China’s Mo Yan Hopes for Jailed Nobel Winner’s Release from Jail

Posted October 12th, 2012 at 6:10 am (UTC-5)
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Chinese Nobel literature prize winner Mo Yan has unexpectedly broken his silence on the plight of fellow Nobel Peace 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.

He made his comments in response to a reporter's question at a news conference in his hometown in Shandong province Friday.

“I hope that (Liu) can achieve his freedom as soon as possible. I think he should absolutely be able to research his politics and research his social system.”

Mo's comments are likely to be 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.

Many of China's most famous dissidents have criticized the largely non-political Mo for being unwilling to speak out against human rights abuses by the government. Some even went further, suggesting he was a stooge of China's government.

At his news conference Friday, Mo shot back at his critics, saying his close relationship with the Communist Party does not mean he should not receive the Nobel prize.

“I live and work in China. I am writing in a China that is under Communist Party leaders. But my works cannot be restricted by political parties. From when I took up my pen in the 1980s, my writings have clearly stood on the side of the people.”

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.”

But others were more supportive, pointing out that Mo's works sometimes carefully touch on social problems such as official corruption, albeit without angering government censors.

Mo pointed out Friday that some of his critics were themselves members of the Communist Party, and had benefited from the “system.” He also said that many critics had not likely read his works, which he said “took a great deal of risk” to write.