Even so, Mo, who started writing while in the army, has steered clear from criticizing the government in public. He has been accused of refusing to appear with dissident writers at overseas literary seminars. The award stirred the criticisms anew.
"Some are opposed to his winning the Nobel Prize because he serves as a vice chair of the China Writers' Association and helps the government in censorship. But some are supportive, arguing literature should not be linked to politics but be valued on its own merit," said Murong Xuecun, the pen name of author Hao Qun, who has become more outspoken about censorship in recent years.
Yu Jie, an essayist and close friend of imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu who fled to the U.S. this year, was more acid. "This reflects the West's disregard for China's human rights problems. Mo Yan's win is not a victory for literature. It's a victory for the Communist Party," Yu said on his Twitter feed.
The government ignored the controversy and instead focused on the prize as emblematic of China's now recognized status as a great nation. "China is winning more and more respect from the world. We can say this award is not only for Mo Yan but to all the Chinese people," state-run television said in a commentary.
For many Chinese and his supporters, the award was welcome for recognizing an acclaimed author and for steering clear of past Nobel controversies.
"For me personally it's the realization of a dream I've had for years finally coming true. It's suddenly a reality," said Mo's publisher, Cao Yuanyong, deputy editor-in-chief of Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House. Cao said he and a dozen colleagues were toasting Mo in his absence with red wine in a Shanghai restaurant Thursday night. The prize is worth 8 million kronor, or about $1.2 million.