Mo Yan Biography

Guan Moye, better known as Mo Yan in the literary world, is a renowned Chinese novelist and short-story writer. Despite being born into a poor farming family, he defied the odds and carved a successful literary career solely based on his exceptional talent. Mo Yan’s writing style is diverse and cannot be easily categorized, drawing inspiration from various writers and incorporating elements of older Chinese literature and contemporary social issues. His imaginative and humanistic fiction gained popularity in the 1980s, and he achieved international recognition with his epic novel ‘Red Sorghum’. In 2012, he was honored with the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. Additionally, many of his works have been adapted into internationally acclaimed movies.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Yan Mo, Guan Moye
  • Age: 68 Years, 68 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Du Qinlan
    • Father: Yifan Guan
    • Siblings: Moxian Guan, Moxin Guan
    • Children: Guan Xiaoxiao
  • Nobel Laureates In Literature
  • Novelists
  • Education: 1991 – Beijing Normal University
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature 2012

Childhood & Early Life

Guan Moye was born on 5th March 1955 and grew up in Gaomi in Shandong province in north-eastern China in a poor farming family. He dropped out in the fifth grade of a primary school in his hometown during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. He participated in farm work for years and then started working in a cotton factory in 1973. He joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 1976. His writing stint started in 1981 with short stories. This was the time when he adopted his pen name ‘Mo Yan’, which means “Don’t Speak.”


From 1984 to 86 he studied literature at the PLA Academy of Art. During this period, he published stories such as ‘Touming de hongluobo’ (Transparent Red Radish) and ‘Baozha’ (Explosions). This was a turning point in his literary life. In 1986, he wrote a romantic historical story ‘Honggaoliang’ (Red Sorghum). In 1987, this story was published with four additional stories in ‘Honggaoliang jiazu’ (Red Sorghum Family). In his later works he handled various approaches—from myth to realism, from satire to love story—but his tales were always marked by an impassioned humanism. In 1989 his novel ‘Tiantang suantai zhi ge’ (The Garlic Ballads) and ‘Shisan bu’ (Thirteen Steps) were published. In 1992, the collection of stories ‘Jiuguo’ (The Republic of Wine) came out. His novel ‘Shicao jiazu’ (The Herbivorous Family) was published in 1994, whereas in 1995, ‘Mo Yan wenji’ (Collected Works of Mo Yan) was published. His 1995 novel ‘Fengru feitun’ (Big Breasts and Wide Hips) caused some controversy, both for its sexual content and for its failure to depict class struggle according to the Chinese Communist Party line. Mo was forced by the PLA to write a self-criticism of the book and to withdraw it from publication. However, many pirated copies of this book remained available. After this incidence, he left his position in the PLA in 1997. Later he worked as a newspaper editor and continued writing fiction, with his rural hometown as the setting for his stories. His novel ‘Tanxiangxing’, published in 2004, narrates a story of human cruelty in the crumbling Empire. This book was translated in English as ‘Sandalwood Death’ in 2013. The 2006 novel ‘Shengsi pilao’ uses black humour to describe everyday life and the violent transmogrifications in the young People’s Republic. In 2008, this book was translated as ‘Life and Death are Wearing Me Out’ in English. His later works include the collection of eight stories ‘Shifu yue lai yue mo’ (‘Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh’). This book has been adapted for a film ‘Happy Times’. This film won the ‘Fipresci Prize’ and the ‘Silver Spike’ at the Valladolid International Film Festival in 2000. His book ‘Shengsi pilao’ has been translated in English as ‘Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out’ in 2006. His latest novel ‘Wa’ (translated as ‘Frog’ in English), published in 2009, discusses the consequences of China’s imposition of a single-child policy. Mo Yan’s another short story ‘The White Dog and The Swing’ was adopted for film ‘Nuan’ in 2003. This film won ‘Grand Prix’ at 16th Tokyo International Film Festival 2004.

Major Works

One of his most acclaimed novels is ‘The Red Sorghum Family’, published in 1987. This book gave him fame and recognition as a writer. It was adopted into a film of the same name in 1987. The film won the Golden Bear Award at the 1987 Berlin International Film Festival – the first major international prize awarded to a post-Mao Chinese film. The book consists of five stories that unfold and interweave in Gaomi in several turbulent decades in the 20th century, with depictions of bandit culture, the Japanese occupation and the harsh conditions endured by poor farm workers. This novel was selected by the magazine ‘World Literature Today’ as one of the ‘Top 40’ in its first 75 years of publication and as the best of 1987.

Awards & Achievements

He was one of finalists for ‘Neustadt International Prize for Literature’ awarded in 1998. ‘Kiriyama Prize’ for notable books was awarded to Mo Yan’s book ‘Big Breasts and Wide Hips’ in 2005. Open University of Hong Kong, in 2005, conferred ‘Doctor of Letters’ degree upon him. He won ‘Newman Prize for Chinese Literature’ in 2009 for his book ‘Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out’. In 2010, he became the ‘Honorary Fellow’ of the ‘Modern Language Association’. His translated book ‘Frog’ brought him ‘Mao Dun Literature Prize’ in 2011. He received the highest honor in literature – ‘The Nobel Prize in Literature’ in 2012.

Personal Life & Legacy

Mo Yan married Du Qinlan in 1979. They have a daughter Guan Xiaoxiao born in 1981. His daughter manages all his business and public relation affairs including copyright issues.

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