October 22, 2012

Grab the kids and head on down to Mo Yan Land!


News spread late last week that administrators in the village of Gaomi, China have been considering transforming the town into what one official called the “Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone” after that author’s recent Nobel win.

Mo Yan was born in the small village in Northeastern Shandong province, and hardship from his childhood there informs much of his work. It’s unsurprising that with his recent explosion in popularity his hometown, however quiet, might draw some visitors. The amount of devotion described in the piece, however, is so extreme as to be almost parodic. From the Telegraph:

“One visitor dug up a radish [from Mr Mo’s vegetable patch],” reported the Beijing News. “He slipped it into his coat and showed it to villagers afterwards, saying: ‘Mo’s radish! Mo’s radish!’ ”

“A visiting mother picked some yams and told her daughter: ‘I’ll boil them, so you can eat them and win the Nobel prize too!'” Mr Mo’s brother, Guan Moxin, was forced to intervene to stop the family’s corn harvest, which was left lying out in the sun to dry, being swept away by the village tidying committee.

Part of the plans to take advantage of the novelist’s popularity even included planting red sorghum, a now-largely-unwanted grass that lends its name to one of Mo’s most famous works.

Unwanted and unprofitable, Sorghum is no longer planted in the area, but this not regarded as an obstacle.

Mr Fan said the “Red Sorghum Culture and Experience Zone”, which includes the “Red Sorghum Film and Television Exhibition Area”, would see villagers seed 1,600 acres of the crop. “(We need to grow it) even if it means losing money,” he told the Chinese media.

It seems now that Fan Hui, the official widely quoted about the plan, may have spoken out of turn. As reported in China Daily:

“It was only a tentative idea from the official and cannot represent the voice of the citygovernment,” said Wang Youzhi, a publicity official of the city.

“Although the idea sounds promising, we are yet to take the whole situation into consideration,” he said.

If the plan does go ahead it would be unusual in scope, but certainly not without parallels. Turning the homes of famous authors into sanctioned pilgrimage sites is common in the U.S. (A.N. Devers runs a site dedicated to them, and sells some lovely prints), and the house of our own Hans Fallada is a museum near the Polish border in Northern Germany.  The plan’s reported 670 million yuan investment could do more than fix up a house, though. After, presumably, relocating Mo Yan’s family to another less-Swedish-acclaimed plot of cornfield, after planting some scenic and fanciful red sorghum, where might that money go?

My ideas:


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.