Maya Jaggi

Slaughterhouse Lives

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Seagull Books 386pp £18 order from our bookshop

The award of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Mo Yan last December, when he became the first Chinese citizen to win, triggered outrage among some dissidents and activists because of his perceived proximity to the state. His reticence in backing persecuted writers is bound to dismay campaigners. But to dismiss ‘state-sanctioned’ authors as stooges is misguided. It underestimates the literary strategies devised in mainland China for evading brutal sanctions against self-expression. As Gao Xingjian, the only other Chinese-language writer to win the Nobel in Literature (as a French citizen in 2000), once told me: ‘It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.’ 

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