A Chinese Dickens?


CHINA has long fretted that it lacks a great modern literary voice with international appeal. In 1917 Chen Duxiu, an influential intellectual and later founding member of the Communist Party, asked: “Pray, where is our Chinese Hugo, Zola, Goethe, Hauptmann, Dickens or Wilde?” In recent years this has developed into a full-blown “Nobel complex”. For a period in the 1980s the quest for a Nobel prize in literature was made official policy by the party, eager for validation of its growing power and cultural clout.

Now, at last, the Chinese have something to crow about. On October 11th Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, won the 2012 prize. The Nobel committee lauded what it called the “hallucinatory realism” of his works, which mix surreal plots with folk tales and modern history.

Mr Mo is the first Chinese citizen to win the coveted prize. Gao Xingjian, a Chinese-born dissident with French citizenship, won it in 2000, but Chinese leaders thought him too political, banned his books and declared the prize had been awarded with “ulterior political motives”. China’s other Nobel laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who won the peace prize in 2010, is serving a long prison sentence for his political writings and activities.

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