Swedish Academy member Goran Malmqvist said yesterday that the existence of few translations is the main reason that Chinese literature is marginalized in the world.
Malmqvist, one of 18 lifelong judges of the Nobel Prize in Literature, said China already has many world-class writers. "What is world literature? World literature is translation," he added, quoting the former permanent secretary of Swedish Academy.
Malmqvist, 88, a Swedish linguist and sinologist, made the remarks when promoting a collection of works by Chinese novelist Cao Naiqian.
Cao, a police officer-turned novelist, is one of Malmqvist's favorite Chinese writers, which include the latest Nobel laureate in literature, Mo Yan.
"So Mo's winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature will help attach more importance to Chinese literature in the context of world literature," he said yesterday. He also is promoting his latest translation of works of Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer.
Today's the third day of his short visit to Shanghai. He'll give a lecture in Fudan University this evening about translation.
During his visit, Malmqvist has emphasized Mo's winning the Nobel Prize in Literature "has nothing to do with politics."
Malmqvist, the only Nobel judge fluent in Chinese, said he was very irritated by "some biased media" who questioned Mo's award.
Some Western journalists have questioned the recognition after the Chinese writer was announced as the Nobel laureate on October 11.
Criticism that Mo is not qualified was based on his being a member of the Communist Party of China and vice president of the China Writers Association.
Malmqvist described the accusation as "quite unfair" to Mo. "Those who criticized Mo Yan haven't even read a single one of his books," Malmqvist told reporters on Sunday.
"They know nothing about the quality of Mo's literature. They should not have 'opened fire' on him," Malmqvist said, adding that the only standard used to decide whether or not to give a writer the prize is the quality of his or her literature.
"We do not care about politics," he said.
"Mo Yan is an excellent storyteller. Among today's Chinese writers, no one equals him in the courage to talk about the darkness and unjustness" in Chinese society, he said.
He personally prefers Mo's short fiction to longer work, saying the writer "has an excellent control of words."
Malmqvist said the decision was made through "heated discussions" and the number of nominees was narrowed from 250 to the final five. Malmqvist explained that Mo was elected for the prize based on a final consensus.
"However, the Nobel prize is not a world champion," the scholar said. "We just awarded the prize to a good writer. There could be 1,000 good writers ... but the winner is just one."
He said the choice "is completely subjective."
The acclaimed sinologist, who reads extensively in Chinese and has made profound studies about Chinese characters and literature, has devoted years to introducing Chinese literature to the world.
According to Malmqvist, Mo's works have been translated into the greatest number of foreign languages among the current Chinese writers.