“I think Kafka could not have written anything more absurd and unbelievable than this,” said Liu Xia (right), the wife of the jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo….
….when she described [to NPR’s Louisa Lim], in tears, her past two years under house arrest.
She has never been accused of any crime, yet she is guarded at all times except for — in a farcical touch — one recent day, when her guards bunked off for a lunch break and journalists seized the chance to sneak into her apartment.
Mo Yan has been widely criticized for his political deference to China’s ruling Communist party.
Salman Rushdie dismissed him “a patsy of the regime,” while fellow laureate and former dissident Herta Müller described his Nobel prize as “a catastrophe.”
“Mo Yan is certainly no dissident. He might even be accused of cowardice,” writes Ian Buruma, a professor of democracy, human rights and journalism at Bard College:
He could have used his prestige to speak up more forcefully for Liu Xiaobo….. Defending censorship, as Mo Yan did in Stockholm, was also an odd, not to say craven, act for a writer who sets such store on the freedom to tell stories.
Indeed, he refuses to speak out almost as a matter of principle. He has said that his pen name, Mo Yan, meaning “Don’t Speak,” was chosen because his parents warned him not to say things that might cause trouble. “I’ve always taken pride in my lack of ideology,” he writes in the afterword to “Pow!,” “especially when I’m writing.”
But “this narrow perspective has its advantages,” Buruma argues in the Times Book Review:
By concentrating on human appetites, including the darkest ones, Mo Yan can dig deeper than political commentary. And like the strolling players of old, the jesters and the public-square storytellers he so admires, Mo Yan is able to give a surprisingly accurate impression of his country. Distorted, to be sure, but sharply truthful, too. In this sense, his work fits into a distinguished tradition of fantasists in authoritarian societies: alongside Mikhail Bulgakov or the Czech master, Bohumil Hrabal.
“To demand that Mo Yan also be a political dissident is not only what the Dutch describe as ‘trying to pluck feathers from a frog.’ It’s also unfair,” writes Buruma, author of Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents:
A novelist should be judged on literary merit, not on his or her politics, a principle the Nobel committee hasn’t always lived up to. This time, I think it has. It would be nice if Mo Yan were more courageous, but he has given us some great stories. And that should be enough.
China’s anti-corruption efforts are “the equivalent of thieves catching thieves,” author Wang Xiaofang, told NPR’s Lim:
He learned to write corruption exposés the hard way. His decade as a pen-pushing civil servant culminated in a three-year investigation for corruption while his boss, the deputy mayor of the rust-belt city of Shenyang, was executed for gambling away $3.6 million of public money in Macau’s casinos.
“My boss was given a lethal injection,” he told me in November. “And the person who investigated the case, a senior official in the provincial anticorruption bureau, was given a first-class merit citation. But later he too was caught, and was found to be even more corrupt than my boss.”