By Hangping Xu
Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 30, no.1 (Spring 2018), pp. 163-89
Since he won the Noble Prize, Mo Yan has received harsh criticism for his “inside-the-system” status. This essay treats the controversial reception of Mon Yan as a departure point to understand the ideological tension at Chinese literature’s admission into the world republic of letters. By offering a historical account of the system (tizhi), situating Mo Yan’s aesthetic intervention in the 1980s, and closely reading two novellas, namely, Red Sorghum and The Transparent Carrot, the essay argues that Mo Yan’s fiction recovers or rescues discarded historical subjects of the folk space (minjian)—which can be construed as “Sinophone articulation.” The aesthetic contemplation emerging from his historical intervention upsets unexamined, mechanic principles of the institutionalized political and social imagination, leading to a critique and a reform of the established historical narrative. The essay suggests that literary autonomy is not a universal given judged out of context; Chinese (world) literature is thinkable only in relation to a specific time and space. Autonomy should be regarded as a spectrum rather than a clear-cut dichotomy, and understood in a social-political context of the system.