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Nobel laureate Mo Yan on not speaking out

Nobel laureate Mo Yan on not speaking out

In what appears to be his first interview with foreign press since winning the Nobel Prize for literature late last year, Chinese author Mo Yan sat down with with the German magazine Der Spiegel and discussed the "beauty" of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, a (possibly satirical) poem he wrote about disgraced Chongqing Party boss Bo Xilai, and even the guilt he felt for asking his wife to have an abortion. (h/t Beijing Cream.)

Ever since winning the Nobel, Mo has been criticized for not speaking out. In the excerpt below (the entire interview is fascinating, and worth reading in full), Mo defends his right to keep quiet about a cause he doesn’t appear to believe in: 

SPIEGEL: Today you are the deputy president of China’s Writers’ Association. Can one hold this title in China without being close to the government?

Mo: This is an honorary title about which nobody complained before I was awarded the Nobel. There are people who think the Nobel should only go to people who oppose the government. Is that so? Should the Nobel Prize in literature not be for literature, for something someone wrote?

SPIEGEL: But there are people in this country who are harassed, even arrested for what they write. Do you not feel an obligation to use your award, fame and reputation to speak out on behalf of these colleagues of yours?

Mo: I openly expressed the hope that Liu Xiaobo should regain his freedom as soon as possible. But again, I was immediately criticized and forced to speak out again and again on the same issue.

SPIEGEL: Liu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. And indeed, repeated statements of support would make a greater impression than a single comment.

Mo: I am reminded of the rituals of repetition in the Cultural Revolution. If I decide to speak, then nobody will stop me. If I decide not to speak, then not even a knife at my neck will make me speak.