Chinese author Mo Yan on Friday defended his Nobel prize from dissidents who accused him of being a communist stooge, and expressed hope for the early release of jailed fellow laureate Liu Xiaobo.
Speaking after his Nobel literature prize sparked an outpouring of praise from the government, and sharp condemnation from critics, Mo Yan stood his ground in a press briefing likely to anger both sides.
He dismissed his detractors, saying they probably had not read his books.
“Some say that because I have a close relationship with the Communist Party, I shouldn’t have won the prize. I think this is unconvincing,” said Mo Yan, 57.
He called his award “a literature victory, not a political victory”.
But Mo Yan also defended Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, who wrote that Chinese art must serve the party.
“I think some of Mao’s remarks on art were reasonable,” the author said.
Looking relaxed and confident, he also courted official anger by saying he hoped that jailed dissident writer Liu Xiaobo could be freed soon.
Liu was jailed in 2009 for calling for democratic change, and his Nobel Peace Prize the following year enraged Beijing, which brands Liu a criminal.
“I hope he can gain freedom as early as possible,” Mo Yan said in response to a question from one of about 30 journalists at the briefing in his hometown of Gaomi, where many of his dozens of works have been set.
Chinese dissidents have assailed the prize as a disgrace due to the Communist Party’s control of creative expression.
Artist Ai Weiwei savaged Mo Yan as a government patsy and ridiculed the official jubilation from Beijing, which had lashed out at the Nobel committee in the past over peace prizes for Liu and Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
“(Mo Yan) will always stand on the side of power and he will not have one bit of individualism,” Ai told AFP, adding that “people don’t know if they should laugh or cry over this Nobel prize”.
Prominent exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng criticised the prize as an effort to appease Beijing after the angry reaction to Liu’s 2010 peace award.
He questioned Mo Yan’s independence, noting that he had copied by hand a speech by Mao — which contained the late leader’s views on controlling art — for a commemorative book this year.
“We can tell that this prize was awarded for the purpose of pleasing the communist regime and is thus not noteworthy,” Wei said.
In sharp contrast to its past Nobel vitriol, China boasted about Mo Yan, the first Chinese national to win the literature prize.
“Mo Yan’s winning of the Nobel prize for literature reflects the flourishing improvements of Chinese literature and China’s comprehensive national strength and international influence,” said Li Changchun, the country’s top propaganda official, according to Xinhua news agency.
“Chinese authors have waited too long for this day, the Chinese people have waited too long. We congratulate Mo Yan!” said the People’s Daily, the official outlet for the Communist Party.
But Yu Jie, an exiled dissident writer, was quoted by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle as calling it “the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature”, saying Mao had “slaughtered” more people than Stalin or Hitler.
The prolific Mo Yan is known for exploring the brutality of China’s tumultuous 20th century with a cynical wit in dozens of works.
Some of Mo Yan’s work has cast an unflattering eye on official policy, such as his 2009 novel “Frog”, which looks at China’s “one child” limit and the local officials who implement it with forced abortions and sterilisations.
Literary critics have said Mo Yan has dodged censure by deftly avoiding overt criticism of authorities. He is also vice-chairman of the officially endorsed China Writers’ Association.
Mo Yan is a pen name for the author, who was born Guan Moye. He is best known abroad for his 1987 novella “Red Sorghum”, set amid the brutal violence that plagued the eastern Chinese countryside, where he grew up, during the 1920s and 30s.
His books have sold out in several bookstores in the capital since the prize was announced on Thursday, the Xinhua state news agency reported.
One shop employee said 40 customers had each requested 11 books, clearing out their Mo Yan titles by Friday morning.