Weekly Writing Challenge: Leave your comfort zone; write something different.
At 11.00 GMT on Oct 11, the latest Nobel Prize winner in Literature will be born. 莫言 (MO Yan), a distinguished Chinese writer, could change history. Since 1901, China has never produced a Nobel Prize winner in Literature. MO Yan could possibly be the first Chinese writer who breaks the curse. If he wins, he will be the FIRST Chinese who is resident in China to have won this award.
This is exciting. I really can’t wait.
In 2000, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Gao Xingjian 高行健, of Chinese origin, later a French citizen. That was the closest China was vaguely connected to the Nobel Prize in Literature.
As a Weekly Writing Challenge, I’m going to introduce MO Yan to the world, in the form of a fake interview. (Trust me, I’ve done some research.)
Which one is your surname, Mo or Yan?
MO is my surname of course! (What a stupid question!) This is a Chinese name; Chinese surname comes before the given name. Understand?
How is your name pronounced? What about the tones?
MO 莫 sounds like MUO, with a falling tone; Yan 言 sounds like the Japanese currency, yen, pronounced with a rising tone. ‘MUO YEN’, do you get it? So please don’t call me MOU YAN, ok?
Does your name mean anything?
MO Yan (莫言）is my pen name. Mo means ‘no, not’; Yan means ‘speech‘. My pen name means No Speech or Don’t speak.
What’s your real name then?
My real name is GUAN Moye 管谟业. I was born in 1955, in Shandong province, northeast of China.
Shandong province? Didn’t the great philosopher Confucius also come from Shandong?
Indeed. Confucius came from the Qufu area in Shandong. I’m from the Gaomi area. My hometown has been transformed into a mythical world in my novels.
What have you written?
I love telling stories. Imaginations and realities are intertwined in my stories. Some critics compared magical realism in my stories with that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. We both bring readers into the most disturbing and kaleidoscopic realities.
I’ve published tens of novels since 1981. My well-known novels are probably 红高粱 (hóng gāoliáng) and 丰乳肥臀 (fēng rǔ féi tún)。
Yes, these have been translated into English: The Red Sorghum and Big Breasts & Wide Hips.
Correct. You may also know that The Red Sorghum was made into a film by ZHANG Yimou 张艺谋.
Of course, I remembered watching the film in 1988. I was totally spellbound by the employment of vibrant colours, a dynamic peasant life and the captivating tales around the distillery for Sorghum liquor.
This was also the very first time ZHANG Yimou ever worked with his muse, the beautiful actress GONG Li. ZHANG Yimou’s status as an international filmmaker was established in this film, thanks to your novel.
Shall we have a glimpse of Red Sorghum again? The music in the film is so uplifting.
Mr Mo, could you name one favourite work of yours? I do know I’m being difficult.
I once said, if you only read one book of mine, you perhaps should go for 丰乳肥臀 (fēng rǔ féi tún) – Big Breasts & Wide Hips, my major epic style novel. This story about an indestructible mother carries my wild imaginations. The story develops along key historical events, including the Sino-Japanese War, the Civil War, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the post-Mao economic reforms.
Mr MO, you’ve been quite reluctant to talk about your possible winning. Why is that?
The Nobel prize is undoubtedly an important international recognition, but many influential writers didn’t win this award, such as Tolstoy and Kafka. It’s known that China has developed serious anxiety over the Nobel Prize in Literature. Whatever I say now, I would be criticised. Therefore, I’m not saying anything. Please excuse me, I’m only concentrating on the thing that I love most — writing.
Mr Mo, thank you very much for this interview. Good luck to you tomorrow in Stockholm.
By the way, if you bump into Haruki Murakami （村上春树） in town, please send my regards to him too. Please tell him that he’s also a brilliant writer.