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Humble roots form Nobel ideas

By Gong Ziming | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-04 09:56
Mo Yan attends a reading forum in Shenzhen.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Mo Yan's rural upbringing has informed much of his literary oeuvre. In a recent interview with Gong Ziming, he discusses his journey and pursuit of inspiration.

As the winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature, Mo Yan has been hailed as a writer "who, with hallucinatory realism, merges folk tales, history and the contemporary". From his early novel, Red Sorghum, and the avant-garde works, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out and Frog, to his latest traditional Chinese opera composition, Jin Yi, and a collection of poems, Qi Xing Yao Wo (Seven Stars Shine on Me), the works of Mo Yan depict a world that's both familiar and strange to us. In his literary creations, we see a world where animals, great and small, as well as people, display various personalities and drive a narrative.

His work is deeply rooted in the earth and is full of vigor and tenacity, and he talks about how his hometown, Dongbei township in Gaomi county in East China's Shandong province - which he describes as being "as large as a stamp" - has nourished his spiritual world.

Question: You have said that your hometown is the soul of your novels, and that the land and rivers, crops and trees, birds and animals, myths and legends, demons and ghosts, benefactors and enemies in your hometown are all source materials of your works. When and how did you start to include these elements in your writing?

Answer: I personally believe that Yasunari Kawabata's novels had a great impact on contemporary Chinese writers. I've read The Dancing Girl of Izu and Snow Country, and one of my short novels titled White Dog and Swing Frame was inspired by a line in that book.

The line depicts a strong black Akita squatting on a rock licking hot water from a pool. I envisioned a vivid picture: a snow-covered street, a steaming pool beside the street and a big black dog with its tongue sticking out. This is not only a picture but also a melody, a tone, a perspective of description and the start of a novel. I was very excited - it felt like the touch of a girl that I long admired. I suddenly realized what my novel was and what and how I should write it. Before that, I was troubled, unable to find suitable stories or my own voice. This line in Yasunari's novel was like a lighthouse in the darkness, illuminating my path.

I put the book down and began writing lines, such as "Dongbei township in Gaomi is home to a kind of meek white dog, but a purebred one is very hard to find after generations of breeding". It was the first time for "Dongbei township in Gaomi" to appear in my work. The novel White Dog and Swing Frame was later translated into multiple languages. Ever since, I've held the banner of "Dongbei township in Gaomi" like a grassroots hero, beginning the construction of my literary world.

Before that, or before I read about the Akita, I was not able to find inspiration. I followed the guidance in textbooks, and experienced life in the countryside and factories. However, even after I came back, I could still not think of what to write about. Akita made me realize that a dog could be the subject, and so could the hot water. Ever since, I have never worried about finding sources for my novels.

Whenever I was writing a book, the next was like a cackling hen right behind me. In the past, it was me writing the novels. However, it later became the novels writing me, and I became a slave to them.

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