Herta Muller calls Mo Yan's Nobel win 'a catastrophe'

Nobel Prize laureate Herta Muller accuses Mo Yan of praising his country's censorship laws and calls his win 'a slap in the face for all those working for democracy and human rights.'

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Since the win, Mo Yan, the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, has been accused of compromising his independence by being a member of the Communist Party and vice president of the official writers association.

Nobel Prize laureates will always have their detractors – it’s a given considering the eminence of the award – but rarely have the detractors been as critical as those of Mo Yan. After the Chinese novelist’s 2012 win, critics have been emerging from the woodwork with regularity, accusing Mo Yan of complicity with Communist leaders.

The latest criticism comes from 2009 Nobel Prize laureate Herta Muller, who told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter this weekend that Mo Yan’s victory was “a catastrophe” and an “incredibly upsetting choice,” according to the Associated Press.

She accused the Chinese novelist of praising his country’s tough censorship laws and called his win “a slap in the face for all those working for democracy and human rights.”

Known for his depiction of rural Chinese life, and particularly its women, Mo Yan was compared to William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and praised by the Nobel committee for his “hallucinatory realism” that “merges folks tales, history, and the contemporary.”

Since the win, Mo Yan, the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, has been accused of compromising his independence by being a member of the Communist Party and vice president of the official writers association. That association is especially troubling for Muller, who came of age under the totalitarian regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and whose own work was often subject to censorship. (She now lives in Germany.)

“The Chinese themselves say that Mo Yan is an official of the same rung as a (government) minister,” she told Dagens Nyheter, according to the UK’s Guardian.

She isn’t the only one to call him out. Immediately after he won the award, dissident artist Ai Weiwei told the press, "Giving the award to a writer like this is an insult to humanity and to literature. It’s shameful for the committee to have made this selection which does not live up to the previous quality of literature in the award.”

We’re curious to see whether the Nobel Committee or Mo Yan himself respond to these escalating attacks.

Of course, Mo Yan’s homeland, which is planning a Mo Yan theme park, has nothing but praise for the writer. As the New York Daily News reports, “Chinese officials have openly celebrated Mo’s Nobel – an ominous sign.”

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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