Chinese Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan was expected to walk a thin line at Friday's traditional Nobel lecture, with some pundits supporting claims he is "independent" while others cast him a Beijing stooge.
Chinese writer Mo Yan has been named the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. PHOTO: AP
At a press conference on Thursday, while the writer stood by his call for the release of jailed compatriot and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, he refused to elaborate on the issue.
"I have already issued my opinion about this matter," he said, in response to questions from journalists.
Mo Yan is the vice-chairman of the government-backed China Writers' Association, and the country's state-run media have hailed him as a national hero.
In contrast, the Chinese staged a black-out on coverage of human rights champion Liu's 2010 Nobel win. He is still serving an 11-year prison sentence handed down on Christmas Day 2009 after leading a manifesto for democratic change called Charter 08.
Friday's Nobel Lecture in Literature comes after more than 130 previous Nobel laureates published an open letter on Tuesday, urging the Chinese Communist Party's new chief Xi Jinping to release Liu.
Among Mo's harshest critics has been previous Nobel literature laureate Herta Mueller. Last month, she said she wanted to cry when she heard he had been given the prestigious award.
This year, she said, he had been among several Chinese writers to have hand-copied a speech by the late Communist ruler Mao Zedong as part of a commemorative book in his honour. In that particular speech, Mao insisted that art and culture should support the Communist Party.
After his Thursday press conference, the media largely focused on Mo's ambiguous comments about censorship.
While opposing it, he did add that it was sometimes necessary, comparing it with airport security.
"Whether China has freedom of speech is a very difficult question," he added.
Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet said Friday that the writer's comments that the Nobel Prize was "personal" and not "for a country" could nevertheless be seen as a snub to the Chinese establishment.
"He made it clear to Chinese journalists that the prize has not been given to China, where it is being used on patriotic grounds," it wrote.
The paper compared this year's choice by the Swedish Academy with 1974 winner Harry Martinson, a Swede who was also criticised for not being political enough.
"Today (Martinson's) work appears foresighted. Perhaps it's only in hindsight that we can judge when the Academy has made the right call?" it said.
It also quoted Shelley W Chan, the US-based author of a book on Mo Yan, who called his writing "brave". Chan accused his critics of not having read his work.
She argued that some of his criticism of the Chinese regime is quite explicit while some was more indirect. Parts of it could be seen as referencing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, still a taboo subject in Chinese society, she added.