Mo Yan (Chinese: 莫言; pinyin: Mò Yán) (born February 17, 1955) is a modern Chinese author, described as "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers". He is known in the West for two of his novels which were the basis of the film Red Sorghum. He has been referred to as the Chinese answer to Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller. He is currently represented by the Hong Kong based Peony Literary Agency
His works have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including English, German, French and Norwegian.
Mo Yan was born in the Shandong province to a family of farmers. He left school during the Cultural Revolution to work in a factory that produced oil. He joined the People's Liberation Army at age twenty, and began writing while he was still a soldier, in 1981. Three years later, he was given a teaching position at the Department of Literature in the Army's Cultural Academy.
"Mo Yan", meaning "don't speak" in Chinese, is a pen name. His real name is Guan Moye (simplified Chinese: 管谟业; traditional Chinese: 管謨業; pinyin: Guǎn Móyè). In a public speech delivered in Open University of Hong Kong (broadcasted in ATV International, 2008-12-28 11:00), he said this pen name was chosen when he wrote his first novel. He was well known since he was small to be a frank person in speech, which was not quite welcomed in Mainland China. Therefore, he chose this pen name to remind himself not to speak too much.
The Chinese writer Ma Jian has deplored the lack of solidarity and commitment of Mo Yan vis-a-vis other Chinese writers and intellectuals who were punished and/or detained despite the freedom of expression recognized by the Constitution.
Mo Yan's works are predominantly social commentary, and he is strongly influenced by the political critique of Lu Xun and the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Using dazzling, complex, and often graphically violent images, Mo Yan draws readers into the disturbing yet beautiful, kaleidoscopic universes of his stories. Mo Yan sets many of his stories near his hometown: Northeast Gaomi Township in Shandong province.
Extremely prolific, Mo Yan wrote his latest novel, "Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out" in only 43 days. He composed the more than 500,000 characters contained in the original manuscript on traditional Chinese paper using only ink and a writing brush.
Mo Yan has published dozens of short stories and novels in Chinese. Several of his novels have been translated into English by Howard Goldblatt, professor of East Asian languages and literatures at the University of Notre Dame.
His first novel was Falling Rain on a Spring Night, published in 1981.
His works include:
- Red Sorghum (first published in 1987 in Chinese; in 1993 in English)
- The Garlic Ballads (first published in English in 1995)
- Explosions and Other Stories, a collection of short stories
- The Republic of Wine: A Novel (first published in 1992 in Chinese; 2000 in English)
- Shifu: You'll Do Anything for a Laugh, a collection of short stories (first published in 2002 in English)
- Big Breasts & Wide Hips (first published in 1996 in Chinese; 2005 in English)
- Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out
Other published works include White Dog Swing, Man and Beast, Soaring, Iron Child, The Cure, Love Story, Shen Garden and Abandoned Child.
Honorary Fellow, Modern Language Association, 2010
Several of Mo Yan's works have been adapted for film:
- A Subversive Voice in China: The Fictional World of Mo Yan. Shelley W. Chan. (Cambria Press, 2011).
- Chinese Writers on Writing featuring Mo Yan. Ed. Arthur Sze. (Trinity University Press, 2010).