China / Society

Mo controversially enters school textbooks

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-10-17 06:55

BEIJING - Mo Yan unquestionably deserves applause for being the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but does that alone make his works suitable reading for middle school kids?

The topic is being debated by Chinese after publishers decided to include Mo's novella "A Transparent Carrot" in a reading textbook for high schoolers after the Swedish Academy announced his Nobel win.

Chinese middle school textbooks typically select only indisputably classic and adolescent-friendly reading material. Authors appearing most often include seventh-century poet Li Bai, inspiring modern writer Lu Xun and contemporary playwrite Lao She.

The textbook, containing 40 novellas from Chinese and foreign authors, is expected to hit schools across the country by the coming spring semester, according to the Language and Culture Press, one of the country's leading school textbook publishers.

Zhang Xiafang, a senior staff member with the Press, said though the Nobel Prize was a key factor, the publisher had long been considering including Mo's works in the textbook.

"It is coincidence rather than a rash decision to cash in on the Nobel win," Zhang said. "On the other hand, we have included Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works; why shouldn't students read the works of a Chinese Nobel laureate?"

Zhang was trying to deflate criticism, not least from influential education expert and columnist Xiong Bingqi who called the inclusion of Mo's novella a "utilitarian" and "thoughtless" decision.

"If Mo's works have educational value and are suitable for high school students, they should be included in the curriculum no matter if he wins the Nobel or not," Qiong wrote in his blog on the popular portal "Why had the publishers not included Mo's works until now, after he won the Nobel?" .

Zhang replied that the timing of including Mo's works could not be better because at the moment many young people are eager to read his fiction.

Indeed, after Mo's Nobel win was announced on October 11, his books sold out within several hours in online and high street bookstores across China.

Mo has been known since the late 1980s for novels like "Big Breasts and Wide Hips" and "Red Sorghum," the later of which was adapted into an award-winning film.

Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, hailed Mo for a body of works which, "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary."

Some Chinese netizens worried that Mo's works might not be suitable for adolescents because of their frequently violent and sexual scenes. Others considered Mo's trademark hallucinatory realism a bit excessive for middle school students.

"I am relieved to learn that it is not 'Big Breasts and Wide Hips' being selected into the curriculum," one blogger said.

Published in 1985, "A Transparent Carrot" depicts, through a boy's eyes, life in abject poverty in China's countryside. Mo said his own childhood memories are included in this novella.

Born in 1955, Mo grew up in a typical peasant's family in east Shandong province. In his youth, he witnessed rural upheaval during the great famine years in the early 1960s and the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.

Cao Wenxuan, an acclaimed children literature writer and professor with Beijing University, said though some of Mo's works are not suitable for kids, "A Transparent Carrot" is absolutely acceptable for high school students.

Cao said he expected students to be "inspired" by Mo's highly imaginative masterpiece.

Wang Jiaxin, a professor with Beijing-based Renmin University, said to allow the students to get the most of the novella, teachers should take a more open attitude rather than employing traditional methods focusing on recitation.

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