Essays

China’s Literary Obsession with Soccer

From Maradona to Mo Yan Dave Haysom

The author Chen Cun had a good line about the twin failures that seemed destined to forever vex the population of China: the failure to have any success at the World Cup, and the failure to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

That line had to be revised when Mo Yan brought home the Nobel in 2012. But the connection between the two prizes must have stuck, because two years later someone had the bright idea of shipping Mo Yan out to Brazil to offer his thoughts on the World Cup. This year’s competition, he concluded, had a hint of magical realism about it (“as if some invisible hand in the heavens was moving the ball around”), while the scale of Germany’s 7-1 defeat of Brazil was “unexpected.”