China Nobel winner steers away from politics

China novelist Mo Yan may use his new title to make his mark in the freedom of speech arena.

Chinese author Mo Yan attends a press conference at a hotel in Gaomi, in eastern China's Shandong province on October 12, 2012. Chinese author Mo Yan, some of whose works have cast an unflattering eye on official policy, said after winning the literature Nobel that it was a writer's duty to spotlight political and social issues. Picture: AFP.

SHANGHAI - China's newest Nobel laureate, novelist Mo Yan, could use his new-found stature to make a subtle difference in the arena of freedom of speech in China, but he is more likely to keep his head down and avoid politics, his translator said on Friday.

The 57-year-old Chinese author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday, has achieved his success by working within a system with distinct boundaries, not ignoring them, said Howard Goldblatt, who has translated several of Mo's works into English, including the acclaimed "Red Sorghum". The book was later the basis for a film directed by Zhang Yimou.

"I think Mo Yan could actually, in a very nuanced way, make a difference and get some of this stuff happening," Goldblatt said by telephone from Boulder, Colorado, referring to improving freedom of speech and conditions for writers.

"To be honest with you, I doubt that he will. I think he's just a novelist who doesn't want to be involved in those things."

"He wants to continue to write, and to continue to write the kinds of things he needs and wants to write he has to live within certain parameters."

Mo is the first Chinese national to win the prize, which comes with a financial reward of $1.2 million, and the decision was celebrated by state-controlled media in China and on popular Chinese micro blogging sites.

Critics have said the decision was odd, and that Mo's works were not artistically original, emulating Latin American authors. Dissident artist Ai Weiwei said Mo carried the "taint of government".

Such comments were neither accurate nor fair, though, said Goldblatt, who noted that Mo started writing his trademark fantastical novels before reading Latin American works by authors including Gabriel Garcia-Marquez.

"If he's influenced by anything he's influenced by Chinese storyteller traditions, by the mindset and the concept of place by Faulkner," he said, referring to US writer William Faulkner.