Gaomi, the hardscrabble hometown of Chinese novelist Mo Yan, is about to get an extensive makeover.
Mo Yan, it was announced last week, is the first citizen of modern China ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The news was splashed all over state-run media, making the reclusive author an instant national hero.
Now, tourists are flocking to Mo Yan’s hometown of Gaomi in the eastern coastal province of Shandong -- and suddenly, China is scrambling to tidy it up. The Beijing News reported Thursday that the city will create a “Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone,” in the village, investing $107 million the effort.
Mo Yan himself will receive less than one-tenth that amount for the Nobel Prize he will accept in Norway this December. There is no word yet on whether he approves of plans to renovate his hometown.
According to the Telegraph, officials’ plans for Gaomi may not take local residents’ livelihoods into account.
Fan Hui, a local official, is reported by Chinese news sources to have spoken to Mo Yan’s father.
“Your son is no longer your son, and the house is no longer your house," he said. "It does not really matter if you agree or not.”
Mo Yan is most famous for his novel “Red Sorghum,” named for a type of grain that officials will now plant over 1,600 acres of Gaomi, according to Agence France-Presse. But he is a prolific writer who has also published at least 10 more novels and 20 novellas.
He infuses elements of fantasy -- including miracles and talking animals -- into his work, effectively romanticizing his tough upbringing even while criticizing the circumstances that caused it.
At a 2010 cultural forum in California, Mo Yan told audiences that his work was grounded in a sense of place.
“I created a village in the northeast region of China that I based on my own hometown as well and established a realm for myself,” he said.
“It occurred to me that my own experience, my own life in that little village, could all become stories and literature. My family, people I’m familiar with, the villagers—they can all become my characters.”
It is unlikely that China’s $107 million investment will preserve the “little village” that inspired Mo Yan’s most esteemed works of literature.