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September 26, 2017

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Nobel Prizes have no real place in global politicking

The Nobel Prizes for Literature and Peace this year have become highly politicized — the former by the Chinese state propaganda machine and Beijing-bashing commentators, and the latter by the committee that awards the coveted awards.

The criticism over Mo Yan's (莫言) winning of the literature prize was spawned in part by China's parading of the novelist's triumph, two years after it imposed a media blackout on Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo's (劉曉波) Nobel Peace Prize.

Despite the celebration of Mo's victory by Chinese media as a vindication of national pride, Mo is not the first Chinese person to win the literature prize. Dissident author Gao Xingjian (高行健) won it in 2000 but that news was mostly silenced at the time.

Some Chinese dissidents, on the other hand, questioned the wisdom of awarding the prestigious prize to someone who is seen as not critical enough of the Chinese government. Artist and activist Ai Weiwei told the Associated Press" it is a shame for the Swedish Nobel Prize committee" to honor an author who is cooperating with a Chinese government "constantly poisoning" its people.

"They mock the ones who dare to raise their voice and opinion, and ignore the sacrifice some have made to gain that right," the activist said.

While praising Mo's skill as a writer, famous dissident Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) was skeptical about honoring an author who recently transcribed a Mao Zedong speech excerpt for a publication, saying the Nobel committee's decision was made to appease Beijing.

Apparently in response to such criticism, Mo on Friday expressed hopes for the release of fellow Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo from Chinese detention.

This brouhaha over Mo's prize is an unnecessary distraction for the institution that is the Nobel Prize for Literature, which according to Alfred Nobel's last will should be given to authors with "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction." Most critics are not questioning the value of Mo's work, but the writer's political allegiance. While the Chinese government is no doubt shamelessly brandishing its credentials via Mo, the distracters are equally misleading in their coupling of political viewpoint to literary value. While dissidents such as Wei and Ai have shown extraordinary courage in their campaigning for human rights and freedom in China, they are in this case as narrow-minded as the government they despise. Their snubbing of Mo in 2012 is the sad mirror image of Beijing's snubbing of Gao in 2000.

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