Author Mo Yan, who became the first Chinese citizen to win the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, has called for the release of jailed fellow Laureate and dissident writer Liu Xiaobo even as the Chinese government hailed his award as reflecting the country's rise.
“I now hope that he can regain his freedom very soon,” Mr Mo told a press conference on Friday in his hometown of Gaomi in north-eastern Shandong province. Mr Liu, who was sentenced to prison for a 11 years in 2009 after writing a series of articles calling for political reforms and the end of Communist Party rule, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010.
While the Chinese government hit out at the decision then as a “blasphemy”, top officials and State media outlets have hailed Mr. Mo’s award, framing it as reflecting China’s rising national strength. While news of Mr. Liu's award was blacked out two years ago, this year's Nobel prize made it to the front page of newspapers and to daily news broadcasts.
On Friday, propaganda chief and Politburo Standing Committee member Li Changchun said the award “reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing national strength and influence of China”, in a congratulatory letter sent to the party-supported China Writers Association.
Mr Mo, who served as the government-backed body’s Vice-Chairman, has been criticised by some Chinese dissidents and writers for his association with the group, which usually only promotes writers who are not overtly critical of the party.
Mr Mo on Friday rejected the criticism aimed at him. “I believe that the people who have criticised me have not read my books,” he was quoted as saying at the news conference by Reuters. “If they had read my books they would understand that my writings at that time took on a great deal of risk and were under pressure.”
Many of Mr Mo’s writings have been set in turbulent episodes in China’s recent history, such as the Cultural Revolution. His more recent work, such as the 2009 work “Frog”, engaged with the sensitive issue of forced abortions, reflecting an often subversive theme that runs through his works, which are not, however, overtly political. While his critics say he has not spoken out forcefully enough against censorship, many of his fans in China came to his defence in comments online. While some pointed out that Mr. Mo had walked a tightrope in pushing boundaries by touching upon sensitive issues even while remaining within the system, others argued that his politics need not necessarily determine the merits of his literary talent.
“Many of the people who have criticised me online are Communist Party members themselves,” Mr Mo said. “They also work within the system.” “And some,” he added, “have benefited tremendously within the system.”