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China Nobel winner Mo Yan defies critics
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Feb 28, 2013

China journalist 'quit' after official pressure
Beijing (AFP) Feb 28, 2013 - One of China's most celebrated journalists has left an outspoken newspaper, it confirmed on Thursday, after what two journalists said was official pressure over a series of investigative reports.

Wang Keqin, whose decades of breaking stories have brought him nationwide fame, worked for the Economic Observer, a weekly known for its investigations, but left after a reporting team he led was shut down following government pressure.

China came 174th in a list of 179 countries ranked for press freedom in 2011-12 by advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, falling three places compared to the previous year.

The Economic Observer takes inspiration from Britain's Financial Times, and is known for its free-market stance on economic issues and relatively outspoken criticism of government policy.

But the paper's management asked Wang, who has more than 400,000 followers on Sina Weibo, a website similar to Twitter, to leave on Monday, according to an account confirmed by two journalists familiar with the matter.

He packed up his desk two days later, said the sources, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

Trouble began to brew at the paper in August, after it published a dramatic report on the victims of floods which hit Beijing, killing at least 77 people.

Officials from Beijing's government visited the paper's offices as a warning, said a reporter at the Economic Observer who also asked to remain anonymous.

An account posted online said: "Because of a report concerning Beijing's flood, the newspaper was almost shut down," adding that the investigative journalism unit run by Wang was shut down two months later, leaving him "without a team".

"Wang Keqin has quit," said a member of staff who answered the newspaper's main office number, refusing to give her name.

Wang was removed from his post as editor of the China Economic Times newspaper in 2010 after it published a report detailing how mishandling of vaccines may have led to children falling seriously ill and dying in Shanxi province.

China's foreign ministry insists that press censorship does not exist in the country, but journalists report the constant threat of interference from government officials.

Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan has hit back at critics who accused him of being too close to China's government, saying in a newspaper interview he does not write on behalf of the ruling Communist party.

The writer scooped the Nobel in October for what judges called his "hallucinatory realism" and has won praise from literary critics, but is also fiercely attacked by Chinese dissidents who brand him a Communist stooge.

"I have emphasised repeatedly that I am writing on behalf of the people, not the party," he said in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, adding: "I detest corrupt officials."

Mo Yan hit out at exiled-Chinese dissident author Liao Yiwu, who called him a "state poet".

"I know (Liao) envies me for this award and I understand this. But his criticism is unjustified," he said. "My political views are quite clear. One only has to read my books."

In a style influenced by the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mo Yan's works deal with some of the darkest periods of China's recent history, and are often infused with politics and a dark, cynical sense of humour.

His latest novel, 2009's "Frog", is considered his most daring yet, with a searing depiction of China's "one child" population control policy and the local officials who ruthlessly implement it with forced abortions and sterilisations.

Literary critics have said he has dodged censure by deftly avoiding overt criticism of the current authorities. He is also vice-chairman of the officially endorsed China Writers' Association.

The author is among the estimated 80 million members of China's Communist party, and re-iterated his insistence that literary merit is separate from politics, rejecting dissident artist Ai Weiwei's early criticism of his Nobel victory.

"Which intellectual can claim to represent China? I certainly do not claim that. Can Ai Weiwei?," he asked, adding: "Those who can really represent China are digging dirt and paving roads with their bare hands."

Mo Yan repeated a statement made after his Nobel victory that he hoped Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, jailed in 2009 for calling for democratic change, could "regain his freedom as soon as possible".

But he said he was frustrated with repeatedly being asked about Liu's case, saying that the requests reminded him of "rituals of repetition in the Cultural Revolution", the decade from 1966-76 that saw violent political campaigns.

"If I decide not to speak, then not even a knife at my neck will make me speak," said the author, who was born Guan Moye but whose pen name means "not speak".

Mo Yan said his recent work tackled the question of individual responsibility for crimes committed during China's tumultuous 20th century. "Few people ask themselves, though: 'Have I also hurt others?'" he said.

"I was jealous of the achievements, the talents of other people, of their luck. Later, I even asked my wife to have an abortion for the sake of my own future," he said. "I am guilty."


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