The Winning novel for the Second “The Dream of Red Chamber Award”

Life, Death, Exhaustion
Beijing: The Writers Publishing House (2006)
Mo Yan

Introduction to Winning Novel
Life, Death, Exhaustion takes the most unique approach to presenting half a century of changes, joys and sorrows of rural China. Applying the concept of Buddhist reincarnation, and employing magical realism, Mo Yan created a modern Chinese epic of fantasy and phantasmagoria. “Change” is the theme of the book, and is also a metaphor for contemporary history. It is a highly imaginative endeavour that invokes references to traditional folk culture of song-speak literature and reflections of historical violence and absurdities. Mo Yan ridicules instead of shouts; his love for the land, compassion for the ordinary people, and his dialectics for memory and forgetfulness are especially evident in the writing. Life, Death, Exhaustion represents another important landmark in contemporary Chinese fiction.
Professor David Der-wei Wang
Chairman of Judging Panel of the 2nd Dream of Red Chamber Award: The World's Distinguished Novel in Chinese
Biography of the Awardee
Mo Yan was born in 1955 in Gaomi County in Shandong Province to a family of farmers. At the age of 18, he began to work at a cotton factory. In February of 1976, Mo enlisted in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), where he served successive positions as fighter, class leader, teacher, committee member and creative worker. In 1997, he adopted a new career. He is now the the Researcher at the Chinese National Academy of Arts. He graduated first in the Department of Literature at People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts (1984-1986) and later with a Master Degree at the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Beijing Normal University (1989-1991). His works of novel include Red Sorghum Saga, The Garlic Ballads, Thirteen Steps, The Republic of Wine, Big Breasts & Wide Hips, Sandalwood Death, POW! and Life, Death, Exhaustion; among some 20 novellas of his are A Transparent Carrot, Joy, The Woman with Flowers, Explosion, Shifu: You'll Do Anything for a Laugh; and among his some 80 short stories are White Dog and the Swing, Dry River, Thumb-cuffs and Snow Beauty. He also wrote plays include Red Sorghum, Farewell my Concubine and Our Jing Ke, as well as movie screenplays. His works have been translated into many languages including English, French, German, Italian and Japanese. He has been awarded the 4th National Literature Prize (Novella), the United Literature Prize of Taiwan, the 1st Dajia - Red River Literature Prize, the 1st Dingjun Literary Prize, the Annual Achievement Award of the Chinese Media Awards, the 17th Asian Cultural Awards, Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, the 30th Nonino International Prize, and others.
Excerpt of comments of the judging panel
Strange and phantasmagorical, yet allowed to publish and flourish on the Mainland – a strange sight indeed. It is proof of the magnanimity and breadth of mind of those in power.
Upon the founding of new China, those in power were certain in some fault for inciting the people and wronging the innocent. However, the political direction of the dictatorship of the proletarian remains correct. The problem lies in most honest farm folk who were unwilling to take radical action, so that political scoundrels were allowed to motivate the crowds for private gains. A classic example was in Ximen Nao, affluent farmer of the Ximen Tun Township. He was killed in a gunfight, then reincarnated successively as donkey, cow, pig, dog, monkey, and finally the big-headed baby Lan Qiansui. In every incarnation a different era is portrayed, and the author takes the chance to mock the local corrupt officials. Such corruption is the root of the current problems in China, and this book serves as a reminder for the central powers as to the measures needed to be taken.

Mr. Sima Zhongyuan   
A novel of great breadth and boldness. The experience of the character in the book during those times of change reflect the historic and social changes from 1950 to 2000 in Gaomi – a time-lapse of 50 years of Chinese society.
The author adopts the form of classic, chapter-based novels, and employs a combination of sing-speak narrative technique, magic realism, the Buddhist idea of incarnation, and multiple points of view (donkey, cow, pig, dog, human) to depict the social changes during 50 years of the 20th century. These animals present the most objective impressions, realistic scenes, and emotional responses. Sarcasm is omnipresent in the novel, and every detail is tightly connected. This is the work of a master novelist. The story is fantastical yet the history very much real.
Professor Hualing Nieh Engle
Former Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop
Mo Yan’s Life, Death, Exhaustion describes the immense changes that befell rural China over a period of 50 years using a bold, phantasmagorical narrative. Within the novel are ruthless class struggles; the deep connections farmers had for their land and labour; heart-rending stories of incarnated animals and livestock; the collapse of the system of collective ownership in rural China and the death of the utopian ideals; the new confusions and conflicts of the soul of various social classes after the reforms and opening up; and the sense of loss and helplessness of the youths born in the 1980s. The novel describes the typical lives of 3 generations of Chinese and changes in their emotion and thoughts. The small circle of reincarnation for men and livestock correspond to the grand circle of reincarnation of history to encompass an immense complexity of historical and epochal details.
Artistic-wise, the writer has paid homage to traditional forms of novel. Mo Yan has deliberately adopted the folk aesthetics prevalent in classic novels – man mingles with livestock; yin with the yang – and depicted all the absurdities and changes from a multitude of perspectives. Mo Yan reflects on history and contemplates the present from the angle of the farmer. He calls for liberation from the absurd violence of class and power, that one should put behind this historical revenge and hate, and be vigilant about the decline in morality brought about by new powers and greed. On this ethical standing, he sang praises of the traditional virtues of the Chinese farmer, of their loyalty to their land, to their labour, and to their love.
Professor Chen Sihe
Chairperson of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at Fudan University
What powerful writing! The exaggerative language, the colourful narrative, the model of incarnation and classic chapter novel structure paints a map of decades of life in China. It is a pleasurable read indeed!
The parts about land reforms are simply brilliant. In those scenes of immense breadth his emotional outburst and linguistic celebration are particularly evident of the writer’s talents.

Mr. Jia Pingwa
Author of the Winning Novel of the First “The Dream of Red Chamber” Award
Full text of Acceptance Speech by Mo Yan at the Award Presentation Ceremony

Honourable members of the Judging Panel, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is indeed quite ironic to have someone named “Mo Yan” – a Chinese penname meaning “don’t speak” – make a public speech. 30 years ago, when a person of the name Guan Moye, took the middle character of his name apart to create this pseudonym, he was unaware of the implications of this one act of defiance. He was only thinking: many of the great writers had pseudonyms, and he should have one too. As he looked at his new name, a name meaning speechlessness, he was reminded of his parent’s wise teachings years ago. In those days the politics was radically extreme, and the waves of class struggles threaten to wash away all sense of security, trust and loyalty. Many were incriminated for what they said, and one slip of the tongue might lead to broken family, loss homes and personal peril. During those days, however, he was a talkative boy. He had great memory, was very articulate, and had a great urge to speak to people. Every time he tried to use this gift though, his mother would warn him, “Speak less!” But once out of his parents’ sight, he could never stop running his mouth.
In Life and Death Are Tiring Me Out, the garrulous and tiresome character Mo Yan is not necessarily a faithful depiction of him, but is surely based on him
That ‘literature is based in life’ is certainly a fact of life. But life is boundless and each writer can only draw from a limited repertoire of personal experiences. When a writer wants to keep on writing, he has to do everything to expand his circle of life, and he has to do battle with his desire to pursue wealth and a relaxed life. The path to salvation for a renowned writer is pain, yet fortune often accompanies. For this reason, the most precious of assets is the pain that unexpectedly accompanies the pursuit of happiness. This is why I also believe that success in literature, besides talent and hard work, rests on fate.
A writer may produce a good number of books in life. That which gets remembered may only be the one or the few. Up until now, I have produced 10 novels and nearly a hundred novellas and short stories. Which one, or which few may pass the test of time and survive through later generations? It was hard for me to say. That Life and Death is Wearing Me Out awarded the Dream of Red Chamber Award is a decision that the Judging Panel have made on my behalf. I have come to believe that if there are two books that could survive down the ages, Life and Death is Wearing Me Out must be one of them. Not only because it is awarded the Dream of Red Chamber Award, but that it is created from the most important part of my life’s experiences. I have said that although it took me just 43 days to write this book, I had spent the past 43 years to conceive it. Rewind the time back to the early 1960s, when that Guan Moye was studying in primary school. During the time for broadcast exercises after the 2nd period in the morning, the “individual” farmer from our neighbouring village by the name of Lan would pass by, pushing along a wooden wheel cart that no one was using any more. A limping donkey pulled the cart, and Lan’s small-feet wife hurried the donkey along. The cart screeched and screamed as it rolled, scoring deep groves in the mud road outside the school. Every detail of this scene has been committed to Guan Moye’s memory. Like all other children of his age, he had nothing but contempt for this obstinate, individual farmer. He even joined other children in throwing rocks at this farmer. This farmer held on until the year 1966, when he finally succumbed to the oppressions of the Cultural Revolution and committed suicide.
Many years later, after “Guan Moye” became “Mo Yan”. He has always had this desire to put the story to paper, particularly after the dissolution of people’s communes in the 1980s when land was allocated to individual households and farmers were all again “individualized”. He had felt that this Lan character is a respectable individual, one that dares to defend his values against the persecution of the entire society. Such a character has never existed in contemporary Chinese literature. Nevertheless this Mo Yan has held back the writing because he had not found a way to structure the novel. It was not until the summer of 2005 when he gained inspiration from a mural about the Six Realms of Rebirth in a renowned temple. He gave a landowner who suffered a wrongful death six rebirths – donkey, buffalo, pig, dog, money, and finally a big-headed baby born with an incurable disease. The big-headed baby spoke on and on about the many curious sensations he had during his animal lives, and presented a curious reflection of the changes in China’s rural society.
Some have asked me if the Mo Yan in the novel is related to my real life self. I would say that he is a character created by the writer Mo Yan, and at the same time represents the actual Mo Yan himself. All characters in my novels share the same relationship with their writer.
Now, allow the writer Mo Yan, on behalf of all humans and animals in his novels, offer the sincerest thanks to the Arts Faculty of Hong Kong Baptist University, to members of the Judging Panel, to Mr. Zhang Dapeng, and to all friends present!