Saturday, October 20, 2012
In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China
BEIJING — Literature is not a boxing match, though sometimes it can appear that way given the polarizing passions it can generate. Such was the case in recent days, as two very different Chinese writers, one feted by the ruling Communist Party and the other spurned by it, received prestigious international awards.
In one corner, it seemed, was Mo Yan, who last Thursday was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, an honor the Communist Party’s propaganda chief, Li Changchun, said “reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing influence of China.”
In the other was Liao Yiwu, the winner of this year’s Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, which he accepted Sunday in Frankfurt with a scorching speech whose theme was: “This empire must break apart.”
The empire Mr. Liao referred to was the People’s Republic of China, and he said its demise as an authoritarian state must come for the sake of freedom in China and the world. Mr. Liao, who spent four years in prison for his writings, fled China last year after decades of political persecution and is now based in Germany.
That these two men have been widely portrayed as representing antagonistic camps — one establishment, one dissident — that together define the boundaries of contemporary Chinese literature may reveal the extent to which the Communist-ruled mainland has dominated the discussion, another writer said.
The sheer scale of China’s politics, like its population and economy, can eclipse other, smaller voices from independent Chinese traditions like democratic Taiwan’s or Hong Kong’s, said the poet and scholar Leung Ping-kwan.
Not considering these alternative visions of China diminishes what is in fact a richly diverse culture — much as the politics of the one-party state reduces the different voices of the society it rules.
“The mainland is a kind of autonomous, self-sufficient cosmos that no other literature in China can compete against,” said Mr. Leung, a Hong Kong native. “But there are other traditions of modernity that are not being considered.”
Especially in the West, he said by telephone, “people’s concept of Chinese literature is really limited. When they talk about Chinese literature, it’s either Mo Yan, who represents the acceptable mainstream writer from the China mainland, or it’s Liao Yiwu, who represents the dissidents.”