Gao Xingjian (born January 4, 1940) is a Chinese émigré novelist, playwright, and critic who in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity." He is also a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter. In 1998, Gao was granted French citizenship.
Gao in 2012
|Born||January 4, 1940|
Ganzhou, Jiangxi, China
|Occupation||novelist, playwright, critic, translator, screenwriter, director, painter|
|Citizenship||Republic of China (1940–49)|
People's Republic of China (1949–98)
France (since 1998)
|Alma mater||Beijing Foreign Studies University|
|Notable works||The Other Shore, Soul Mountain, One Man's Bible|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Literature |
|Spouse||Wang Xuejun (王学筠); divorced|
Gao's drama is considered to be fundamentally absurdist in nature and avant-garde in his native China. His prose works tend to be less celebrated in China but are highly regarded elsewhere in Europe and the West.
Born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, during wartime China in 1940 (Gao's original paternal ancestral home town is in Taizhou, Jiangsu with his maternal roots from Zhejiang), his family returned to Nanjing with him following the aftermath of World War II. He has been a French citizen since 1998. In 1992 he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.
Early years in Jiangxi and Jiangsu
Gao's father was a clerk in the Bank of China, and his mother was a member of the Young Men's Christian Association. His mother was once a playactress of Anti-Japanese Theatre during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Under his mother's influence, Gao enjoyed painting, writing and theatre very much when he was a little boy. During his middle school years, he read lots of literature translated from the West, and he studied sketching, ink and wash painting, oil painting and clay sculpture under the guidance of painter Yun Zongying (simplified Chinese: 郓宗嬴; traditional Chinese: 鄆宗嬴; pinyin: Yùn Zōngyíng).
Years in Beijing and Anhui
In 1962 Gao graduated from the Department of French, BFSU, and then he worked for the Chinese International Bookstore (中國國際書店). During the 1970s, because of the Down to the Countryside Movement, he went to and stayed in the countryside and did farm labour in Anhui Province. He taught as a Chinese teacher in Gangkou Middle School, Ningguo county, Anhui Province for a short time. In 1975, he was allowed to go back to Beijing and became the group leader of French translation for the magazine China Reconstructs (《中國建設》).
In 1977 Gao worked for the Committee of Foreign Relationship, Chinese Association of Writers. In May 1979, he visited Paris with a group of Chinese writers including Ba Jin. In 1980, Gao became a screenwriter and playwright for the Beijing People's Art Theatre.
Gao is known as a pioneer of absurdist drama in China, where Signal Alarm (《絕對信號》, 1982) and Bus Stop (《車站》, 1983) were produced during his term as resident playwright at the Beijing People's Art Theatre from 1981 to 1987. Influenced by European theatrical models, it gained him a reputation as an avant-garde writer. His other plays, The Primitive (1985) and The Other Shore (《彼岸》, 1986), all openly criticised the government's state policies.
In 1986 Gao was misdiagnosed with lung cancer, and he began a 10-month trek along the Yangtze, which resulted in his novel Soul Mountain (《靈山》). The part-memoir, part-novel, first published in Taipei in 1990 and in English in 2000 by HarperCollins Australia, mixes literary genres and utilizes shifting narrative voices. It has been specially cited by the Swedish Nobel committee as "one of those singular literary creations that seem impossible to compare with anything but themselves." The book details his travels from Sichuan province to the coast, and life among Chinese minorities such as the Qiang, Miao, and Yi peoples on the fringes of Han Chinese civilization.
Dramas and performances
- 《絕對信號》 (Signal Alarm, 1982)
- 1982, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
- 1992, in Taiwan
- 《車站》 (Bus Stop, 1983)
- 1983, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
- 1984, in Yugoslavia
- 1986, in Hong Kong
- 1986, in Britain, University of Leeds, England. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
- 1991, in United States (California) Southwestern College, Chula Vista. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
- 1992, in Austria
- 1997, in United States (Massachusetts) Smith College, Northampton. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
- 1999, in Japan
- 2004, in United States (California) University of California at San Diego. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
- 《野人》 (Wild Men, "Savages", 1985)
- 1985, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
- 1988, in Hamburg, Germany
- 1990, in Hong Kong
- 《彼岸》 (The Other Shore, 1986)
- 《躲雨》 (Shelter the Rain)
- 1981, in Sweden
- 《冥城》 (Dark City)
- 1988, in Hong Kong
- 《聲聲慢變奏》 (Transition of Sheng-Sheng-Man)
- 1989, in United States
- 《逃亡》 (Fugitives)
- 1990, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
- 1990, in Sweden
- 1992, in Germany, Poland
- 1993, in USA. Translated by Gregory B. Lee in Gregory Lee (ed.), Chinese Writing in Exile, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago, 1993.
- 1994, in France
- 1997, in Japan, Africa
- 《生死界》 (Death Sector / Between Life and Death)
- 1991, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
- 1992, in France
- 1994, in Sydney, Italy
- 1996, in Poland
- 1996, in US
- 《山海經傳》 (A Tale of Shan Hai Jing)
- 1992, published by Hong Kong Cosmos Books Ltd. (香港天地圖書公司)
- 2008, published by The Chinese University Press as Of Mountains and Seas: A Tragicomedy of the Gods in Three Acts
- 《對話與反詰》 (Dialogue & Rhetorical / Dialogue and Rebuttal)
- 1992, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
- 1992, in Vienna
- 1995, 1999, in Paris
- 《週末四重奏》 (Weekends Quartet / Weekend Quartet)
- 1999, published by Hong Kong New Century Press (香港新世纪出版社)
- 《夜游神》 (Nighthawk / Nocturnal Wanderer)
- 1999, in France
- 《八月雪》 (Snow in August)
- 2000, published by Taiwan Lianjing Press (台湾联经出版社)
- Dec 19, 2002, in Taipei
- 《高行健戲劇集》 (Collection)
- 《高行健喜劇六種》 (Collection, 1995, published by Taiwan Dijiao Press (台湾帝教出版社))
- 《行路難》 (Xinglunan)
- 《喀巴拉山》 (Mountain Kebala)
- 《獨白》 (Soliloquy)
While being forced to work as a peasant – a form of 'education' under the Cultural Revolution – in the 1970s, Gao Xingjian produced many plays, short stories, poems and critical pieces that he had to eventually burn to avoid the consequences of his dissident literature being discovered. Of the work he produced subsequently, he published no collections of poetry, being known more widely for his drama, fiction and essays. However, one short poem exists that represents a distinctively modern style akin to his other writings:
- 宰了 / 割了 / 爛搗碎了 / 燃一柱香 / 打一聲呼哨 / 來了 / 就去了 / 來去都乾乾淨淨
- Sky Burial
- Cut / Scalped / Pounded into pieces / Light an incense / Blow the whistle / Come / Gone / Out and out
- 《巴金在巴黎》 (Ba Jin in Paris, 1979, essay)
- 《現代小說技巧初探》 ("A Preliminary Examination of Modern Fictional Techniques", 1981)
- 《談小說觀和小說技巧》 (1983)
- 《沒有主義》 (Without -isms, translated by W. Lau, D. Sauviat & M. Williams // Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia. Vols 27 & 28, 1995–96
- 《對一種現代戲劇的追求》 (1988, published by China Drama Press) (中国戏剧出版社))
- 《高行健·2000年文庫——當代中國文庫精讀》 (1999, published by Hong Kong Mingpao Press) (香港明报出版社)
Gao is a painter, known especially for his ink and wash painting. His exhibitions have included:
- Le goût de l'encre, Paris, Hazan 2002
- Return to Painting, New York, Perennial 2002
- "無我之境·有我之境", Singapore, Nov 17, 2005 – Feb 7, 2006
- The End of the World, Germany, Mar 29, – May 27, 2007
Works translated into English
- Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather, short stories, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2004, ISBN 0-00-717038-6
- Bus Stop (Che zhan). Gao Xingjian. Trans. Carla Kirkwood. Ed. Roger Davies. World Anthology of Drama, London: Longman. 2004.
- Soul Mountain, novel, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2001, ISBN 0-00-711923-2
- One Man's Bible, novel, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, ISBN 0-06-621132-8
- The Other Shore, plays, trans. G. Fong, Chinese University Press, ISBN 962-201-862-9
- The Other Side, play, trans. Jo Riley, in An Oxford Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama, 1997, ISBN 0-19-586880-3
- Bus Stop (Che zhan) by Gao Xingjian. Trans. Carla Kirkwood. Modern International Drama Journal. New York. Spring 1995.
- Silhouette/Shadow: The Cinematic Art of Gao Xingjian, film/images/poetry, ed. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Contours, Paris, ISBN 978-981-05-9207-3
- Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation, essays, trans. Mabel Lee, Cambria Press, Amherst, New York, 2012, ISBN 978-160-49-7836-0
Response from Zhu Rongji
The Premier Zhu Rongji delivered a congratulatory message to Gao when interviewed by the Hong Kong newspaper East Daily (《东方日报》):
- Q.: What's your comment on Gao's winning Nobel Prize ?
- A.: I am very happy that works written in Chinese can win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chinese characters have a history of several thousand years, and Chinese language has an infinite charm, (I) believe that there will be Chinese works winning Nobel Prizes again in the future. Although it's a pity that the winner this time is a French citizen instead of a Chinese citizen, I still would like to send my congratulations both to the winner and the French Department of Culture. (Original words: 我很高兴用汉语写作的文学作品获诺贝尔文学奖。汉字有几千年的历史，汉语有无穷的魅力，相信今后还会有汉语或华语作品获奖。很遗憾这次获奖的是法国人不是中国人，但我还是要向获奖者和法国文化部表示祝贺。)
Comments from Chinese writers
Gao's work has led to fierce discussion among Chinese writers, both positive and negative.
In his article on Gao in the June 2008 issue of Muse, a now-defunct Hong Kong magazine, Leo Ou-fan Lee praises the use of Chinese language in Soul Mountain: 'Whether it works or not, it is a rich fictional language filled with vernacular speeches and elegant 文言 (classical) formulations as well as dialects, thus constituting a "heteroglossic" tapestry of sounds and rhythms that can indeed be read aloud (as Gao himself has done in his public readings).'
- 1985, DAAD Fellowship, Germany
- 1989, Asian Cultural Council Fellowship, United States
- 1992, Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
- 2000, Nobel Prize in Literature
- 2000, Premio Letterario Feronia in Rome
- 2001, honorary doctorate by Chinese University of Hong Kong
- 2001, honorary doctorate by National Sun Yat-sen University
- 2002, honorary doctorate by National Chiao Tung University
- 2002, Legion of Honour by then French President Jacques Chirac
- 2003, l'Anne Gao Xingjian, the City of Marseille
- 2005, honorary doctorate by National Taiwan University
- 2006, Lions Award, by the New York Public Library (NYPL) at Library Lions Benefit event
- Gao Xingjian's Swedish translator Göran Malmqvist, is a member of the Swedish Academy and was responsible for the translation to Swedish for Nobel Prize consideration. Ten days before the award decision was made public, Gao Xingjian changed his Swedish publisher (from Forum to Atlantis), but Göran Malmqvist has denied leaking information about the award.
- Gao is the second of the three laureates to give Nobel lecture in Chinese (the other two are Samuel C. C. Ting in 1976 and Mo Yan in 2012).
- Gao is an atheist.
- "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2000". Nobelprize. October 7, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
- "The Nobel Prize for Literature 2000". Nobelprize.org.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2000 goes to the Chinese writer Gao Xingjian "for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama".
- Lee, Gregory Barry (1993). Lee, Gregory (ed.). Chinese Writing in Exile. Chicago: Center for East Asian Studies, The University of Chicago.
- Mabel Lee, 'Nobel Laureate 2000 Gao Xingjian and his Novel Soul Mountain' in CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal, September, 2000
- Published on the website Ba Huang's Art Studio Archived August 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- Lee, Leo Ou-fan (June 2008). "The happy exile". Muse Magazine (17): 93.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 10, 2007. Retrieved April 3, 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Gao Xingjian|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gao Xingjian.|
- Appearances on C-SPAN
- "Gao Xingjian collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- The Voice of One in the Wilderness critical essay on the works of Gao Xingjian by Olivier Burckhardt, PN Review #137, 27:3 (Jan–Feb 2001) 28–32, shorter version also published in Quadrant. 44:4 (2000) 54–57, and anthologized in Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 167, ed. Jeff Hunter, Gale Publishing, (2003) 200–204
- Gao Xingjian: Bio, excerpts, interviews and articles in the archives of the Prague Writers' Festival
- "The Challenge to the 'Official Discourse' in Gao Xingjian's Early Fiction" by Deborah Sauviat. First-class Honours thesis. University of Sydney, 1996.
- Gao Xingjian and "Soul Mountain: Ambivalent Storytelling, Robert Nagle, Houston, Texas, 2002.