Guan Moye (simplified Chinese: 管谟业; traditional Chinese: 管謨業; pinyin: Guǎn Móyè; born 17 February 1955), better known by the pen name Mo Yan (/m jɛn/, Chinese: 莫言; pinyin: Mò Yán), is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. Donald Morrison of U.S. news magazine TIME referred to him as "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers",[1] and Jim Leach called him the Chinese answer to Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller.[2] In 2012, Mo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work as a writer "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary".[3][4]

Mo Yan
Mo Yan in 2008
Mo Yan in 2008
Native name
BornGuan Moye (管谟业)
(1955-02-17) 17 February 1955 (age 67)
Gaomi, Shandong, China
Pen nameMo Yan
OccupationWriter, teacher
EducationMaster of Literature and Art – Beijing Normal University (1991)
Graduated – People's Liberation Army Arts College (1986)
Period1981 – present
Notable worksRed Sorghum Clan,
The Republic of Wine,
Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature
Du Qinlan (杜勤兰)
(m. 1979)
ChildrenGuan Xiaoxiao (管笑笑) (Born in 1981)

He is best known to Western readers for his 1986 novel Red Sorghum, the first two parts of which were adapted as the Golden Bear-winning film Red Sorghum (1988).[5] He won the 2005 International Nonino Prize in Italy. In 2009, he was the first recipient of the University of Oklahoma's Newman Prize for Chinese Literature.[6]

Early lifeEdit

Mo Yan was born in February of 1955 into a peasant family in Ping'an Village, Gaomi Township, northeast of Shandong Province, the People's Republic of China. He is the youngest of four children with two older brothers and an older sister.[7] His family was of a upper-middle peasant class background.[8] Mo was 11 years old when the Cultural Revolution was launched, at which time he left school to work as a farmer. In the autumn of 1973, he began work at the cotton oil processing factory. During this period, which coincided with a succession of political campaigns from the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution, his access to literature was largely limited to novels in the socialist realist style under Mao Zedong, which centered largely on the themes of class struggle and conflict.[9]

At the close of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Mo enlisted in the People's Liberation Army (PLA),[10] and began writing while he was still a soldier. During this post-Revolution era when he emerged as a writer, both the lyrical and epic works of Chinese literature, as well as translations of foreign authors such as William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, would make an impact on his works.[11]

In 1984, he received a literary award from the PLA Magazine, and the same year began attending the People's Liberation Army Arts College, where he first adopted the pen name of Mo Yan.[12] He published his first novella, A Transparent Radish, in 1984, and released Red Sorghum in 1986, launching his career as a nationally recognized novelist.[12] In 1991, he graduated from the creation graduate class of Lu Xun School of literature, and obtained a master's degree in Literature from Beijing Normal University.[10]

Pen nameEdit

"Mo Yan" – "don't speak" in Chinese – is his pen name.[13] Mo Yan has explained on occasion that the name comes from a warning from his father and mother not to speak his mind while outside, because of China's revolutionary political situation from the 1950s, when he grew up.[2][14] It also relates to the subject matter of Mo Yan's writings, which reinterpret Chinese political and sexual history.[15]

In an interview with Professor David Wang, Mo Yan stated that he changed his "official name" to Mo Yan because he could not receive royalties under the pen name.[16]


Mo Yan began his career as a writer in the reform and opening up period, publishing dozens of short stories and novels in Chinese. His first published short story was "Falling Rain on a Spring Night", published in September 1981.[17]

In 1986, the five parts that formed his first novel, Red Sorghum (1987), were published serially. It is a non-chronological novel about the generations of a Shandong family between 1923 and 1976. The author deals with upheavals in Chinese history such as the Second Sino-Japanese War, the 1949 Communist Revolution, and the Cultural Revolution, but in an unconventional way; for example from the point of view of the invading Japanese soldiers.[18]

His second novel, The Garlic Ballads, is based on a true story of when the farmers of Gaomi Township rioted against a government that would not buy its crops. The Republic of Wine is a satire around gastronomy and alcohol, which uses cannibalism as a metaphor for Chinese self-destruction, following Lu Xun.[18] Big Breasts & Wide Hips deals with female bodies, from a grandmother whose breasts are shattered by Japanese bullets, to a festival where one of the child characters, Shangguan Jintong, blesses each woman of his town by stroking her breasts.[19] The book was controversial in China because some leftist critics objected to Big Breasts' perceived negative portrayal of Communist soldiers.[19]

Extremely prolific, Mo Yan wrote Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out in only 42 days.[2] He composed the more than 500,000 characters contained in the original manuscript on traditional Chinese paper using only ink and a writing brush. He prefers writing his novels by hand rather than by typing using a pinyin input method, because the latter method "limits your vocabulary".[2] Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out is a meta-fiction about the story of a landlord who is reincarnated in the form of various animals during the Chinese land reform movement.[12] The landlord observes and satirizes Communist society, such as when he (as a donkey) forces two mules to share food with him, because "[in] the age of communism... mine is yours and yours is mine."[15]

Pow!, Mo Yan’s first work to be translated into english after receiving the Nobel Prize, is about a young storytelling boy named Luo who was famous in his village for eating so much meat.[20] His village is so carnivorous it is an obsession that leads to corruption.[21] Pow! cemented his writing style as “hallucinatory realism”.[22] Another one of his works, Frog, Yan’s latest novel published, focuses on the cause and consequences of China’s One-Child Policy. Set in a small rural Chinese town called Gaomi, the narrator Tadpole tells the story of his aunt Gugu, who once was a hero for delivering life into the world as a midwife, now takes away life as an abortionist.[23] Steven Moore from the Washington Post wrote, “another display of Mo Yan’s attractively daring approach to fiction. The Nobel committee chose wisely.”[24]

Impact of worksEdit

Mo Yan's ability to convey traditionalist values inside of his mythical realism writing style in The Old Gun has allowed insight and view on the swift modernization of China. This short story of Mo Yan was an exemplary example for the "Xungen movement" Chinese literary movement and influenced many to turn back to traditional values. This movement portrayed the fear of loss of cultural identity due to the swift modernization of China in the 1980s.[25]

Mo Yan’s masterpieces have been translated into English by translator Howard Goldblatt. Goldblatt has effectively transmitted Chinese culture to target audiences by using a domestication technique augmented with foreignization.[6]


Mo Yan's works are predominantly social commentary, and he is strongly influenced by the social realism of Lu Xun and the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez. In terms of traditional Chinese literature, he is deeply inspired by the folklore-based classical epic novel Water Margin.[26] He cites Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber as formative influences.[2] Mo Yan's writing style has also been influenced by the Six Dynasties, Chuanqi, notebook novels of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and especially by folk oral literature. His creation combines all of these inspirations into one of the most distinctive voices in world literature.[27]

Mo Yan, who himself reads foreign authors in translation, strongly advocates the reading of world literature.[28] At a speech to open the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair, he discussed Goethe's idea of "world literature", stating that "literature can overcome the barriers that separate countries and nations".[29]


Mo Yan's works are epic historical novels characterized by hallucinatory realism and containing elements of black humor.[15] Mo Yan's language is distinguished by his imaginative use of colour expressions.[6] A major theme in Mo Yan's works is the constancy of human greed and corruption, despite the influence of ideology.[18] Using dazzling, complex, and often graphically violent images, he sets many of his stories near his hometown, Northeast Gaomi Township in Shandong province. Mo Yan says he realised that he could make "[my] family, [the] people I'm familiar with, the villagers..." his characters after reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.[2] He satirizes the genre of socialist realism by placing workers and bureaucrats into absurd situations.[15]

Mo Yan's writing is characterised by the blurring of distinctions between "past and present, dead and living, as well as good and bad".[19] Mo Yan appears in his novels as a semi-autobiographical character who retells and modifies the author's other stories.[12] His female characters often fail to observe traditional gender roles, such as the mother of the Shangguan family in Big Breasts & Wide Hips, who, failing to bear her husband any sons, instead is an adulterer, becoming pregnant with girls by a Swedish missionary and a Japanese soldier, among others. Male power is also portrayed cynically in Big Breasts & Wide Hips, and there is only one male hero in the novel.[19]

Nobel Prize in Literature, 2012Edit

Mo Yan in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012

On 11 October 2012, the Swedish Academy announced that Mo Yan had received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his work that "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary".[4] Aged 57 at the time of the announcement, he was the 109th recipient of the award and the first ever resident of mainland China to receive it. In his Award Ceremony Speech, Per Wästberg explained: "Mo Yan is a poet who tears down stereotypical propaganda posters, elevating the individual from an anonymous human mass. Using ridicule and sarcasm Mo Yan attacks history and its falsifications as well as deprivation and political hypocrisy."[30]

Swedish Academy head Peter Englund said less formally, "He has such a damn unique way of writing. If you read half a page of Mo Yan you immediately recognize it as him".[31] During a seminar on Mo Yan at Beijing Normal University in April 2011, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Executive Director of CLT and WLT, revealed that he will be proposing Mo Yan for the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. Davis address that, given Mo Yan's fame and production, his work should serve as the best ground in quality and depth of modern Chinese literature for Westerners.[32]

Controversies and criticismEdit

Winning the Nobel Prize occasioned both support and criticism.

Firstly, it won warm welcome from the Chinese government immediately after the announcement of the Nobel Prize. The People's Daily Online, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published on 11 October 2012: "Congratulations to Mo Yan for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature! It is the first time for a writer of Chinese nationality to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Today is the day that Chinese writers have awaited for too long and that Chinese people have awaited for too long."[33]

The Chinese writer Ma Jian deplored Mo Yan's lack of solidarity and commitment to other Chinese writers and intellectuals who were punished or detained in violation of their constitutionally protected freedom of expression.[34] Several other Chinese dissidents such as Ye Du and Ai Weiwei also criticized him,[35] as did 2009 Nobel Laureate Herta Müller who called the decision a "catastrophe".[36] A specific criticism was that Mo hand-copied Mao Zedong's influential Yan'an Talks on Literature and Art in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the speech, which described the writer's responsibility to place politics before art.[37] These "Talks"—which were the intellectual handcuffs of Chinese writers throughout the Mao era and were almost universally reviled by writers during the years between Mao's death in 1976 and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre—were now again being held up for adulation. Mo Yan not only agreed but has gone further than others to explain that the "Talks," in their time, had "historical necessity" and "played a positive role."[38] He has also attracted criticism for his supposed good relationship with the Chinese Communist Party in general.[39]

Mo Yan released a publication by the name of Big Breasts and Wide Hips that caught criticism and came under fire for its sexual content and how it portrayed the Communist Party in early 20th century China.[40] Due to the abundance of negative feedback from the community, Mo Yan was forced to withdraw this short story from publication.[citation needed]

Anna Sun, an assistant professor of Sociology and Asian studies at Kenyon College, criticized Mo's writing as coarse, predictable, and lacking in aesthetic conviction. "Mo Yan's language is striking indeed," she writes, but it is striking because "it is diseased. The disease is caused by the conscious renunciation of China's cultural past at the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949."[9] Charles Laughlin of the University of Virginia, however, accuses Sun of "piling up aesthetic objections to conceal ideological conflict," comparing her characterization of Mo to the official China Writers Association's characterization of Gao Xingjian as a mediocre writer when Gao won the Nobel Prize in 2000.[11]

Perry Link, describing Mo Yan's fiction and politics in the New York Review of Books, asked, "Does this writer deserve the prize?" Link commented that Chinese writers, whether "inside the system" or not, "all must choose how they will relate to their country's authoritarian government." This "inevitably involves calculations, trade-offs, and the playing of cards in various ways." Link's main criticism was that Mo Yan "invoke(d) a kind of daft hilarity when treating 'sensitive' events" such as the Great Chinese Famine and the Cultural Revolution. Link believed that the regime approved it because "this mode of writing is useful not just because it diverts a square look at history but because of its function as a safety valve." As Link pointed out, to treat sensitive topics as jokes might be better than banning them outright. Link compared Mo to Liu Xiaobo, winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, who was jailed for dissidence, whose moral choices were "highly unusual." It would be wrong, Link concludes, "for spectators like you and me, who enjoy the comfort of distance, to demand that Mo Yan risk all and be another Liu Xiaobo. But it would be even more wrong to mistake the clear difference between the two."[41]

Charles Laughlin, however, published an article called What Mo Yan's Detractors Get Wrong[42] on ChinaFile against Link's argument. As a response to Link's criticism that Mo Yan trivialized serious historical tragedies by using black humor and what he called "daft hilarity", Laughlin emphasized the distinction between documentary and art and literature: "art and literature, particularly since the traumas of the twentieth century, never simply document experience." Laughlin argued that Mo Yan's intended readers already know that "the Great Leap Forward led to a catastrophic famine, and any artistic approach to historical trauma is inflected or refracted." According to him, "Mo Yan writes about the period he writes about because they were traumatic, not because they were hilarious."[42]

Salman Rushdie called Mo Yan a "patsy" for refusing to sign a petition asking for Liu Xiaobo's freedom.[43] Pankaj Mishra saw an "unexamined assumption" lurking in the "western scorn" for these choices, namely that "Anglo-American writers" were not criticized for similarly apolitical attitudes.[44]

In a rare interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, Mo Yan, using a translator said "I know he envies me for this award and I understand this. But his criticism is unjustified," about fellow Chinese writer and musician Liao Yiwu.[45] He also stated that his major critics, "use magnifying glasses to look for my flaws and they even distort the meaning of my poems".[45]

In his Nobel Lecture, Mo Yan himself commented, "At first I thought I was the target of the disputes, but over time I've come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me. Like someone watching a play in a theater, I observed the performances around me. I saw the winner of the prize both garlanded with flowers and besieged by stone-throwers and mudslingers." He concluded that "for a writer, the best way to speak is by writing. You will find everything I need to say in my works. Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated."[14]

Another source of criticism was a perceived conflict of interest on the part of Göran Malmqvist, who is one of the members of the Swedish Academy. Malmqvist had translated several of Mo Yan's works into Swedish and published some through his own publishing house. Mo had also written a laudatory preface to one of Malmqvist's own books, and been a close friend of Malmqvist's wife for 15 years. The Nobel committee denied that this constituted a conflict of interest, and said that it would have been absurd for Malmqvist to recuse himself.[46][47][48]

List of worksEdit

Mo Yan has written 11 novels, and several novellas and short story collections.

This is a complete list of Mo Yan's works published as a collection in 2012 in China (after Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize).


Short story and novella collectionsEdit

Other worksEdit

  • 《会唱歌的墙》 The Wall Can Sing (60 essays, 1981–2011)
  • 《我们的荆轲》 Our Jing Ke (play)
  • 《碎语文学》 Broken Philosophy (interviews, only available in Chinese)
  • 《用耳朵阅读》 Ears to Read (speeches, only available in Chinese)
  • 《盛典:诺奖之行》 Grand Ceremony

Awards and honoursEdit

Honorary doctorateEdit


Several of Mo Yan's works have been adapted for film:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Morrison, Donald (14 February 2005). "Holding Up Half The Sky". Time. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2005.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Leach, Jim (January–February 2011). "The Real Mo Yan". Humanities. 32 (1): 11–13.
  3. ^ "Mo Yan får Nobelpriset i litteratur 2012". DN. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  4. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012 Mo Yan". 11 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  5. ^ Inge, M. Thomas (1990). "Mo Yan and William Faulkner: Influences and Confluences". Faulkner Journal. 6 (1): 15–24. ISSN 0884-2949.
  6. ^ a b c Ding, Rongrong; Wang, Lixun (4 May 2017). "Mo Yan's style in using colour expressions and Goldblatt's translation strategies: a corpus-based study". Asia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies. 4 (2): 117–131. doi:10.1080/23306343.2017.1331389. ISSN 2330-6343.
  7. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012". Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  8. ^ Leung, Laifong (2016). Contemporary Chinese Fiction Writers: Biography, Bibliography, and Critical Assessment. Taylor & Francis Group. p. 197.
  9. ^ a b Anna Sun. "The Diseased Language of Mo Yan", The Kenyon Review, Fall 2012.
  10. ^ a b Wee, Sui-Lee (11 October 2012). "China's Mo Yan feeds off suffering to win Nobel literature prize". Reuters. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  11. ^ a b Laughlin, Charles (17 December 2012). "What Mo Yan's Detractors Get Wrong". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 December 2012.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b c d Williford, James (January–February 2011). "Mo Yan 101". Humanities. 32 (1): 10.
  13. ^ Ahlander, Johan (11 October 2012). "China's Mo Yan wins Nobel for "hallucinatory realism"". Reuters. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Mo Yan – Nobel Lecture: Storytellers". translated by Howard Goldblatt, 26 February 2013
  15. ^ a b c d Huang, Alexander (July–August 2009). "Mo Yan as Humorist". World Literature Today. 83 (4): 32–35. doi:10.1353/wlt.2009.0315. S2CID 161013759.
  16. ^ SW12X - ChinaX (18 February 2015). "ChinaX: Introducing Mo Yan". Archived from the original on 22 December 2021. Retrieved 7 November 2018 – via YouTube.
  17. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012". Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  18. ^ a b c Inge, M. Thomas (June 2000). "Mo Yan Through Western Eyes". World Literature Today. 74 (3): 501–507. doi:10.2307/40155816. JSTOR 40155816.
  19. ^ a b c d Chan, Shelley W. (Summer 2000). "From Fatherland to Motherland: On Mo Yan's 'Red Sorghum' and 'Big Breasts and Full Hips'". World Literature Today. 74 (3): 495–501. doi:10.2307/40155815. JSTOR 40155815.
  20. ^ "Pow! by Mo Yan – review". the Guardian. 18 January 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  21. ^ Garner, Dwight (1 January 2013). "A Meaty Tale, Carnivorous and Twisted". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  22. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012". Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  23. ^ Hogensen, Brooke Ann (1 November 2015). "Mo Yan, Frog: A Novel". Transnational Literature. 8 (1). ISSN 1836-4845.
  24. ^ Moore, Steven (23 March 2015). "Book review: 'Frog,' by Mo Yan". Washington Post. Retrieved 6 December 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ W. W. Norton, The Old Gun, 1985. Mo Yan: The Norton Anthology, 2018. pp. 1101-1110.ISBN 9780393602869.
  26. ^ Howard Yuen Fung Choy, Remapping the Past: Fictions of History in Deng's China, 1979 -1997. Leiden: BRILL, 2008. pp. 51–53. ISBN 9004167048.
  27. ^ Goldblatt, Howard (1 September 2013). "Mo Yan in Translation: One Voice among Many". Chinese Literature Today. 3 (1–2): 6–9. doi:10.1080/21514399.2013.11833989. ISSN 2151-4399. S2CID 64496433.
  28. ^ "World Literature and China in a Global Age". Chinese Literature Today. 1 (1): 101–103. July 2010.
  29. ^ Yan, Mo; Yao, Benbiao (July 2010). "A Writer Has a Nationality, but Literature Has No Boundary". Chinese Literature Today. 1 (1): 22–24. doi:10.1080/21514399.2010.11833905. S2CID 194781082.
  30. ^ Per Wästberg (10 December 2012). "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2012 – Award Ceremony Speech". Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  31. ^ "Chinese writer Mo Yan wins Nobel prize". The Irish Times. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  32. ^ Davis-Undiano, Robert Con (1 September 2013). "A Westerner's Reflection on Mo Yan". Chinese Literature Today. 3 (1–2): 21–25. doi:10.1080/21514399.2013.11833993. ISSN 2151-4399. S2CID 164333914.
  33. ^ 人民网评:祝贺莫言荣获诺贝尔文学奖! (in Chinese). Archived from the original on 14 October 2012.
  34. ^ "From cowherd to Nobel, it was a long lonely journey: Mo Yan". Business Standard. 11 October 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  35. ^ "Mo Yan Nobel lecture derided by China dissidents". Agence France-Presse. 8 December 2012. Retrieved 8 December 2012.
  36. ^ Salon 6 December 2012.
  37. ^ Zhou, Raymond (9 October 2012). "Is Mo Yan man enough for the Nobel?". China Daily. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  38. ^ Perry Link "Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?" New York Review of Books, (6 December 2012).
  39. ^ "The Nobel prize in literature: A Chinese Dickens?". The Economist. 20 October 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  40. ^ "Big Breasts and Wide Hips". 2005. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
  41. ^ Perry Link,"Does This Writer Deserve the Prize?" New York Review of Books, (6 December 2012).
  42. ^ a b [1], What Mo Yan's Detractors Get Wrong
  43. ^ "Rushdie: Mo Yan is a "patsy of the regime". Salon 6 December 2012.
  44. ^ Salman Rushdie should pause before condemning Mo Yan on censorshipThe Guardian 13 December 2012.
  45. ^ a b "Mo Yan dismisses 'envious' Nobel critics". the Guardian. 28 February 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2021.
  46. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 July 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  47. ^ "Nobel academy member 'friends with Mo Yan'". 6 November 2012. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  48. ^ Groll, Elias. "Was there a conflict of interest behind the Nobel literature prize?". Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  49. ^ The Woman with Flowers - WorldCat
  50. ^ "Mo Yan releases 1st body of new works since Nobel win". China Daily. 31 July 2020. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
  52. ^ "佛光大學頒授莫言榮譽文學博士學位". Archived from the original on 8 January 2022. Retrieved 8 January 2022.
  53. ^ "Hanban-News". Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  54. ^ Kong, The Open University of Hong. "The Open University of Hong Kong: Openlink Vol 23 Issue 4 (Dec 2014)". Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  55. ^ "News Express: Nobel laureate Mo Yan speaks on Chinese literature at UM". Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  56. ^ "Honorary Doctorates and Honorary University Fellows - HKBU". Retrieved 7 November 2018.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit