Born in 1955 to a farming family, his early education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution, a decade of political chaos when many of China's schools closed down. To escape rural poverty, he joined the army in 1976 and, while still a soldier, started writing in 1981.
His breakthrough came with "Red Sorghum." Set in a small village, it is an earthy tale of love and peasant struggles set against the backdrop of the anti-Japanese war. It was turned into a film that won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1988. Amy Tan, author of the best-selling "The Joy Luck Club," became an early admirer.
Goldblatt, who has translated nine of Mo's books, remembered meeting the author in Beijing in the late 1990s, when the two had dinner.
"We didn't have any chemistry and we sat there, silent the whole time," Goldblatt said. "I tried to strike up a conversation and nothing happened. Then, he pulled out a cigarette, and although I had quit smoking, I said, 'Why not?' We were best friends from then on."