Mo Yan, the Chinese author, won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature with the motivation “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary,” the Swedish Academy said today in Stockholm.
Mo Yan (a pseudonym for Guan Moye) was born in 1955 and grew up in Gaomi in Shandong province in north-eastern China. His parents were farmers. As a twelve-year-old during the Cultural Revolution he left school to work, first in agriculture, later in a factory. In 1976 he joined the People's Liberation Army and during this time began to study literature and write. His first short story was published in a literary journal in 1981. His breakthrough came a few years later with the novella Touming de hong luobo (1986, published in French as Le radis de cristal 1993).
In his writing Mo Yan draws on his youthful experiences and on settings in the province of his birth. This is apparent in his novel Hong gaoliang jiazu (1987, in English Red Sorghum 1993). The book consists of five stories that unfold and interweave in Gaomi in several turbulent decades in the 20th century, with depictions of bandit culture, the Japanese occupation and the harsh conditions endured by poor farm workers. Red Sorghum was successfully filmed in 1987, directed by Zhang Yimou. The novel Tiantang suantai zhi ge (1988, in English The Garlic Ballads 1995) and his satirical Jiuguo (1992, in English The Republic of Wine 2000) have been judged subversive because of their sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society.
Fengru feitun (1996, in English Big Breasts and Wide Hips 2004) is a broad historical fresco portraying 20th-century China through the microcosm of a single family. The novel Shengsi pilao (2006, in English Life and Death are Wearing Me Out 2008) uses black humour to describe everyday life and the violent transmogrifications in the young People's Republic, while Tanxiangxing (2004, to be published in English as Sandalwood Death 2013) is a story of human cruelty in the crumbling Empire. Mo Yan's latest novel Wa (2009, in French Grenouilles 2011) illuminates the consequences of China's imposition of a single-child policy.
Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition. In addition to his novels, Mo Yan has published many short stories and essays on various topics, and despite his social criticism is seen in his homeland as one of the foremost contemporary authors.