Chinese writer Mo Yan (pictured) won the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday, a somewhat unexpected choice by a prize committee that has favored European authors in recent years. (My favorite tweet on the selection came from John O’Farrell: “I so thrilled that Mo Yan has won the Nobel Prize for literature. I have been a huge fan ever since I first heard of him this morning.”) The Swedish Academy, which selects the winners of the prestigious award, praised Mo’s “hallucinatoric realism,” saying it “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.” Though Mo, 57, is the first Chinese national to win the Nobel literature prize, he’s not the first Chinese. A Chinese emigre to France, Gao Xingjian, won in 2000 for his absurdist dramas and inventive fiction, especially the novel “Soul Mountain.” His works are laced with criticisms of China’s communist government and have been banned in China. When Gao won, the communist leadership disowned the prize. Mo’s award is likely to be more warmly greeted in Beijing. His breakthrough came with novel `Red Sorghum’ published in 1987. Set in a small village, like much of his fiction, `Red Sorghum’ is an earthy tale of love and peasant struggles set against the backdrop of the anti-Japanese war. It was turned into a film that won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1988, marked the directing debut of Zhang Yimou and boosted Mo’s popularity.