China had been thrilled to claim its first real Nobel laureate earlier this year, as Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel prize for literature for his "hallucinatory realism".
Some foreign observers had their doubts about a man who was viewed as being close to the regime — even partaking in a celebration of the 70th-anniversary of Mao Zedong's “Speech at Yan’an Forum on Art and Literature”,a speech that said that artists who did not integrate into the Communist Party should be punished — but few could doubt the power of his novels, and most would give him the benefit of the doubt.
As such, his comments in Sweden on Thursday have broken a lot of hearts. Appearing at a news conference in Stockholm on the eve of the presentation of the award, Mo said that censorship shouldn't stand in the way of truth, but that rumors and defamation "should be censored," AP reports.
"But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle," he added. He went on to compare the censorship process to airline security. "When I was taking my flight, going through the customs ... they also wanted to check me even taking off my belt and shoes [...] But I think these checks are necessary."
The words cut especially hard as many had been hoping Mo would use the opportunity to give support to his jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, as he had been petitioned to do by fellow nobel laureates. Mo instead told reporters he had said all he had to say about Liu (he has previously said he hopes he finds freedom as soon as possible), adding "I have said this prize is about literature. Not for politics."
The comments have drawn widespread criticism from around the world, with Salman Rushdie writing on Facebook. ""He defends censorship and won't sign the petition asking for the freedom of his fellow Nobelist Liu Xiaobo. 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."
Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows summed up in a way that resonated widely: "As a writer, Mo Yan is obviously talented. As a public figure, he will forever be diminished by the stands he is taking, and avoiding, now."
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