Mo Yan and Murakami


I like both Mo Yan’s 莫言 and Murakami Haruki’s 村上春樹 novels. But 1Q84 left me disappointed, although it’s brilliantly written. Great evocation of ordinary lives and neighborhoods. But not very much connection to Orwell. No prison. The two lovers escape at a terrible price. Maybe I sort of hoped neither Mo Yan nor Murakami would get it. Although I think they’re both great writers. Murakami deserves great credit for his political candor, both in some of his novels and otherwise. He recently spoke out for a return to reason in Chinese-Japanese relations. After Mo Yan got the Nobel, he also said something in this direction. Mo Yan has never made political comments before. Now he can do it. So maybe it is a good thing that he got the prize.
Making handwritten copies of the speech that was the reference point for decades of repression in literature is an absurd, shameful act.
On the other hand, Mo Yan’s novels could be called an important continuation of the magical realism tradition. The realism of The Garlic Ballads clearly shows the helplessness of peasants and ordinary people in the 1980s. The Republic of Wine is a fantastically powerful indictment of official corruption. Some other novels have broader historic scope. The stories take place in many different periods, under CCP rule as well as before and even in the 19th century. But they are all fantastic tales of familiar people in villages and small towns. Ma Lan’s 馬蘭 How We Killed a Glove 我們如何殺一隻手套 employs different techniques, but when you are in the middle of reading you also realize the details refer to massacres and tragedies that seem very fantastic in hindsight but which are actually quite familiar still for many people even now. So I have great respect for Mo Yan 莫言 and Tie Ning 鐵凝, even though they chair the Chinese Writer’s Association. They don’t even have Party members in their stories, as far as I recall. There are no chairmen or even higher functionaries at all in recent Chinese literature. There are no vindications of official policy, in contrast to the 1950s and 1960s. As to the Yan’an Talks or Yan’an Forum 延安文藝座談會, it was not really a discussion with different voices being respected. Maghiel van Crevel 克雷 has put the whole context together in his book on Duo Duo 多多 in 1995, on the basis of Bonnie McDougall etc. The Chairman had remarkable rhetoric skill, but it can’t be separated from the context of writers disappearing, getting imprisoned and killed, not to speak of other people, right then and there in 1942, on the grounds of what Mao was saying. It’s not the kind of literary theory you can discuss on its own. Socialist realism with its many facets and developments in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, GDR etc. is certainly worth a great deal of attention and discussion, but it is always very directly connected with politics. In some countries, like the former Soviet Union and China, this connection was compounded by dictators considered as intellectuals. Marxism, Socialism and Communism were taboo in the US for a long time. This kind of repression is still quite visible in the propaganda against Obama, who isn’t really leftist at all. And because of this, literary and social theory have a very strong and special status in US academia. Infatuation with China and/or what was perceived as its politics is an additional factor, also in other countries. When I look at the social and political context of literature in China, I prefer Yu Hua 余華 to Mo Yan. But it’s not that simple. Mo Yan is a soldier, joining the PLA was the only way for him to become a writer. He has done and is doing what is possible in his position, and deserves respect.

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一条回应 to “Mo Yan and Murakami”

  1. 樹 | 中国大好き Says:

    […] Mo Yan and Murakami 莫言、村上春樹 […]

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