Mo Yan

Article Works Projects
Written and spoken word (film script, novel)
Asia, Eastern
created on:
May 26, 2003
last changed on:
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Mo Yan
Copyright: Unionsverlag


A Powerful Spokesman

The Chinese writer Mo Yan – a pseudonym for Guan Moye, “the speechless one” - was born in 1956 in the region Gaomi in the province Shandong. His sharp portrayal of the people’s republic has not prevented him from winning its main literary awards as a writer of best-sellers, and the filming of his novel “Red Sorghum” (directed by Zhang Yimou) brought him international acclaim as one of China’s definitive writers.
Mo Yan was born in a bleak, rural area in the province Shandong in the northeast of China which he claims is” plainly the most beautiful and repellent, most singular and mundane, most sacred and corrupt, most heroic and cowardly, most tipsy and amorous place in the world.” This area “where countless remarkable things have already happened” is not only the writer’s homeland but also the setting of many of his tales.

Mo Yan began writing in 1981. He graduated at the Art Academy of the People’s Liberation Army, studied at the Lu Xun Institute of Literature at the Pedagogic High School then published his first novel “Red Sorghum” in 1986. Zhang Yimou’s film of the novel brought him international acclaim and won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 1988. The tale is set in Gaumi in the period of transition from traditional to modern China. As villagers, wandering troops of mercenaries and the overweening Japanese army clash in a sea of red sorghum, or rather in fields of sugar millet, it depicts the harsh and chaotic living conditions out in the country.

Gaomi is likewise the setting of Mo Yan’s second novel “The Garlic Ballads”, put into German in 1998. It recalls an uprising of garlic-planters against a corrupt bureaucracy and was attacked in China for its political radicalism. On having read it, Kenzaburo Oe wrote: “Had I the privilege of awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature, I would hand it to Mo Yan.”

“The Republic of Wine”, a more recent novel of his, begins with rumours of cannibalism in a remote part of China, where the communist nouveau riche is said to be grilling children in the best cordon bleu tradition. Special inspector Ding Gou’er is sent to the “schnapps town” to savour things for himself, but no sooner does he arrive than he is drawn into a stew of superstition and corruption, of arrogance and greed.

Written after the Tiananmen massacre “The Republic of Wine” was banned in the people’s republic and first appeared in 1992 in Taiwan. Two years later it appeared in the USA, then in Germany in 2002. Christiane Hammer wrote of it in the NZZ: “’Jiuguo’ is surely the most extravagant, crazy and artistically experimental of the three novels as well as the most wicked and exasperated.” She added that the main hindrance its publication in China was “surely not so much the drastic depictions of the sexual encounters of the civil servant Ding Gou’er with a shifty female lorry driver, or even a surfeit of all conceivable body fluids, but rather the sensitivity of the authorities in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre – the period when the novel was written – towards challenges to their authority by the politically disillusioned like Mo Yan… Robbed of all hopes dear to his pre-revolutionary forebears, this late-comer has used all literary means in his power to express the nightmares prevalent after the massacre on the 4th of July and has found a way of paraphrasing the homily about a revolution which devours its own children.” (17th April, 2003)

Author: House of World Cultures


Sorgul rosu

Published Written,

Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out

Published Written,
Novel. Arcade Publishing: New York

Big Breasts and Wide Hips

Published Written,
Novel. Arcade Pub.: New York

Shifu, you´ll do anything for a laugh

Published Written,
Short stories. Methuen: London

The Republic of Wine

Published Written,
Novel. Hamish Hamilton: London

The Garlic Ballads

Published Written,
Novel. Hamish Hamilton: London

Red Sorghum

Published Written,
Novel. Heinemann: London

Explosions and Other Stories

Published Written,
Short stories. Research Centre for Translations: Hong Kong

The Song of Youth

Published Written,
Novel. Foreign Languages Press: Beijing


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

China - Between Past and Future

A project on contemporary art in China

(24 March 06 - 14 May 06)