Patsy of the regime?

If the judiciousness of the choice of Chinese author Mo Yan (pseudonym for Guan Moye) for the 2012 literature Nobel was questioned in several quarters, Stockholm must have had a perfectly Orwellian moment on Thursday, when the Nobel laureate appeared to defend censorship, of the draconian Chinese variety, at a press conference in the Swedish capital. By Friday, his comparison of the "necessity" of censorship to airport security checks was already competing for the literary hall of infamy with his refusal to comment on jailed Chinese dissident and 2010 peace Nobelist, Liu Xiaobo, let alone sign a petition from 134 laureates urging Liu's and his wife's release. Salman Rushdie, without contention a heavy payer for his freedom of expression, couldn't hold it in: "Hard to avoid the conclusion that Mo Yan is the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet Russian apparatchik writer Mikhail Sholokhov: a patsy of the regime."

The Nobel committee's choice of awardee, especially for the almost-always politicised literature and peace prizes, has often faced critics' ire. Mo Yan, however, raised more eyebrows than, say, Herta Muller or Tomas Transtromer, because his wasn't a case of invisibility outside continental Europe but close association with a regime not exactly revered for its celebration of aesthetic licence. If anything, Beijing's contrasting reactions to Liu and Mo immediately placing the former's wife under house arrest and vehemently condemning the award, while openly embracing both the latter and his prize would make the point.

It is not necessary to go so far as to agree with Muller's denunciation last month of Mo Yan's choice as a "catastrophe". But while she indeed lived under Nicolae Ceausescu's Securitate, Mo appears to have taken his pen name too seriously. Having got into trouble earlier, he chose to avoid a repeat. Literally, "Mo Yan" means "Don't Speak". It's the antithesis of what great writers victimised by state censorship choose to do.

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