Chinese Nobel literature prize winner Mo Yan has unexpectedly broken his silence on the plight of fellow Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, saying he hopes the dissident writer will soon be freed from prison.
Mo, who won the prestigious award Thursday, has come under criticism by dissidents for previously failing to speak out about Liu, who is serving an 11-year prison term for inciting subversion.
At a press conference in his hometown in Shandong province Friday, Mo said he hopes Liu can achieve freedom “as soon as possible.”
Mo's comments are likely to come as an embarrassment to China's government, which has lavished praise on the 57-year-old author for representing what it says are “mainstream values.”
Beijing's official reaction stands in stark contrast to two years ago, when it angrily responded to Liu's Nobel Peace Prize. Liu's name was immediately banned from public discussion and he was derided as being a tool of the West.
Even as China celebrated Mo's victory as a major cultural achievement on Friday, some of the Chinese government's most prominent critics were speaking out against him.
Many dissidents have criticized the largely non-political Mo for being unwilling to speak out against a government that severely restricts free speech. Some even went further, suggesting he was a stooge of China's Communist government.
Outspoken dissident artist Ai Weiwei was among those who slammed the Swedish Academy for giving Mo the award. Ai told reporters on Thursday that the decision was an “insult to humanity and to literature,” saying Mo has the “taint of government” on him.
Exiled dissident writer Yu Jie also weighed in on the award, saying on Twitter that it reflects “the West's disregard for China's human rights problems.” Speaking to German media, Yu later said the decision was the “biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature.”
But others were more supportive, pointing out that Mo's works sometimes carefully touch on social problems such as official corruption.
After being awarded the prize Thursday, Mo provided his own perspective on the issue. He said “some may wish to shout on the street,” but suggested there should be more tolerance for “those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions.”