Mo Yan says Nobel prize means more eyes on Chinese literature

Updated: 2012-10-13 08:23


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GAOMI, Shandong - Nobel Literature Prize winner Mo Yan said Friday that eyes worldwide will read Chinese contemporary literature over a period of time.

"It (my winning the prize) should play a rather positive role, but the effect shouldn't be overestimated," Mo said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua in his hometown Gaomi in east China's Shandong province.

Mo became the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Literature Prize in its century-long history Thursday, bringing joy to other writers and readers throughout the country.

No high expectation for winning

The 57-year-old said he did not have high expectations for winning. "Actually, I thought I only had a slim chance to win," he said.

"There are so many good writers throughout the world, and in China. It's like I was standing in a long queue for a prize that is only awarded to one person in the world annually."

He said the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy informed him of the win through a phone call, 20 minutes before the news was publicly announced.

Obsessed with reading in childhood

Mo, who was born into a farmer's family in a village and dropped out of school at the age of 12, started reading books in a mill of his house using the flickering light of an oil lamp as he did not want to work in the field.

"In my childhood, there were only a few books available in my village. I had to resort to every means to find a book to read. I traded books with others and even churned the mill and reaped wheat for others in exchange for books," he said.

"When I finished reading all the books available in villages around, I thought I was the most knowledgeable man in the world."

"With no more books at hand, I even started reading a Chinese dictionary. I read it so many times that I even found mistakes in it."

Limited effect in reversing reading decline

"With more means available to pass one's spare time now, such as chatting online and listening to music, one's reading time will definitely end up shorter," Mo said.

Mo said he did not expect his Nobel Prize in Literature to boost Chinese people's reading habits despite the buzz his winning has created.

"I think the mania will end in one month, maybe even sooner and then everything will be back to normal," said the Nobel laureate.

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication showed that in 2011, an average Chinese person read 4.3 books a year, far fewer than the average in Western countries.

Literature will never perish

"Literature is a rather desolate and lonely field throughout the world. It's not like films and other media that attracts a huge audience," Mo said.

Mo said he once read an article in which the writer was worried that there would not be any readers for novels after seeing people swarm to see Hollywood films in the 1930s.

Decades later, people still hold pessimistic views over literature. And now besides films, Internet and television drag more people away from literature, he said.

The writer, however, said "It (literature) will never perish." Literature is an art of language and its language beauty could not be replaced by the beauties of other arts, he said.

Even if you are reading again and again a master's book, you could still be touched by the beauty of the language and fates of the characters inside, he said. "I believe it's the beauty and charm of the language. And this will never perish."

Novel and film

Mo, whose real name is Guan Moye, has been known since the late 1980s for his novels such as Big Breasts and Wide Hips and Red Sorghum, which was later adapted into a film by director Zhang Yimou.

Mo said that if a novel is successfully adapted into a film, its influence and the author's popularity will be greatly boosted.

He said he based his observation on the example of the award-winning film Red Sorghum.

Prize money

Talking about how he is going to spend the prize money worth $1.2 million, Mo said he is planning to buy a house in Beijing.

"(I think) it's going to be a big one," he said with a big smile.

"But others told me that with the property price in some areas in the capital is hitting 50,000 yuan (nearly $8,000) per square meter, I can only afford a 120-square-meter apartment with the prize money."