthropist with a flair for the flamboyant made a public offer, pledging he would give Mo a US$ 1 million villa in the heart of Beijing. The offer was made by Chen Guangbiao, a businessman whose last claim to fame was taking out full-page ads in the New York Times and several other U.S. newspapers proclaiming China’s sovereignty over islands in the East China Sea. “I have… two villas within 20 minutes from the airport. If Mo Yan likes, I will go with him to pick either of the villas. And I give my word,” Chen announced, after the quiet writer revealed that he would use his $ 1.2 million Nobel prize money to buy a house in Beijing (real estate prices are a source of much public anger in China today. Given Mo Yan’s subversive streak, it’s still unclear how serious he was).
Then, officials in Mo’s hometown announced they would put in place a $107 million plan to make his village — where he has set many of his novels — a tourism destination. (So much for preserving a writer’s source of inspiration.) The village committee said it would build a country club, a “patriotic education” centre and plant sorghum — Red Sorghum was Mo’s breakthrough novel — over 667 acres of land, the Beijing News reported. Asked about the plans, Mo said in an interview, perhaps still in denial, “Don’t take it seriously.” Mo’s 90-year-old father recently rejected a government offer to renovate the Mo home.
The Nobel, however, has only made local officials more determined. “I’ll tell him,” an official told the Global Times, “‘Your son no longer belongs only to you’.”