China transforms Nobel Prize winner's hometown into a theme park

The area will be known as the Mo Yan Culture and Experience Zone, but author Mo Yan remains ambivalent about the new attraction.

Chinese writer Mo Yan recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Step aside Dickens World, Popeye Village Fun Park, and Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

If you’re looking for literary fun of the contrived, manufactured, theme park variety, there’s a new game in town.

Following the Nobel Prize win of its native son, Mo Yan, China is planning to transform the Nobel winner’s hometown, the sleepy, rural village of Ping’an (population: 800), into a $110-million Mo Yan Culture and Experience Zone.

The national, and perhaps international, attraction will center on Mo Yan’s childhood home, a modest mud structure with newspaper-covered walls.

Also in the works is a Red Sorghum Culture and Experience Zone and a Red Sorghum Film and Television Exhibition Area based on the author’s 1987 work, “Red Sorghum.” By government mandate, that attraction would have real peasants cultivating 1,600 acres of real sorghum. (Never mind that the undesirable, unprofitable crop hasn’t been cultivated in decades.)

As we reported after his Nobel win, Mo Yan is known for his depiction of rural Chinese life, particularly its women, which populate many of his novels, short stories, and essays. His novel “Red Sorghum,” about the life of a young woman working in a distillery, was made into a film directed by Zhang Yimou which became one of the most internationally acclaimed Chinese films.

Chinese authorities, it seems, have appropriated Mo Yan’s house, literary success, and indeed, Mo Yan himself, for the theme park project.

“Your son is no longer your son, and the house is no longer your house,” Fan Hui, a local official told Mo Yan’s 90-year old father, according to the Beijing News, explaining that he was now China’s son. “It does not really matter if you agree or not.”

Even a few weeks ago, no one could have imagined this poor, rural outpost would become a dazzling $110 million national attraction.

“Until last week, the county of Gaomi in the eastern province of Shandong was a poor farming community,” writes the Vancouver Sun. “”It was here that Mo ate tree bark and searched for wild vegetables to survive a tough childhood.”

Oddly enough, these days visitors are digging up his family’s cultivated vegetables as a souvenir.

“One visitor dug up a radish [from Mo’s vegetable patch],” reported the Beijing News. “He slipped it into his coat and showed it to villagers afterward, saying: ‘Mo’s radish! Mo’s radish!’”

“A visiting mother picked some yams and told her daughter: ‘I’ll boil them, so you can eat them and win the Nobel Prize, too!’”

If visitors’ zest for Mo’s family garden patch is any indication, the Mo Yan Culture and Experience Zone will be a hit.

As for Mo and his family’s thoughts on the attraction, they appear ambivalent.

Asked by China Central Television whether he was happy about the plans, Mo responded, “I do not know.”

His brother Guan was less generous. “He [Mo Yan] will oppose any renovations even though he has won the award,” he said. “It is too public, people should be low key.” (Incidentally, Mo Yan is a pen name meaning “don’t speak.”)

Not, of course, that their opinion really matters.

As the Atlantic Wire said, “Sounds like government-mandated fun for the whole family!”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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