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Speaking of Literature


Text by Zi Mo

Chinese and Australian writers alike recently gathered in Beijing for the 2nd China-Australia Literary Forum at the National Museum of Modern Chinese Literature, with the fitting theme “Literature and Inclusiveness.” Writers from both countries shared feelings on topics such as tradition versus modernity in literature and cultural inclusiveness. In particular, speeches by Nobel laureates Mo Yan and J.M. Coetzee on the significance of the honor attracted the greatest attention.

What does the Nobel Prize mean for writers?

In the eyes of Chinese writer Mo Yan, the Nobel Prize places literature at the center of global attention for a time. “Every time literature has almost been forgotten by the world, the Nobel Prize pops up as a reminder,” he joked. “It also has the power to transform a relatively unknown writer into a globally celebrated figure. Even those who seldom read will buy books by a Nobel laureate.” Mo added that the Prize cannot change the literary and aesthetic values of the winner’s work.

Mo admitted that the Nobel Prize in Literature brought him greater fame. However, since he won, he has been invited to so many events that he rarely finds time to sit down and write anymore. “A writer better remain in solitude,” he opined. “Only in this way, can he watch the world around him calmly, gain insight into society, and create better novels.”

J.M. Coetzee, recipient of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Literature, elaborated on Swedish scientist Alfred Bernhard Nobel’s intentions in launching the Prize, as well as the evolution of its criteria. When asked whether the Prize is completely fair and just, he replied that the members of the Swedish Academy are human, and they make subjective choices as all humans do. He pointed out that political influence was obvious in the early days of the Nobel Prizes, noting that Winston Churchill’s Nobel Prize in Literature can be attributed to the Cold War mentality.

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