China holds breath for Nobel literature recognition
Updated: 2012-10-10 20:09
BEIJING - As the globally prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature has never been conferred to a Chinese national during its history of more than a century, the possibility that this may be the year to end that trend has created a great deal of buzz on the Internet.
The speculation started on October 8 with a report by Agence France-Press, which said China's Mo Yan and Japan's Haruki Murakami share the top spots on two Swedish betting sites to be named as the 2012 winner of the prize on Thursday.
The news has sparked heated online discussion at home, some joyful over China having a Nobel Prize hopeful, some expressing pessimism over such a possibility, still others advocating not caring too much about the award.
Among a flood of comments, lots of people have equated bagging the prize to Chinese literature gaining the world's recognition.
Cheng Yongxin, the deputy editor-in-chief of literary magazine Harvest, said it already shows remarkable progress for such attention to be lavished on a Chinese author in a Western-dominated world.
Mo Yan, 57, is one of the most celebrated Chinese writers, known for novels including Red Sorghum, the Garlic Ballads and Big Breasts & Wide Hips. "Mo Yan," meaning "don't speak" in Chinese, is a pen name.
Shortly after domestic media reported Mo's chances of success, the news topped the hot-topic list of China's most popular Twitter-like site, Weibo.com.
News portal Sohu.com polled 100 Chinese authors asking them to guess the winner of the award. However, 48 of the authors voted "Mr. Unknown" as the final laureate, while only six chose Mo, Alongside eight votes for Israeli writer Amos Oz and seven for Japan's Murakami.
Some celebrities also expressed their opinions via social media. Among those voicing support for Mo was talk show host Cui Yongyuan, who said in his microblog that the author fully merits the prize.
Popular novelist Feng Tang, however, warned over-zealous netizens that the chance of Mo getting the award is slim because the Nobel Prize in Literature always values political correctness.
Harvest magazine's Cheng said it's quite natural for Chinese people to develop such a "Nobel Prize complex," because the country's literature has achieved huge progress over the years and its population wants corresponding recognition.
Wang Lixing, senior editor of Yilin Press, and former editor-in-chief of Translations, a magazine of foreign literature, noted that modern Chinese authors have grown ever more confident.
According to Wang, the end of the decade-long cultural revolution (1966-1976) gifted Chinese authors with an influx of literary works from abroad. They started with modeling themselves on foreign authors they admired, but gradually discovered their own strengths through comparisons.
Now, Chinese authors dare to explore the unique roles of their own country's literary traditions, concepts and subject matter in creating their own works, he said.
Mo Yan, as a representative of Chinese authors, has based his works on his rich knowledge of the Chinese countryside where he grew up, and his insightful and critical thinking on Chinese history, society and personality, said Cheng Yongxin, who is also a friend of Mo.
At a bookshop reading in Beijing in January 2010, Mo told readers, "My characters are all very native Chinese, and my language is also imprinted with Chinese characteristics. I think that's why I've got international readership."
However, only a small number of Chinese authors have had their works translated and introduced to foreign readers. "Authors like Mo who can be promoted in the West through publishing houses and agents are few and far between," according to Cheng Yongxin.
Cheng said that, despite China's sweeping changes in recent decades and the corresponding advances in literature, the relation between Chinese and Western literature is lopsided, as it is difficult to introduce Chinese works to the West.
Cheng listed translation as well as ideological and cultural differences as the greatest obstacles for Chinese literature to be appreciated by Western readers.
In Wang Lixing's view, Western literary circles for a long time held that Chinese literature simply didn't merit attention.
Along with China's rapid rise, however, more people are turning to Chinese modern literature as a window to learn about the country, Wang said. As a result, an increasing number of these works have been translated by foreigners, the most popular authors being Yu Hua, Su Tong and Wang Anyi, besides Mo Yan.
Wang, himself having introduced numerous foreign classics and modern works to Chinese readers, argued that only when Chinese authors draw so much attention that their works are translated by overseas sinologists, can Chinese literature be truly accepted overseas, as native translation is vital to the artistic rendering of literary pieces.
If the Nobel Prize in Literature is bestowed on a Chinese national, it will certainly expand the influence of Chinese literature at large; after all, it is the most influential literature award in the world, Wang said.
However, "The Nobel Prize is no Olympics", Wang said, explaining its recipient is not decided based on objectively selecting the best, but on a dozen scholars evaluating world authors according to their own criteria.
Wang is among many pundits to call for a rational approach toward the prize.
Yang Yang, a Chinese literature professor with Shanghai-based East China Normal University, suggested the public should not put too much stock into the prize, saying, "Appreciation of literature is up to individual artistic interests, and different people have their own preferences."
Yang asked the public to pay attention to the author and his works, rather than honors or reputation.
Some have called for calm as they believe eagerness for global recognition merely shows lack of self-assurance, one Weibo.com comment reading, "I don't know why we are keen on getting recognized by the West, perhaps it means we are not confident."
Others have cast doubt on the authority of the Nobel Committee to assess literary works originally written in Chinese.
Novelist Feng Tang noted in his microblog, "It is funny for a group of non-Chinese-speaking scholars to evaluate the works of a quality Chinese author."
After he was reported as a likely recipient of the prize, Mo Yan, however, retreated to his hometown in east China's Shandong Province, telling inquiring journalists, "Don't speak about the matter."