Gabriel García Márquez in Monterrey in 2007Gabriel García MárquezGabriel Garcia Marquez, who died on Thursday at the age of 87, was arguably the most-read contemporary foreign writer in China in more than three decades.

In the early 1980s, his works triggered a new literary trend – the root-searching school of writing – and since then he has become an icon for his readers.

Chinese Nobel laureate in literature Mo Yan, once known as the “Chinese Garcia Marquez”, is among his fans. Mo said he has tried to escape the Spanish-language writer’s influence for 20 years.


A little more than a year later, the annual Bookworm Literary Festival, which has counted big-name international authors such as David Sedaris and Dave Eggers on the lecture roster in the past, in addition to well-known Chinese authors such as Mo Yan himself, is once again highlighting writers in China.

Has this interest had any effect on the domestic literary scene? China Real Time asked Eric Abrahamsen and Canaan Morse, editors and translators at the Chinese literary magazine Pathlight, to weigh in on the country’s literary scene.

Has the Chinese literary scene changed since Mo Yan won the Nobel?

Abrahamsen: It’s a little too early to tell. Especially when you’re talking about international editors developing an interest in Chinese literature. You’d be likely to see a result in three or four years.

Has an initial interest occurred?

Morse: I think it has. The most significant changes have been within China. The national secondary-school Chinese-language curriculums began to include Mo Yan. Some of Lu Xun’s works were kicked out.

Abrahamsen: The new canon.

Morse: Exactly. Mo Yan’s achievement allowed the machine that controls the ideological distribution in schools to have a new, living hero.

Kamila Shamsie and Pankaj Mishra discuss the absence of political anger in Western literature and why we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn writers like Mo Yan: Guernica

Pankaj Mishra
Pankaj Mishra

Kamila Shamsie: The decision to give the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan was heavily criticized by many writers, not because of his work’s literary merit, but on the grounds that he had refused to sign a petition calling for the freedom of Liu Xiaobo, a fellow laureate. The criticism grew even stronger when Mo Yan defended censorship, comparing it to airport security. You’ve always been politically outspoken, and have expressed your frustration with writers who remain quiet over political issues. You might have been expected to join the chorus of disapproval. Instead you turned around and criticized those who were criticizing Mo Yan. Is there a contradiction here in your own position?

Rankings create false impression many writers are being paid big royalties, but they’re distorted by celebrities’ earnings: Mandy Zuo in SCMP

Mo YanEvery year, a ranking of the best-paid authors on the mainland is seized upon by the media and other social observers as misleading and wrong-headed, even as they endlessly parse and compare the names and numbers.

But the Writers Rich List, compiled by the reporter Wu Huaiyao and published by West China City News, is useful as it focuses attention, if only briefly, on the state of Chinese literature in a society that increasingly devalues the profession.


 Rabindranath Tagore, Pearl Buck, and Mo Yan are a trio, Jeffrey Wasserstrom writes in the LARB


The title of this post lumps together three writers I’ve begun to think of as a trio, though I can certainly understand why some readers might think of them as having precious little in common with one another. Only the first was a major poet, after all, only the second wrote a novel that became a major Hollywood movie, and only the third’s career has involved navigating the challenges of writing in a Communist Party-run state.

Mo YanAnjum Hasan on the contemporary Chinese fiction through an Indian lens in the Caravan

When Mo Yan won the latest Nobel Prize for Literature, I was struck by a curiosity that the prize is perhaps meant to trigger: I hadn’t read Mo Yan and was wholly ignorant about contemporary Chinese fiction. So I ordered his novella Change (2010) from Seagull Books. The title had been put out as part of their ‘What Was Communism’ series, with a cover designed in-house that prominently mentioned the win. Change (and Mo’s Pow!, also published by Seagull) turned out to be the only examples I could find of Chinese fiction independently sourced and published in India. Most Chinese literature available to us, I discovered in the coming months as I looked for more to read from that country, travels here through Western channels—either reprints of Western editions or these editions themselves, priced for Indian markets.

Mo_YanNikil Saval on the works of the Chinese Nobel Laureate in The LRB

When the English translation of Mo Yan’s novel Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996) was published in 2004, it was seen by some critics as his bid for global literary prestige. It hit all the right notes: it was a historical saga of modern China featuring a proliferation of stories, it was unceasingly violent and nasty, and it came near to puncturing Party myths.

Mo YanNobel Prize laureate Mo Yan explores with Syrian-born poet Adonis the significant role of translation in today’s literary world

Cultural identity, the spirit of introspection and writers’ mission are among the topics that Syrian-born poet Adonis explored with Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan and other Chinese writers, in a recent talk organized by Beijing Normal University International Writing Center.

Both Adonis and Mo Yan, who have an increasing international readership, concluded that the one factor which facilitates and hinders their efforts is translation.