China’s sudden love affair with Mo Yan, the Nobel laureate in Literature

October 17, 2012Jing Gao2 Comments, , , , , , , ,

After Mo Yan was announced the winner of Nobel Prize in Literature, his books were snapped up and became out of stock across the nation, his speeches are being parsed, and so many public and private entities are cashing in on him, in which he felt no pleasure or relief.

mo yan

Chinese writer Mo Yan, the 2012 Nobel laureate in Literature

On October 11, when the announcement came, the entire China sizzled with excitement, as if the award is a belated but well-deserved recognition of the country’s accomplishment in literature instead of Mo Yan’s personal success. Talks of Mo Yan filled the airwaves, newsstands and Internet chat room. The last time the nation was carried away like this, as far as I can recall, was probably when Beijing won the bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.


Octber 12, Shanghai – Oriental Morning Post, like all other newspapers in China, splashed its front page with celebratory coverage of Mo Yan’s win.

The market was quick to respond. Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing Group and The Writers Publishing House each immediately decided to print 200,000 additional copies of his books.

It proved to be a decision of foresight. Almost every major bookstore in urban China received sustained inquiry of his books from customers that swarmed in and had to disappoint them by telling them that Mo Yan’s books had sold out and would not be back in stock until further notice. Some net users even joked that the surge in the number of books demanded may push up the price of paper, citing a well-known Chinese proverb “Paper is expensive in Luoyang” (luoyang zhi gui, 洛阳纸贵), which is used to describe the popularity of a literary work.


October 12, Ningbo, Zhejiang province – In front of a special sales counter for Mo Yan’s works, “Notice to Our Readers: Mo Yan’s works out of stock. Please wait with patience.”


October 12, Beijing – A lady snapped up more than a dozen copies on the “Exclusive Shelves for Mo Yan’s Works In Honor of Nobel Literature Prize”.

The Chinese stock market were also affected, favorably, by Mo Yan’s win. Many stocks related to the publishing and media industry rose on the heels of the news, which experts say was driven by speculators.

A 200,000-character handwritten manuscript of Mo Yan as the script for a stillborn television drama, has seen its price skyrocket to 1.2 million yuan (US$191,000) and has become art collectors’ favorite.


The previously obscure manuscript of Mo Yan now has a 1.2-million-yuan price tag on it.

His hometown Gaomi in Shangdong province, which has been the setting of many of his novels, announced at least two ambitious plans: one being to renovate Mo’s former residence into a tourist attraction in an effort to draw visitors and boost the local economy; the other being the expansion of a research institute dedicated to Mo Yan into “a memorial hall.”

An uplifting piece of news for teenagers and even younger demographics: A Transparent Carrot, a short novel written by the author in 1985, will be included into the government-sanctioned textbook of Chinese literature for high school students nationwide, an honor that puts him on a par with Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, and the late Chinese writers Ba Jin and Lao She.

It is also expected that his books will be the ideal choices for film and television adaptation. So far, Red Sorghum, written in 1987, based on which an internationally acclaimed film of the same name was made, is the only work of his to be adapted for a wide audience.

If you think a Mo Yan with a net worth so much higher than before is getting giddy about it, you are wrong. Face to Face, a talk show of the state broadcaster China Central Television, threw him a question that was answered by thousands of Chinese on TV over the past National Day holiday, “Are you happy?” Mo Yan replied immediately, “I don’t know… Happiness is about not having nothing on one’s mind, unburdening everything, being physically healthy and free of any mental stress. I am now under a lot of stress, and very worried. Is that called happiness? But if I say I am not happy, you will say ‘You are so fake!’” His refreshing bluntness resonated with net users, who felt strongly about the hollowness of the question.

Another reporter from the state-run Xinhua News Agency asked him what he would do with the US$1.1 million cash prize, he answered with a smile, “I was going to buy a house in Beijing, a big house. Then someone reminded me that I can’t really get a big house. With (the property price at) 50,000 yuan a square meter, that money is just enough for a little over 120 sq. m. (1,290 sq. ft.)” That back-and-forth has clearly earned him a lot of accolades on the web. One microblogging post about this episode, among a dozen others, received more than 33,000 shares and 5,700 comments, the vast majority of which praised him for cleverly satirizing the ridiculously high property prices in Beijing.

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2 comments to “China’s sudden love affair with Mo Yan, the Nobel laureate in Literature”

  1. Blacksoth | October 17, 2012 | Permalink Reply

    Congratulations to Mo Yan on his nobel prize, and best wishes that he doesn’t find himself under house arrest in the future (’cause I understand that’s China’s policy on nobel prize winners).

    • Jing Gao | October 18, 2012 | Permalink Reply

      I guess luckily, the Nobel prize in his case is both his protective cover and his weapon, if he can use it artfully. The Chinese government cannot make him “disappear” that easily now that he has received so much positive media publicity. Hopefully, he can speak out more from now on.

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