Mo Yan, China’s 1st Nobel Laureate in Literature

01-02-13 Nick Chiam 0 comment

Born in the countryside, he is a fellow of rustic austerity; dubbed as a ‘little braggart’, he has been a great talker and fond of storytelling since his childhood; with an imaginative mind, he believes that a masterpiece should be filled with descriptions of odor, tableaux, sound and temperature; once pulling out all the stops to flee his hometown, he is coming back over and over again… In the past 30 years, he has 100-odd outstanding novels and countless awards to his credit by dint of combining ‘hallucinatory realism with folk tales, history and contemporary life’. He is Mo Yan, China’s 1st Nobel laureate in literature.

Growing Experience

There is an old Chinese saying:” Literary talents are generally ill-starred in their lives.” In other words, only the writers who have suffered repeated setbacks could understand the true meaning of life and produce masterpieces. The growing experience of Mo Yan is the best example.

Mo Yan was born into a peasant family in Gaomi Country, Shandong Province in 1955. In face of the toughest economic times, his family, like thousands of other households in

China, was struggling in poverty. The early years of Mo Yan were fraught with hardship: at the age of 12, he joined the army to extricate himself from grinding privation… Now we are wondering since when he has stepped onto the path of literature.

As the primary concern of local residents at that time was to meet the material needs, literature and art were miles away from Mo Yan. Once he heard about a novelist who lived a very “luxurious” life as to eat dumpling his favorite food at each meal. “My first dreams about writing were ignited by the temptation of dumplings,” said he with great admiration.

Just kidding, eh. Anyway, in those years, three things contributed to the transition of the young man into a writer: reading, listening to legends and herding.

Mo Yan is a real bookworm. For want of good reads in the village, he used to exchange his labor or property or books. In those days, he acquainted himself with a number of classical Chinese novels like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Strange Tales of Liaozhai, and Romance of the Sui-Tang Dynasties, and the true concept of literature took shape in his mind. “After I finished the dozen of books in our village, I thought all the book in the world near at hand. Only when I entered the country library did I realize that there were so many books I had not tried yet. Today, I am further convinced that it is impossible to swallow a minor proportion in my whole life,” said Mo Yan.

In addition to reading, Mo Yan enjoyed listening to the sidewalk stories that were passed down through generation. Under the spell of pantheism of Qi culture, such rituals as exorcism and rain praying were popular in his hometown. As a child, Mo Yan found the world both familiar and strange with mysterious creatures all around him, which stimulated his surreal imagination.

Meanwhile, Mo Yan had a delicate perception of the real world. After he dropped out of school, he undertook the task of herding and cutting grass which enabled him to get close to nature: in cattle’s eyes he could see his own reflection; sometimes he lay on the grass to contemplate the clouds in the sky, hearken to the songs of birds and even the sound of grass growing, and inhale the perfume of the land. Such experiences provided him with a multitude of writing resources.

Perceiving the world through his luxuriant imagination, Mo Yan identified life as a full-length novel. One day, he dreamt of  “an old peasant bending over and working on a radish field. Coming onto the scene is a girl with a fish spear in her hand, which forks a radish holds it up and walks towards the sunshine. The radish is shining with a glorious gleam”. The dream is the prototype of A Transparent Radish. “My childhood memories are the soul of my novels in which you can see the land and rivers, plants and trees, bird and beasts, myths and legends of my hometown.


Leave a reply