Mo Yan, born 17 February 1955, is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. Before 2012, he was mostly know for the two of his novels that formed the basis of the film Red Sorghum, directed by award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Mo is currently the only Chinese author who has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Pen name

"Mo Yan" — meaning "don't speak" in Chinese — is his pen name. In an interview with Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, he explains that name comes from a warning from his father and mother not to speak his mind while outside, because of China's revolutionary political situation from the 1950s, when he grew up. The pen name also relates to the subject matter of Mo Yan's writings, which reinterpret Chinese political and sexual history.


Mo Yan's works are epic historical novels characterised by hallucinatory realism and containing elements of black humor. A major theme in Mo Yan's works is the constancy of human greed and corruption, despite the influence of ideology. Using dazzling, complex, and often graphically violent images, he sets many of his stories near his hometown, Northeast Gaomi Township in Shandong province. Mo Yan says he realised that he could make "[my] family, [the] people I'm familiar with, the villagers..." his characters after reading William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. He satirizes the genre of socialist realism by placing workers and bureaucrats into absurd situations.

From Literature to Movie

Mo Yan's brush with cinematic fire started with a bang. In 1986, Mo published Red Sorghum as a novella; the following year the film version swept the world off its feet as it went on to collect the Golden Bear award at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival.

Mo Yan, Zhang Yimou and others during the period of shooting Red Sorghum


  • Red Sorghum


  • The Sun Has Ears


  • Cotton Fleece


  • Happy Times


  • Nuan


The film Red Sorghum was adapted from Families of Red Sorghum, a novel by the famous Chinese author Mo Yan. It was shot in 1988, directed by Yimou Zhang and co-starred Jiang Wen and Gong Li. This film shows a quite strong style of Zhang and is considered as one of Zhang’s best works and the landmark of Chinese film industry. The Sun Has Ears is a 1996 Hong Kong drama film directed by Yim Ho. It was entered into the 46th Berlin International Film Festival where Yim Ho won the Silver Bear for Best Director. Cotton Fleece, a movie adapted from a synonymous novel by Chinese author Mo Yan, was directed by famous director LI Youqiao (director of Postmen in the Mountains), starring by Ning Jing, Su Youpeng, etc. It was released in 1999. Happy Times is a 2000 tragicomedy film directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, starring Zhao Benshan and Dong Jie. It is based loosely on the short story, Shifu: You'll Do Anything for a Laugh (师傅越来越幽默) by Mo Yan; the story appears in English translation in the collection of the same title translated by Howard Goldblatt. Nuan is a 2003 Chinese film directed by Huo Jianqi. The film won the Grand Prix at the 16th Tokyo International Film Festival. The film is an adaptation of author Mo Yan's short story, The White Dog and the Swing. The film is set in Maoyuan, a small and ancient village in Jiangxi. Nuan's production was delayed by the outbreak of SARS in 2002-2003, making it miss a planned debut at the Venice Film Festival that September.

Gaomi – Magical Land in Mo Yan’s Novels

Mo yan, who created a series of legends of “Gaomi Township”, is full of passion about his hometown. “My hometown and my works are correlated with each other.” Remarked Mo, “in Gaomi there are various kinds of fork art, such as clay sculpture, Chinese paper-cut, flapping clay picture, Mao Opera, etc. I grew up under the influence of folk art and folk culture. When I write, these folk elements cannot help being involved in my works. To some extent, they even decide my writing styles. ”

Gaomi, or Yi’an in ancient China, is located in Shandong province. The earliest generations began to live here nearly five thousand years ago. By far there have been over twenty ancient sites were discovered in Gaomi, with nine sites of Longshan culture included. Several famous figures in Chinese history were born here, for example, Yan Ying the famous Chancellor(China) in Spring and Autumn Periods, Zheng Xuan an influential Confucian scholar in Han dynasty, Liu Yong a famous scholar in Qing dynasty ...


Chinese Writers Who almost Won the Nobel Prize

  • Lu Xun: Refused the award in a polite way

  • Shen Congwen: Lost because of his death

  • Lin Yutang: Had been nominated by Pearl

  • Lao She: Lost because of the Cultural Revolution

  • Ba Jin: His name goes down in history

  • Bei Dao: Less of one ticket