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China Nobel winner Mo Yan likens censorship to airport security

Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP - Getty Images

The 2012 Nobel Literature Prize laureate, Mo Yan of China, poses for photographers during a press conference of the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize laureate in Stockholm.

BEIJING — When the Swedish Academy selected Chinese writer, Mo Yan, as this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the move was hailed by the state media, only two years after blasting the same committee for awarding the peace prize to fellow countryman and outspoken dissident Liu Xiaobo.

However, outside of the country,  some critics pointedly questioning Mo’s Communist Party membership, his unwillingness to speak up for freedom of speech on the mainland and his apparent reluctance to speak out for his fellow laureate. "Giving the award to a writer like this is an insult to humanity and to literature," declared noted Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, at the time.

Perhaps sensing the backlash, Mo spoke out the evening his Nobel victory was announced, telling journalists he hoped Liu — who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for his work on a direct call for political liberalization known as Charter 08 — could “achieve his freedom as soon as possible.”

The supportive words seemed to help give Mo the benefit of the doubt among critics and the foreign press, but comments he gave on Thursday regarding Chinese censorship and Liu’s plight have reinvigorated criticism of the acclaimed writer.

'The highest principle'
During an interview in Stockholm, Mo surprisingly defended China’s suppression of free speech, saying that censorship should not prevent the truth, but that rumors and defamation "should be censored."

"But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle," Mo added.

Mo Yan's Nobel win celebrated -- and panned -- in China

Mo went on to liken censorship to the airport security he passed through flying to Stockholm.

"When I was taking my flight, going through the customs ... they also wanted to check me even taking off my belt and shoes," he said. "But I think these checks are necessary."

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Mo caused further ripples when he told reporters he did not plan to sign an appeal being passed around by his peers calling for the immediate release of Liu and his wife, Liu Xia.

It has been signed by134 fellow Nobel laureates, including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Always an 'independent'
Mo explained his unwillingness to sign as a desire to maintain his independence.

"I have always been independent. I like it that way. When someone forces me to do something, I don't do it," he said.

For Chinese winner's wife, Nobel is no prize

Mo’s comments and reticence in voicing support for his compatriot, Liu, was seen as particularly appalling as it came the same day as the publishing of a distressing interview with Liu’s wife, Liu Xia.

The interview, made possibly only after AP reporters slipped by Chinese security away at lunch, was the first she had given in 26 months and graphically showed the emotional stress of being under home detention since her husband’s imprisonment. 

China’s reception of Liu Xiabo and Mo Yan’s Nobel victories couldn’t have been any more different.

While Mo Yan’s award this year has been hailed in state media – despite many of his books being censored in China – Liu’s victory was roundly rejected by Beijing.

In a statement issued by the foreign ministry soon after the 2010 announcement, the government wrote that Liu’s victory "runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize.”