Mo Luo 摩罗 is an essayist and cultural critic associated with the Institute of Chinese Culture at the Chinese National Academy of Arts 中国艺术研究院中国文化研究所. Born Wan Songsheng 万松生 in 1961, he took his pen name from a famously difficult essay by Lu Xun, ‘On The Power of Mara Poetry’ 摩罗诗力说. Mara is a Sanskrit term for the demon who tempted Gautama Buddha to abandon his quest for enlightenment. Like Lu Xun, and many latter-day imitators of that extraordinary writer, Mo Luo is fiercely critical of the Chinese cultural and academic establishment; he expresses his criticism in acerbic, often polemical essays and books.
His first collection, Notes by the Humiliated 耻辱者手记 (1998), was a declaration of spiritual independence that lashed out against the intellectual elite, China’s political structure and, more generally, the Chinese national character. It won praise from critics like the noted Peking University literature professor Qian Liqun 钱理群 and the cultural critic Yu Jie 余杰. The assessment of contemporary China contained in this and subsequent collections such as Song of Freedom 自由的歌谣 (1999), Weeping for Joy 因幸福而哭泣 (2002), Deathless Flame 不死的火焰 (2003), and Pathos in the Land 大地上的悲悯 (2003) established Mo Luo as a liberal iconoclast at odds with the neo-nationalist left. Jin Shaoren 金绍任, a writer, critic and university instructor declared in bombast worthy of Mo Luo himself: ‘In his published works, Mo Luo has extensively, systematically and brazenly insulted the motherland and slandered the Chinese nation as well as every one of its sons and daughters’ (see Jin’s 不属于祖国就不属于人类——斥摩罗.)
By the time of the publication of China Rises 中国站起来 in 2010, Mo Luo’s stance had undergone an adjustment. Now, he aligned himself in the mainstream media with the hyperbolic nationalist authors of the explosive best-seller Unhappy China 中国不高兴 (2009), as well as another Peking University professor, Kong Qingdong 孔庆东, (noted more recently for the controversy surrounding ‘Hong Kong Dogs 香港狗 versus Mainland Locusts 大陆蝗虫’), along with other spluttering luminaries of the neo-Maoist left.
Subtitled ‘Our Path Ahead, Destiny and Spiritual Liberation’ 我们的前途、命运和精神解放, China Rises offered an inflammatory Ah Q-esque defence of late-dynastic China. Among other things he declared that ‘the Boxers saved China’ 义和团拯救中国, ‘the Celestial dynasty was not self-important’ 天朝没有夜郎自大 and ‘Emperor Qianlong was right in the way he responded to the British emissary Macartney’ 乾隆会见英国使臣没有错. He also describes China’s early twentieth-century ‘spiritual collapse’, midwifed by such celebrated thinkers as Lu Xun, Hu Shi, Cai Yuanpei, Chen Duxiu, and other May Fourth-era reformers. As a result China’s intelligentsia rejected their cultural heritage and became slaves to western ideology. Today, Mo Luo argued, Chinese intellectuals have inherited a state of spiritual castration.
‘They are addicted to the desperate mood caused by the May 4th Movement in 1919 and the resentment against society in the 1980s’, he declared of liberal public intellectuals in Demonizing Society Doesn’t Solve Any Problems‘, an essay published in the English-language edition of Global Times 环球时报 on 29 May 2011:
Some ‘cultural talents’ in the 1980s, having suffered in the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), broadened their ancestor’s worship of Western culture around 1919 to the Western nations as a whole, even to their violence and hegemony. Some extremists regretted that Britain and Japan failed to totally colonize China. They even suggested that China needed to be colonized for 300 years. [This latter remark refers to an oft-quoted throw-away line from Liu Xiaobo in the late 1980s.]
Mo Luo’s most recent book, Decisive Cliques 圈子决定格局, published in 2012, furthers the argument that throughout the twentieth century, China’s intellectual sphere served interests which were at odds with the general welfare of the country. He pursues a stock line of the neo-Maoists who have drawn up lists of high-profile national traitors. ‘In China’s education system today’, he writes:
… distribution of resources is meant to turn ‘intellectuals’ 士 into a service population. Education in ancient China trained Chinese intellectuals 士人 to serve the Son of Heaven 天子 (the supreme ruler who held the fate of the world at that time); education in today’s China trains Chinese intellectuals to serve western countries (the supreme rulers who hold the fate of the world today). However, until these individuals manage to attract the fancy of western rulers, they needs must serve China’s rulers. When they attract the interest of western elites, they remain in the state apparatus and social institutions of China’s rulers but use criticisms of China’s rulers to repudiate China’s state apparatus and overthrow China’s social institutions. All of this is in the service of their western masters.
The former are called Confucian scholars 儒生; the latter Han traitors 汉奸. But we should not condemn these traitors on moral grounds; today’s traitors were trained by state power, and our entire national education system is now nurturing such traitors. (Quanzi jueding geju, 148)
Although chiefly known as an essayist, Mo Luo has also explored the relationship of Chinese intellectuals to modern culture in fiction, including the novel Six Lamentations 六道悲伤 (2004).
- Southern Metropolis Weekly 南都周刊, profile and interview related to the publication of China Rises, March 2010.