Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize: What Is ‘Hallucinatory Realism?’

By Amir Khan on October 11, 2012 12:42 PM EDT

Mo Yan
Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, won the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday for his work on hallucinatory realism -- a blending of folk tales, history and contemporary China. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Mo Yan, a Chinese writer, won the Nobel Prize for literature on Thursday for his work on hallucinatory realism -- a blending of folk tales, history and contemporary China.

Yan was once so poor that he survived off of tree bark and weeds, but is now the recipient of the $1.2 million prize -- an award he says left him "overjoyed and terrified."

The award cites Yan's mixture of fantasy and reality alongside historical and social perspectives. However, he also found a "departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition."

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"[His writing style is]"a fountain of words and stories and stories within stories, then stories within the stories within the stories and so on," Peter Englund, head of the Swedish Academy, which gives out the awards, told Reuters. "He's mesmerizing,"

Yan is best known for his story "Red Sorghum," in which he portrays the hardships of farmers in early China.

"My works are Chinese literature, which is part of world literature," he said, according to Reuters. "They show the life of Chinese people as well as the country's unique culture and folk customs."

The People's Daily, a Communist party mouthpiece, praised Mo Yan and his prize.

"This is the first Chinese writer who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chinese writers have waited too long, the Chinese people have waited too long," it wrote.

But not everyone agreed that Mo Yan deserved it.

"I don't think this makes sense," Yu Shicun, a Beijing-based essayist and literary critic, told Reuters. "His works are from the 1980s, when he was influenced by Latin American literature. I don't think he's created his own things. We don't see him as an innovator in Chinese literature."

However, people were celebrating his victory in Beijing.

"I think this is an unprecedented breakthrough, because before this they spoke of Chinese nationals getting the Nobel prize, but it was only the peace prize, never the others such as the literature, the physics and chemistry prizes," said Xu Jiebiao, 28-year-old IT consultant. "So a Chinese getting the Nobel prize for literature will increase the national pride."

Mo Yan said he was he was very happy to win the prize, ""but I do not think that my winning can be seen as representing anything."

"I think that China has many outstanding authors, and their great works should also be recognized by the world," he said. "Next, I'm going to put most of my efforts into creating my new works. I will keep working hard, and I thank everyone. As to whether I go to Sweden to receive the prize, I will wait for word from the organizers about arrangements."

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