Mo Yan, a novelist who brought to life the turbulence of the 20th century China in vivid and often graphic works set against the tumult of the Japanese invasion and a struggling countryside, on Thursday became the first writer in China to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, praised Mr. Mo as an author “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary” in the announcement, which was hailed in China as a long-awaited landmark heralding the arrival of the country’s literature on the world stage.
Born Guan Moye, Mr. Mo adopted the pen name of Mo Yan — meaning “don’t speak” in Chinese. Mr. Mo revealed in a speech in Hong Kong that he chose the name to remind himself of the lines he could not cross as a writer in a country where the government routinely censors the works of authors and artists.
The turbulence Mr. Mo experienced in his early life in the rural north-eastern province of Shandong was reflected in his writing. Forced to leave school when he was only 12, when Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) began, Mr. Mo spent his childhood herding cattle and surviving on weeds and tree bark as he was too poor to eat rice.