The Chinese novelist’s profile was massively raised by winning the literature prize, but he has struggled to write since, he says.
Chinese Nobel Prize for literature winner Guan Moye, better known by his pen name Mo Yan, is desperate to get back to writing.
It has been almost five years since the Shandong province-born novelist became the first mainland Chinese to win the literature prize in October 2012. Chinese-born Gao Xingjian won it in 2000, but had been granted French citizenship two years earlier.
The past few years have been fruitful for boosting Mo’s public profile. For writing, less fertile, he says.
“I’ve barely written anything,” he said during a speech in Hong Kong on Wednesday, prompting laughter from the audience.
Mo Yan said that winning the Nobel Prize had made him too meticulous to publish anything.
This compared with the reverie of his most productive writing period between 1984 and 1986 when he wrote almost 800,000 words of fiction, including Red Sorghum, the novel that made his name and was later adapted into a film by the Chinese director Zhang Yimou.
The fame created by his winning the Nobel Prize has turned Mo Yan from a fast writer to a frequent flyer attending numerous events: from someone who preferred to speak little (his pen name means “Don’t speak” in Putonghua) to becoming one of the voices of China’s soft power.
To name just a few of the headline-making events he has attended in recent years, he accompanied Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on a state visit to Colombia two years ago, has promoted the government’s “Belt and Road” international trade initiative at a seminar and took part in panel discussion on cultural diversity at the Boao Forum for Asia last year.
He has also been the deputy chairman of the Communist Party-affiliated China Writers Association since 2011, an organisation often criticised for being close to the government.
He defended his position when asked about his writing and his political views in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel. “I have emphasised repeatedly that I am writing on behalf of the people, not the party,” he said.
But his critics have lambasted him for comparing China’s censorship to airport security checks four years ago and for praising China’s President Xi Jinping last December as “a prolific reader, someone with sophisticated taste for art, an expert” and “a leader on our thoughts”.
Mo told a book event in Beijing in January that he wanted to step out of the limelight: “Speaking from the heart, I don’t want to be a public figure. I can only resign myself to it.
“I am, more than anyone else, looking forward to seeing another Chinese writer win the Nobel Prize. for literature. Once it happens, all the attention will be on that person. And I can concentrate on writing my novels.”
The writer has largely kept a distance from the more than four million people who follow him on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
However, last month he started publishing short stories after a long dormancy on the social media platform. “I want to do some easy writing first, as a warm-up before getting on to finishing my next novel,” he explained.
The writer told the Spanish news agency EFE last year that he was looking for a fresh angle for his next novel, related to China’s government crackdown on corruption.
The subject material should come as no surprise because he worked for a decade up to 2007 at the Procuratorial Daily, the official paper supervised by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, or China’s top prosecutor. He also wrote scripts for three anticorruption TV shows produced by the authority and still serves as a consultant for the agency’s media centre.
He told the South China Morning Post after his appearance in Hong Kong that he was a huge fan of the current mainland TV drama In the Name of the People, which centres on the government’s anti-graft campaign.
“Now the show is out, I’m thinking of changing the angle of my novel,” he said, without elaborating.
Mo said he was thrilled that the drama could show the fall from grace of a government official and also the humanity of the characters.
“In the past, the highest level of officials that could be written as being corrupt was a mayor, not even party secretaries,” he said.
The 62-year-old writer told the audience in Hong Kong that he had started using the instant messaging application WeChat about two months ago, but was surprised how many pieces published under his name online had nothing to do with him.
At a dinner in Beijing a woman stood up and read, in tears, a “Mo Yan” poem entitled, “If you understood me, how good it would be”.
“I was so moved by the poem. And I said to her, ‘If I wrote this, how good that would be,’” he joked.
By Sidney Lend