In its citation, the Swedish Academy praised the 57-year-old who "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary".
Mo Yan is the nom de plume for Guan Moye, born in 1955 in Gaomi, Shandong. His literary journey is all the more remarkable given that he was forced to drop out of his fifth year of primary school because of fallout from the Cultural Revolution. It was an unprepossessing beginning, yet in some ways this was the making of Mo Yan, who was to become one of China's finest belletrists as a novelist and short-story writer.
His writing, appreciated for its flights of imagination and humanism, gained widespread popularity in his homeland in the 1980s. Before that, however, Guan and Mo had much to endure and survive.
After leaving school, Guan became a farm labourer, then a factory worker and finally a member of the People's Liberation Army for 21 years, from 1976 to 1997.
Deeply experiencing so many facets of late 20th-century Chinese society uniquely equipped him to write about the pathos and the bathos of life in the People's Republic of China. Assigned the roles and agency of an ordinary person in the panorama of Chinese life from the Cultural Revolution to the era of Deng Xiaoping and beyond, Mo was essentially gifted with an existence that demanded endurance, wit and humour to survive. As a writer, those conditions and the qualities that they called forth meant that his rich inner life as an artist has prospered.
Now, in China's age of supercapitalism, we wait to see how he will continue to critique a society which, already once, he has been punished for being critical of. He was forced by the army to write a self-criticism of his 1995 novel Fengru feitun (Big Breasts and Wide Hips), which had sparked a mild degree of controversy for its sexual content and for failing to toe the Communist Party line on class struggle, and to withdraw the book. That experience, allied no doubt to that of much of the working-class working life that he led, resulted in a heady, intoxicating blend of folklore with history and hyperrealism with harsh contemporary realities.
Time for full disclosure: Mo is one of my favourite Chinese authors and because I am Chinese his award is doubly pleasurable.
Both the Chinas (the People's Republic and Taiwan) and the Chinese there and "overseas" should welcome this second Chinese Nobel laureate.
In a dangerous time, in which the republic is seen as predatory and is embroiled with its immediate neighbours in disputes over uninhabited though mineral-rich islands, the award to Mo Yan is not without geopolitical undertones. But with this literary nod the academy is paying renewed homage to William Faulkner (1949) and Gabriel García Márquez (1982), two of Mo's icons. Now he, too, is a Nobel laureate in literature.