So I guess now I’m going to have to read ‘Red Sorghum’ sometime

“This suggests that the West doesn’t only embrace individuals that are against the Chinese system.” So says stridently nationalist Global Times on the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Mo Yan – the guy we’d barely heard of who wrote the novel that became one of those acclaimed movies we never saw back in the late 80s. Which is what the Literature prize is for: recognizing undoubtedly outstanding writers from Uruguay, Senegal and other places that don’t do physics and medicine, and reminding us that not everything is in English. As GT puts it: “The Literature Prize is not as direct as the science prizes.”

Anyone who has studied literature has had to analyze texts to see what the words actually tell us beyond what the author wants us to think. The Global Times article acknowledges the Nobel for Mo with a grudging defiance that makes it clear China is a country that wants and expects more. More respect, more Nobels, more science Nobels, more – in due course – kowtowing. Read it properly, however, and the real message it delivers is very different. This is a country (or, to be fair, a state-run newspaper) of deep self-absorption, self-pity and insecurity.

Is it possible that Taiwan, which is where I will be until Wednesday, is in some ways more at ease with its place in the world? Who cares that you’re a renegade province and not supposed to exist if you can land F-16s on freeways? The neighbourhood I will be staying in certainly seems interesting. Strolling around it on Google Maps’ Street View, I find that on one side of the street, it’s a beautiful sunny day; cross directly over to the other side, and suddenly it is overcast and raining…

Around the corner, there is an interesting-looking restaurant 50 yards along; go right up to it, and it suddenly becomes a grimy motorbike repair shop. That’s what I call hallucinatory realism.

I officially declare a) this weekend open and b) Time and Newsweek magazines to have finally degenerated into peddlers of superstitious, New-Age mumbo-jumbo now they are explaining what your computer-using dog thinks of you, and why there must be an afterlife because a near-death experience happened to a neurosurgeon.

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15 Responses to So I guess now I’m going to have to read ‘Red Sorghum’ sometime

  1. Lola Bugatti says:

    The completely irrelevant Nobel Committee which gave Kissinger a prize for peace and left out virtually every great author of the twentieth century.

    I fart in their general direction.

    The Philistine centre of Asia, Hong Kong, where e-readers sell so badly, you have to order a Kindle online.

    When was the last time you saw someone reading a novel?

    And then the Standard and the SCMP headline an author. Get off it, busters!

  2. No Future says:

    Lulu Ping in today’s scmp;

    HK can’t do without mainland

    These guys who advocate for Hong Kong independence are sheer morons. Deprived of support from the mainland, Hong Kong will be a dead city. Do they know where the water they are daily drinking comes from?

    They probably think they are wiser than the British. Why did the British eventually choose to hand back Hong Kong to China instead of claiming for its independence?

    Lu Ping, former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Beijing

  3. Real Tax Payer says:

    Bugatti’s a very fast carter
    And now he’s become a great farter
    He can play everything
    From God save the King
    To Beethoven’s moonlight sonata

    (sorry Bella, I could not resist that, this being the weekend)


    But back to Mo Yan, the book Red Sorghum differs from the film in many ways. The book is one of the most horrific I have ever read…. really nasty stuff

  4. Stephen says:

    @No future

    Long time since I have soiled my hands by picking up The Pro-China.

    However does Lulu repeat his pre-handover assertion that the future democratisation of HK is a matter for the HKSARG and not the Central Government ? Thought not.

    If the mainland stood by what they agreed then calls for HK’s independence would cease. Then perhaps HK would love China as much as we loved Gong Li in the Red Sorghum film.

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I tried Red Sorghum a while ago, but couldn’t get into its magic realism. What really drew me was the author’s name (= nobody in Cantonese).

    If Singapore has thrived on independence in the face of an unfriendly hinterland, then HK could have done — but for China’s empire building (and threat to bomb us), plus uncountable millions of IIs.

    The Lu Pings of this world get all the more moronic as they realise that the only world they know is destined to come tumbling down around them sooner rather than later — just as the market shoots up just before a crash.

  6. Vile says:

    I’m a bit confused as to why anyone would think an empire should even consider proposing the independence of one of its own colonies? That sort of behaviour is normally left up to the natives. Hong Kong kind of missed the boat with that one, presumably because most of its population in the 60s consisted of refugees from the mainland who were pretty happy to exchange the colonial government for their former comrades-in-command.

    If there had been an independence movement, the time would have been then, when there would have been no question of handing the place over to the tender mercies of the people’s party. I’m sure Her Madge would have been happy to cave in and Hong Kong athletes would now be able to hone their fine skills even more keenly with both the Asian Games and the Commonwealth games to aim for. We might even have kept her as head of state like many other fine ex-imperial possessions.

    Someone may bring up the N.T. leasing business: the hypothetical 1960s revolutionaries would simply dig a canal along the north side of Boundary Street, put up a bit of razor wire, and viola! Win-win.

  7. Jonathan Stanley says:

    @PD: If the China-Exceptionalism house of cards fall… then what of Hong Kong, since it seems it currently couldn’t even organise a piss-up in a brewery?

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    Revised opening lines

    Bugatti’s a fast starter
    And now is a fast farter…


    Seriously : there’s some pretty nasty stuff in Red Sorghum – like when they have a prisoner in the village and ask the village butcher to skin off his face down to the skull bone .

    That was one part that did NOT make the film cut ….

    But I guess that’s what Nobel literature prizes these days require

    There was a modern Japanese author who was short listed : Marumoki or something like that

    I read a couple of his books and gave up – they were absolute and total BS

  9. Mjrelje says:

    I can’t believe that Lu Ping, that vile man from the yesteryear HK/Macau liaison office would write such a shit letter to the SCMP. Has he gone senile? Was he released from the mental hospital and allowed Internet access? The good thing though is that Lu Ping is reading the Post and will therefore probably read my reply to his moronic diatribe in the letters page (if published).

  10. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Mjrelije

    Please can you post here on the Big Lychee Lu Ping’s letter and your reply ?

    Despite the SCMP’s new website ( which had more than a few teething problems….) it’s still hard to access archive letters to the Editor

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The main reason pre-1997 HK didn’t introduce more democracy was pressure from China. Perhaps for this reason, the citizens were surprisingly politically apathetic.

    It’s true that viable city states have to have a legitimate reason for not being gobbled up, essentially a distinct identity, plus, as Vile says, an awareness of being different; and this usually generates, by stages, rulers who have the people’s interests in mind. It also helps to have friends with big sticks.

    There are any number of mini and microstates in the Pacific and Caribbean. But those in Europe — like the Channel Isles, Andorra or the Vatican, or future Scotland? — in practice only have a high degree of autonomy (I’ve never known whether this phrase means more independence (sorry, it just slipped out) or less than “autonomy”). Ireland is one partial exception. And think of the territories that have been absorbed almost without trace.

    A powerful China will never give up any of the important lands it has grabbed over the centuries. Only if the empire were to break up, which would be cataclysmic, might things change. Even a democratic China would find it difficult to keep all the promises made about HK.

  12. Jason says:

    @RTP: Do you mean “Murakami”?
    Was it necessary for you to ridicule his name, just to show you are such a true (CCP) belonger?
    You read a “couple of his books” to find out they were “absolute and total BS”?
    You are as convincing as your beloved party!

  13. amy says:

    I happened to read your post about op-eds in scmp 2 years ago.

    (hardly surprising since, as I understand it, the SCMP doesn’t pay for most of them – it’s amazing anything fills the space at all

    make sure you do your research – or, do better research. opinion writers/columnists are paid. on a per word basis.

  14. Sam Grobart says:

    Oi… careful Hemzers… two more posts like your most recent offerings and you stand to lose all three of your readers. Your little bloggie here risks become… an actual blog. Yikes. Here’s something to bring out your snide-side…

    Hong Kong can be really be proud of these kids. They could have become Gucci Vitton worshipping clean-air loathing materialists in the mold of their elders… but instead of turning a blind eye to the world and obsessing over property prices and Sunday yumcha they’ve decided to give two-shits about the world they live in and are showing considerable backbone. As long as Hong Kong has kids like this… there’s still hope for this place.

    Giving the man the middle finger. Love it.

  15. Jason says:

    to SG: fully agree!

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