When Chinese author Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for literature last year, many critics were fast to pounce on his selection, accusing the committee of making a political choice that glossed over what many consider to be pervasive self-censorship in the writer's prose. But how much of this is true? In today's episode of Sinica, we take a closer look at Mo Yan and his work, including an exclusive audio excerpt from his most recent work in English translation.

Joining Kaiser today for this discussion are three names you might recognize from the Beijing literary community: Brendan O'Kane, who many of you already know through Popup Chinese but who is also well-known as a translator, Alice Liu who is the lead editor of Pathlight Magazine, and David Moser, an academic and periodic guest on Sinica who heads the CET Beijing immersion program. All three have different but equally informed impressions of Mo Yan and his work, so why not join us and make up your own mind.

As always, before we go let us remind you that - in addition to listening through our site and RSS feed - you are warmly invited to download this show as a standalone mp3 file. And if you have questions or suggestions about the show or want to contact us by email, please feel free to write us at sinica@popupchinese.com and we'll do our best to get back to you in a timely fashion.
 said on
March 9, 2013
Audio file link is dead, needs ".mp3" added to it. Thanks guys for continuing to put out great stuff!
 said on
March 9, 2013
Thanks, fixed it!
 said on
March 9, 2013
kaiser, your boss is getting divorce and marrying 度娘, is it true?
 said on
March 9, 2013
This is one of the most enjoyable podcasts i've listened to for a while. You guys should do more literary critiques, you got me really curious about Mo Yan, I would love to read his works. The parables sounded really captivating. On another note, Brendan is really leaving?!!?! That sucks for us popup chinese die hards, but congratulations!
 said on
March 9, 2013
华金,

I'm not sure where that is coming from. Brendan is going to grad school this fall and I assume we'll have fewer recordings with him during the normal semester. That said, where we've been looking for help has more been at the upper levels for a greater variety of advanced and Chinese-only materials.

Best,

--david
 said on
March 9, 2013
@trevelyan,

My bad! I assumed he was going for good, but it's good to know he'll still be doing podcasts. Sorry if I misled anyone!
 said on
March 10, 2013
A very interesting talk by Mo Yan at the University of Hong Kong (in Mandarin with 繁體字幕)on how he became a writer, with an afterword in English by Howard Goldblatt:

http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDYwODc5NTYw.html?x

 said on
March 10, 2013
@华金,

Not to worry -- Popup Towers will continue to stand tall in my (temporary) absence. Thanks for the kind words!
 said on
March 10, 2013
MENTIONS

Nobel Laureate Mo Yan: 'I Am Guilty' at Der Spiegel

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/nobel-literature-prize-laureate-mo-yan-answers-his-critics-a-885630.html

Does This Writer Deserve the Prize? by Perry Link for The New York Review of Books

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/dec/06/mo-yan-nobel-prize/?pagination=false

The Diseased Language of Mo Yan by Anna Sun for Kenyon Review Online

http://www.kenyonreview.org/kr-online-issue/2012-fall/selections/anna-sun-656342/

RECOMMENDATIONS

David:

An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics by Perry Link

http://www.amazon.com/An-Anatomy-Chinese-Metaphor-Politics/dp/0674066022/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362886356&sr=8-1&keywords=perry+link+an+anatomy+of+chinese

Alice:

1. The Bookworm International Literary Festival

http://bookwormfestival.com/

2. Dream of Ding Village by Yan Lianke, translated by Cindy Carter

http://www.amazon.com/Dream-Ding-Village-Yan-Lianke/dp/0802119328

Brendan:

1. Guaren, by A Yi

http://paper-republic.org/books/guaren/

2. The works of Feng Tang

http://paper-republic.org/authors/feng-tang/

3. China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, translated by Allan H. Barr

http://www.amazon.com/China-Ten-Words-Yu-Hua/dp/0307739791/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362887111&sr=8-1&keywords=china+in+ten+words

Kaiser:

Connected China - Reuters

connectedchina.reuters.com
 said on
March 10, 2013
I'd also recommend Charles Laughlin's response to Perry Link's first article about Mo Yan, "What Mo Yan's Detractors Get Wrong" -- and interested listeners should also check out some of the authors recommended by Perry Link in his response:

- 阿城 Ah Cheng's trilogy of novellas ("The King of Chess," "The King of Trees," and "The King of Children") is really, really good, and has been translated a couple of times. (Popup Chinese listeners at the upper Intermediate level should be able to get through the stories -- start with 棋王 -- without too much difficulty.) 棋王 was one of the first contemporary novellas I ever read all the way through.

- 王朔 Wang Shuo is an absolute pleasure to read, but will be considerably harder to get through for anyone unfamiliar with Beijing dialect. Most of his work has not made it into English, and the translations that are out there don't quite capture the qualities that make him so enjoyable. His novella 动物凶猛 (still untranslated) was the basis for the excellent film In the Heat of the Sun (阳光灿烂的日子). The short 顽主 (also untranslated) might make a good starting point for someone looking to check him out.

- 余华 Yu Hua is better represented in English. He's best known for 活着 To Live (which was the basis for the film of the same name), but his short stories are worth checking out as well. Mo Yan has been fortunate enough to have a single translator -- Howard Goldblatt -- giving him a consistent English voice in translation; Yu hasn't had the same luck, and some of his works travel between languages better than others.

These are all fine authors -- but they are of the same generation as Mo Yan, and contrary to what Perry Link says in his second piece, my sense is that Mo Yan's readers are mostly not "young and not very well schooled in Chinese history." Other than during the surge of post-Nobel interest, I don't remember ever hearing a Chinese friend under the age of 40 mention Mo. (At least in my experience; the plural of "anecdote" is not "data;" all disclaimers apply, etc.)

Finally: although, as I said, Mo's fiction mostly doesn't do very much for me, his short autobiographical piece "Change" is well worth a read.
 said on
March 12, 2013
great podcast guys! I just completed my dissertation on Yan Lianke and the difficult situation writers face in China. Really interesting to here everyone's views on it :) xx
 said on
March 17, 2013
Thanks for this.

Of course Perry Link has read Mo Yan's works because he used to teach Mo's literature in the States. I think it's no good to get defensive and assume others' ignorance when Mo gets crticised.
 said on
March 18, 2013
Priscilla,

I don't think the podcasters -- me included -- were stating as a fact that he hadn't read the books. I guess the tone of the conversation was scathing, but it was a genuine question. If it's due to not researching thoroughly enough then that's our (my) mistake.

Best, Alice
 said on
April 1, 2013
I came to it a bit late, but a thoroughly enjoyable and intriguing podcast. Made me wish that my Chinese training had allowed for more literature rather than only historical and political studies.
 said on
April 12, 2013
Do any of you happen to have a copy of "an anatomy of Chinese" here in China?

 said on
April 12, 2013
Hi @anka.gur -- I got a copy from Amazon's Kindle store. Don't know if the book will be available in print format here.
 said on
April 12, 2013
I'm also really late to the party (I fell a month or two behind in all my podcasts) but I wanted to come in and say this was a fantastic episode. I enjoy the podcast every week, but this episode went above and beyond what I expect.

Your perspective on Chinese current events is always well thought out, but I was glad to take a (partial) break from the real world and listen to a discussion of literature and the merits of different author's works. Of course there was also a discussion of the politics surrounding the authors, but I was just glad to hear you discuss the contect of the literature, and hear new names. I've been very interested in reading more modern literature, but haven't read anyone other than Mo Yan, Yu Hua, and Su Tong.

Keep up the good work!


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