CNHI News Service

Opinion

December 10, 2012

COLUMN: Should Nobel winners live up to awards' ideals?

— If there’s one place you’d expect to find support for free expression, it would be among Nobel Prize recipients.

The people who win these awards almost have to be the sort who think big and manage to do so outside the box.

Earning these top awards for chemistry, economics and other areas of human endeavors requires exceptional effort and the ability to examine issues free of outside control.

But I suppose there is an exception to every rule. And one of these is Mo Yan, this year’s recipient of the Nobel in literature.

If you’ve never heard of Mo, that’s not surprising. His work, while widely respected, doesn’t always translate well. And let’s face it: American readers aren’t exactly an adventurous lot.

But the literature prize typically goes to a writer who has proved himself or herself with a body of work. Mo indeed has a lengthy track record in this regard.

Yet Mo’s receipt of the literature prize was a controversial decision, not necessarily because of his writing talents, but rather, because of his beliefs. Appearing in Stockholm last week to accept his award, Mo defended the practice of censorship, something the Chinese government performs with regularity.

In justifying censorship, Mo compared it to airport security checks, unpopular but necessary. However, in comments translated by an interpreter, Mo indicated that censorship should be employed with care, noting, “I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle."

If those who engage in censorship indeed had principles, Mo might have a point. But the reality is that the power to censor inevitably leads to abuse. The Chinese government, for example, routinely restricts critical comments made about its activities. That’s not principled; that’s a silencing of dissent.

And on that subject, Mo also failed a crucial test for a free thinker. He pointedly refused to support an appeal, signed by 134 other Nobel laureates, calling for his government to release Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. A literary critic and human rights activist, Liu had the audacity to call for an end to single-party rule in China.

Arrested in 2008 on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China. Is that principled censorship?

When asked about Liu amid calls for his release, Mo tried to duck the issue, saying he had previously expressed the hope that Liu would be released soon. It’s hardly the dramatic stance one would expect from a supposed literary lion.

In his native country, Mo is known for enjoying close relations with the Chinese government. Hence his defense of its actions. Of course, the political winds inevitably change, and one day Mo may find it is his work that’s begin censored.

Under those circumstances, will he be so charitable to the powers that be?

---

Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • taylor.armerding.jpg Inequality crisis shot with factual problems, hypocrisy

    President Obama, various media and political liberals say inequality, of all things, is the defining issue of our times. Yet this message is delivered by multimillionaires and a president who jets from tee time to stump speech on the taxpayer's dime.
     

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Zamperini, the Olympian and POW, was a hero because of his faith

    Louis Zamperini collected many accolades as an Olympic distance runner and brave bombardier who spent a month adrift at sea and two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. But faith and forgiveness are what truly distinguished him.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hobby Lobby critics push specious privacy pitch

    The violation of privacy argument by liberal detractors of the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby-Obamacare case doesn't hold water when you consider the current collection and use of the personal details of your medical preferences.

    July 11, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Declare your independence from empty slogans

    'Independence Day' is now an ironic celebration in a country where the president promotes government dependence over actual freedom, and where bumper-sticker slogans have replaced actual, independent thought.

    July 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Taxi owners, government patrons try forcing Uber to go 'off-duty'

    Uber gives urban passengers an enticing alternative. Rides on-demand arrive faster than taxis, are cheaper and cleaner, and get rated by customers. Rather than hail innovation, government enablers are helping the heavily regulated taxicab industry freeze out the upstart.

    June 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg IRS spins email yarn as Obama slips past another scandal

    Forget everything you've heard about email. All digital trace of a former IRS official's email over the 25 months the agency harassed conservative groups has mysteriously, improbably vanished. Gone, too, is the White House's accountability as President Obama slips from another scandal.

    June 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama: Don't listen to those who knew Bergdahl best

    The Obama administration chides anyone who suggests that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl - the POW traded for a dream team of Taliban terrorists - might be something less than a hero. The White House wants us to stop jumping to conclusions - unless, of course, we're jumping to the right conclusions.

    June 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Left tallies 'true cost' of coal with a political calculator

    Weighing the "true cost" of coal-based energy is politically convenient. In a "true cost" world, coal may be more expensive but alternate energies aren't affordable, either; you don't get a tax break on your mortgage; and the feds don't protect the United Auto Workers from Chrysler's bankruptcy.

    June 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Veterans wait for healthcare, we wait for accountability

    Poor care and long wait times at the Veterans Administration are little surprise for an organization with such an entrenched bureaucracy. It's almost predictable as the Obama administration's mock surprise and non-response.

    May 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Reality replaces Obama's foreign policy promises

    Terrorists were supposed to disappear and tensions would dissolve between the United States and other countries when President Barack Obama took office. But prize-winning promises don't hold up to real-life Chinese hackers, attacks on U.S. diplomats and Russian land grabs.
     

    May 23, 2014 1 Photo

News
Sports

Features