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Allure of literature prize strong for China

(Global Times)

10:01, October 10, 2012

(Global Times/Illustration: Liu Rui)

Chinese writer Mo Yan is considered a plausible candidate for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. His victory would be the first in literature for a Chinese citizen who is resident on the mainland. Some link the influence of Chinese writers with the country's rise. Is the argument justified? What's behind the enthusiasm for a Chinese mainland winner? The Global Times invited two academics to contribute their thoughts.

Nobel valuable, but not sole benchmark of artistic value

It is often said that a great era gives birth to great writers. But it depends on how you define a great era. A great era could be one that is witnessing a far-reaching decisive socio-cultural transformation, or it could also be one that has achieved new heights in economic development. China has had many great writers in the 20th century such as Lu Xun in the 1920s and 1930s, Wang Meng in the early years of economic reform, and Wang Anyi, who has indeed become a significant figure in world literature today.

I would not like to attach too much importance to the linking of China's rising national strength with the possible emergence of another Nobel laureate in China. Some great works of literature has been produced in societies with very poor national strength, as we understand the term today.

Moreover, many great representative works of Chinese literature were written in those decades of the 20th century when China's national strength was not really comparable to the present.

There is no harm in any country attaching importance to the Nobel Prize in Literature, as long as it is clear that it is not the only benchmark of literary excellence.

While there could be a healthy academic debate about the politics of Western and non-Western evaluation, there is no doubt that beauty can be appreciated across cultures and times.

Incidentally, next year is the centenary of the award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Rabindranath Tagore in 1913. The youth and intellectuals of China welcomed this award with tremendous enthusiasm at that time. I will be equally happy and excited if a Chinese writer is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.

Contemporary Chinese literature is dynamic and diverse. It has certainly successfully contested the popular notions about Chinese literature in the world.

This is as much because the international readership has become more aware of the cultural and philosophical legacy of China, as it is because writers, critics and translators within and outside China have been able to engage in a dialogue through a gradual process of acculturation.

The above article was compiled by Global Times reporter Chen Chenchen based on an interview with Sabaree Mitra, professor at the Center for Chinese and South East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and an Honorary Fellow at the Delhi-based Institute of Chinese Studies.

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