BEIJING — Novelist Mo Yan, this year's Nobel Prize winner for literature, is practiced in the art of challenging the status quo without offending those who uphold it.
Mo, whose popular, sprawling, bawdy tales bring to life rural China, is the first Chinese winner of the literature prize who is not a critic of the authoritarian government. And Thursday's announcement by the Swedish Academy brought an explosion of pride across Chinese social media.
The state-run national broadcaster, China Central Television, reported the news moments later, and the official writers' association, of which Mo is a vice chairman, lauded the choice. But it also ignited renewed criticisms of Mo from other writers as too willing to serve or too timid to confront a government that heavily censors artists and authors, and punishes those who refuse to obey.
The reactions highlight the unusual position Mo holds in Chinese literature. He is a genuinely popular writer who is embraced by the Communist establishment but who also dares, within careful limits, to tackle controversial issues like forced abortion. His novel "The Garlic Ballads," which depicts a peasant uprising and official corruption, was banned.
"He's one of those people who's a bit of a sharp point for the Chinese officials, yet manages to keep his head above water," said his longtime U.S. translator, Howard Goldblatt of the University of Notre Dame. "That's a fine line to walk, as you can imagine."
Typical of his ability to skirt the censors' limitations, Mo had retreated from Beijing in recent days to the rural eastern village of Gaomi where he was raised and which is the backdrop for much of his work. He greeted the prize with characteristic low-key indifference.
"Whether getting it or not, I don't care," the 57-year-old Mo said in a telephone interview with CCTV from Gaomi. He said he goes to his childhood hometown every year around this time to read, write and visit his elderly father.