Gao Xingjian 1940-
(Also transliterated as Xingjian Gao) Chinese-born French playwright, critic, novelist, translator, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Gao's career through 2001.
Playwright, critic, and novelist Gao was a prominent leader of the avant-garde movement in fiction and drama that emerged in the wake of the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976. In 2000 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature from the Swedish Academy, the first time the prize had been awarded for a body of writing in the Chinese language. Gao, a self-exiled dissident writer, emigrated from China to France in 1987 in order to escape government persecution for his controversial plays, prose, and essays. His novel La Montagne de l'âme (1995; translated in Chinese as Lingshan, translated in English as Soul Mountain) is considered by many critics to be Gao's masterpiece, employing an experimental narrative voice to relate the story of a spiritual journey through remote China. His works typically address themes of the individual versus collective will and the search for self-identity. Despite his continual focus on topics and issues that are distinctive to Chinese culture, all of Gao's writings have been banned in China since 1989.
Gao Xingjian (pronounced gow shing-jen) was born on January 4, 1940, in Ganzhou, China. During Gao's childhood, Ganzhou—also known as Republican China—was invaded by Japanese forces. In 1949, due to the revolution led by Mao Zedong, the nation became the People's Republic of China. Gao grew up in a liberal family environment—his father was a banker and his mother was an amateur actress—and he had access to a sizable family library of Chinese literature as well as many volumes on Western Literature and art. He attended university at Beijing Foreign Languages Institute from 1957 to 1962, where he studied French language and literature. After graduating, Gao began working as a translator and editor of the French edition of China Reconstructs, a monthly magazine produced in all the major languages of the world to tout the successes of socialist reconstruction in China. During this period, Gao began secretly writing plays, stories, and essays, which he had to hide from the authorities due to Mao Zedong's edict that all literature and arts should solely be used to serve the masses. Gao's wife eventually denounced him to government officials. As a result, he was sent to rural China for cultural “re-education,” where he worked for six years as a farm laborer and teacher. Although he continued to write during his “re-education,” Gao either burned or buried all of his writings, including unpublished novels, plays, and essays, for fear of being further labelled as a subversive. Gao returned to Beijing in 1975 and began working for the Chinese Writers Association. Following the end of the Cultural Revolution, Gao's writing began to appear regularly in Chinese publications and in 1981 he was assigned to work as a writer for the Beijing People's Art Theater. His first play, Juedui xinhao (Absolute Signal), was produced in 1982 and became a popular success. That same year, Gao was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but two weeks later learned that he had been misdiagnosed and did not have cancer. His next play, Chezhan (1983; Bus Stop), was declared subversive by the Chinese government, and Gao decided to leave Beijing in order to escape a possible prison sentence. He spent the next five months on a fifteen thousand kilometer trek through rural China, an experience which later became the basis for his novel Soul Mountain. When the political climate in China changed in 1984, Gao returned to Beijing. His next plays received negative reactions from the Chinese government, causing Gao to emigrate to France in 1987 during a trip to Germany on an artistic fellowship. After the massacre during the student protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, Gao denounced the actions of the Chinese authorities to the media and applied for political asylum in France. In 1992 Gao wrote and produced a play—Taowang (1992; Fleeing)—about the Tiananmen Square massacre, resulting in the Chinese government banning all of Gao's works in China. He became a naturalized French citizen in 1998 and was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Letters from the French government in 1992.
Gao's first play, Absolute Signal, follows an attempted train robbery that is thwarted when one of the villains decides not to go through with the crime. The play uses a variety of flashbacks and different perspectives to create an unique narrative voice. In Bus Stop, the thoughts and behaviors of seven characters—representing a cross-section of Chinese society—are rendered as they wait and watch buses pass without stopping. Western critics found the play reminiscent of the Theater of the Absurd movement and drew comparisons to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Chinese authorities, however, condemned the play, interpreting it as an analogy for ineffective communist government. Yeren (1985; Wildman) concerns an ecologist and a newspaper reporter who travel into the wilderness of modern China in search of a mythical “wildman,” who is said to be part human, part monkey. The play, defying conventional dramatic techniques, unfolds through a series of episodic scenes, interspersing traditional Chinese song, dance, and music with dialogue between the unnamed characters. In Bi'an (1986; The Other Shore)—the title refers to a term for Buddhist enlightenment—three characters, designated as The Crowd, Man, and Woman, engage in a symbolic struggle over the conflict between the individual and collective will. The Other Shore was the last play that Gao wrote in China before emigrating to France in 1987. His plays written in France include Fleeing, Dialogue-interloquer (1992; Dialogue and Rebuttal), Le Somnambule (1994; Nocturnal Wanderer), and Zhoumo sichongzou (1995; Weekend Quartet). Fleeing, set during the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests, takes place in an abandoned warehouse where two men and a young woman have taken refuge from the military tanks sent in to stop the demonstration. Dialogue and Rebuttal follows two strangers who have spent the night together, examining their inability to communicate and their individual relationships with language. Nocturnal Wanderer is a dream play where a character named Sleepwalker battles to escape his nightmare. The structure of Weekend Quartet is based on the composition of a musical quartet and examines the relationships between four different characters. Gao has also received considerable critical attention for his two novels, Soul Mountain and Le Livre d'un homme seul (2000; One Man's Bible). Soul Mountain—a Buddhist term for heaven—is based on Gao's experience of being misdiagnosed with terminal cancer and his fifteen thousand kilometer, five-month long journey to the eastern coast of China. The novel employs an experimental narrative style, which includes alternating narrative points of view, as well as a bifurcation of the main character into both male and female parts. Soul Mountain is divided into eighty-one short, episodic chapters, with each chapter alternating between first- and second-person narration. The plot follows an individual's search for meaning by way of a spiritual journey. Through his/her encounters with the people and cultures of remote China, the main character explores the tensions between individual and collective identity. One Man's Bible is a historical novel, set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. As in Soul Mountain, the narrative voice includes second- and third-person narration, but One Man's Bible purposely excludes the first-person “I” in order to symbolize the suppression of individual identity by Chinese government forces.
There has been a direct correlation between the critical reception of Gao's writing in China and the political climate of the country. While his plays Absolute Signal and Wildman have been considered relatively politically innocuous, Bus Stop and The Other Shore have been denounced by Chinese authorities as subversive. Outside of China, Gao's plays received positive critical recognition in a number of countries during the 1980s and 1990s through theatrical productions and translated publications, although few English translations of his works existed. However, after winning the Nobel Prize in 2000, Gao gained international prominence and many of his works have become available in English. Gao's plays have been praised for their experimental theatrical techniques, episodic structures, and their focus on the recurring theme of individual versus collective identity. Critics have noted the clear influence of such Western playwrights as Samuel Beckett and Bertolt Brecht on Gao's dramatic works. Several reviewers have complimented Gao's mixture of modern Western and traditional Chinese literary and cultural influences. Critical discussion of Soul Mountain has focused primarily on Gao's narrative voice and structure. While many critics have found Gao's inventive storytelling techniques to be the novel's most remarkable feature, others have found the novel to be overly self-indulgent and alienating to the reader. Commentators have lauded the spiritual elements of Soul Mountain, with Fatima Wu observing that, “Above all, the book records one lonely individual's quest for his soul.” Some reviewers, however, have questioned Gao's representations of women in his drama and fiction. Sylvia Li-chun Lin has commented that, “feminists might find his treatment of women in Soul Mountain bordering on male chauvinism.”
Stars on a Cold Night (novella) 1980
A Preliminary Exploration into the Techniques of Modern Fiction (criticism) 1981
*Juedui xinhao [Absolute Signal] (play) 1982
†Chezhan [Bus Stop] (play) 1983
Yeren [Wildman] (play) 1985
Bi'an [The Other Shore] (play) 1986
Sheng si jie [Between Life and Death (play) 1991
Dialogue-interloquer [translated in Chinese as Duihua yu fanjie; translated in English as Dialogue and Rebuttal] (play) 1992
‡Taowang [Fleeing] (play) 1992
Shanhaijing zhuan [The Story of the Classic of Seas and Mountains] (play) 1993
Le Somnambule [translated in Chinese as Ye you shen; translated in English as Nocturnal Wanderer] (play) 1994
La Montagne de l'âme [translated in Chinese as Lingshan; translated in English as Soul Mountain] (novel) 1995
Zhoumo sichongzou [Weekend Quartet] (play) 1995
Au plus près du reel: Dialogues sure l'écriture, 1994-1997 (criticism) 1997
§The Other Shore: Plays by Gao Xingjian (plays) 1999
Le Livre d'un homme seul [translated in Chinese...
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SOURCE: Chen, Xiaomei. “A Wildman Between Two Cultures: Some Paradigmatic Remarks on ‘Influence Studies.1’” Comparative Literature Studies 29, no. 4 (fall 1992): 397-416.
[In the following essay, Chen discusses Wildman in terms of both Western and Chinese cultural influences.]
In May 1985, when Gao Xingjian premiered his third play, Wildman, in Beijing, China, its critical reception was quite different from his first two plays, The Alarm Signal staged in 1982 and The Bus Stop in 1983.2 Both of his earlier plays have been immediately recognized as being strongly “influenced” by the Western modern theater—by such people as “the formidable French dramatist, God-madman, Antonin Artaud,” and “a host of writers and theorists of the Theater of the Absurd.”3 The Western critics were unanimous in reviewing The Bus Stop as “the first play to introduce elements of the Theater of the Absurd to a Chinese audience.”4 Their Chinese counterparts, likewise, expressed a similar view. One of the striking features of The Bus Stop, as Wang Xining argued in a review in China Daily, is that it successfully “dissected modern Chinese urban society in a manner reminiscent of Beckett's Waiting for Godot.”5
However, Wildman, the third of Gao Xingjian's plays to be...
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SOURCE: Kuoshu, Harry H. “Will Godot Come by Bus or through a Trace? Discussion of a Chinese Absurdist Play.” Modern Drama 41, no. 3 (fall 1998): 461-73.
[In the following essay, Kuoshu compares Bus Stop to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and explores the motif of waiting in both plays in terms of their different cultural contexts.]
The Bus-Stop, written by Gao Xingjian and performed by The People's Art Theater of Beijing, is a Chinese lyrical comedy that emerged with a group of experimental plays in Beijing in the early 1980s.1 The play creates a bizarre situation of waiting, and its resemblance to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was pointed out by certain Chinese critics soon after its premiere. Since the playwright has a background in French literature, this observation came as no surprise;2 nevertheless, it played its role in a quickly aborted political campaign of “anti-bourgeois-contamination.” A Party-authorized critic used The Bus-Stop's resemblance to Beckett's play to label it anti-socialist, assuming that the futile waiting in the play shows a loss of confidence in socialism, a loss ascribed to contamination by “bourgeois, idealistic, egoistic world views.”3 Although The Bus-Stop was degraded by Party authorities in the short-lived campaign, more experimental plays, one of them by the same playwright...
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SOURCE: Burckhardt, Olivier. “The Voice of One in the Wilderness.” Quadrant 44, no. 4 (April 2000): 54-7.
[In the following essay, Burckhardt discusses Gao's plays in terms of the theme of self-exploration and the search for individual identity.]
Occasionally there is an individual who has the courage not to represent, or identify with, any group whatsoever. Gao Xingjian has been described as the leading dramatist of avant-garde Chinese theatre; an author who has forged new paths in Chinese prose writing; and a painter of international repute. Although such descriptions aim to portray his activities in complimentary terms, they fail to grasp the individual. The paradox of course is with the nature of language whose primary function is to categorise—and once we have categorised we stop considering the individual as individual—but language is a supple medium, often a great deal more supple than our own thinking.
A writer-artist living in Paris since 1987, Gao Xingjian was born in China in 1940, where his earliest recollections are of fleeing the invading Japanese forces. His upbringing was exceptionally liberal. The son of an amateur actress and a bank employee, from an early age he was encouraged to paint, write and play the violin. At seventeen he went to the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, taking a major in French language and literature, all the while developing his...
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SOURCE: Burckhardt, Olivier. “Journey without End.” Quadrant 44, no. 9 (September 2000): 84-5.
[In the following review, Burckhardt examines Gao's experimental use of narrative voice in Soul Mountain.]
Lingshan (soul-mountain) is a quasi-mythological place “where wonderful things can be seen, where suffering and pain can be forgotten, and where one can find freedom.” There are many Lingshans in China but “soul-mountain” is also a Buddhist name for heaven.
Begun in 1982 when Gao returned to Beijing after a fifteen-thousand-kilometre journey through central and eastern China over a period of five months, Soul Mountain was finished in 1989 in Paris, where Gao currently lives. In its eighty-one short chapters, the novel alternates between an inner and outer journey. What begins as a search for the elusive mountain soon turns into an odyssey in the true sense of the word; a series of wanderings; a long adventurous journey where each episode creates a rhythmic unit of tension and counterpoise that gives the whole work a sense of unity.
Soul Mountain weaves together an intricate pattern of impressions, observations and dialogues. The critic of chapter 72 complains that the work isn't a novel and snarls, “You've slapped together travel notes, moralistic ramblings, feelings, notes, jottings, untheoretical discussions, unfable-like fables, copied out...
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SOURCE: Goldblatt, Howard. Review of The Other Shore, by Gao Xingjian. World Literature Today 74, no. 4 (autumn 2000): 801-02.
[In the following review of The Other Shore, a collection of Gao's plays in English translation, Goldblatt praises the introduction and the translation of the works by Gilbert Fong.]
Gao Xingjian is, as the editor/translator of The Other Shore states in his introduction, a major figure in world drama, and the most innovative, if not the most famous, playwright China has produced in this century (one recalls Cao Yu). Yet he is not well represented in the West, if one excludes the acclaim he has garnered in France, his adopted homeland; for that and other reasons, one welcomes this collection of his plays in translation. (Editor's Note: This review was written and submitted three months before the announcement of Gao's receipt of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature.)
Gilbert Fong's introduction is, in itself, a substantial piece of scholarship/criticism and serves to open a number of windows into the structure, intent, “meaning,” and idiosyncratic nature of Gao's more recent plays. Well written, well informed, thoughtful, and illuminating, this indispensable prefatory material is a boon to those who wish to appreciate the playwright's accomplishments. If there is a concern, it is that the translator appears at times to have forgotten...
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SOURCE: Beyette, Beverly, and Reed Johnson. “Author's Seminal Work Not Yet on U.S. Shelves.” Los Angeles Times (13 October 2000): A17.
[In the following essay, Beyette and Johnson discuss the significance of Gao being awarded the Nobel Prize to the international recognition of Chinese literature.]
No one was more thrilled on hearing that Gao Xingjian had won the Nobel Prize in literature than Dr. Mabel Lee, the Australian academic who translated his seminal novel, Soul Mountain, into English. “He is an artist, a very elegant writer,” she says.
Lee, who recently retired as a professor of Chinese literature and history at the University of Sydney, worked part time for five years on the novel. “Finding a publisher,” she says, “took two years.”
Lee's agent, Lyn Tranter of Australian Literary Management, took the novel to HarperCollins Australia, which published it in 1999 under its Flamingo imprint. This is the only English-language edition of the book, which was first published in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1980, then in Sweden and France.
World rights have not been sold, according to Rod Morrison, Gao's editor at HarperCollins Australia. Soul Mountain, while on a bestseller list in Australia, is not available in the United States but is being offered to publishers here and in Britain. However, The Other Shore: Plays by Gao...
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SOURCE: Dahlburg, John-Thor. “Chinese Exile Gao Xingjian of France Gets Nobel Literature Prize.” Los Angeles Times (13 October 2000): A17.
[In the following essay, Dahlburg provides an overview of Gao's literary career in terms of his controversial reception by the Chinese government.]
After nearly a century of existence, the Nobel Prize in literature was awarded Thursday for the first time to a writer in the world's most-used language, dissident Chinese exile Gao Xingjian, whose works are banned in his native land.
Now a citizen of France, Gao's life and work mirror the tumult of modern China, while blending Chinese themes with narrative forms that originated in the West.
During the upheaval of Mao Tse-tung's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, in which millions perished, the author was sent to political re-education camps and toiled for six years as an agricultural worker. During that chaotic period, he burned a suitcase filled with manuscripts to avoid their falling into the hands of government officials.
“In the writing of Gao Xingjian, literature is born anew from the struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses,” said the Swedish Academy, which selects the winner of the Nobel in literature. “He is a perspicacious skeptic who makes no claim to be able to understand the world. He asserts that he has found freedom only in...
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SOURCE: Kuhn, Anthony. “To Many in China, Author's Nobel Is No Prize.” Los Angeles Times (16 October 2000): E1, E4.
[In the following essay, Kuhn explores the response of Chinese government officials, writers, and literary scholars to Gao's winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.]
For the many Chinese who have long hoped that the Nobel Prize in literature would be awarded to a Chinese cultural luminary, thereby bringing recognition to their country's rich literary traditions, last week's winner came as a rude shock.
What they got, with the selection of experimental playwright and novelist Gao Xingjian, was a writer whose works few Chinese know; whom the government considers subversive and whom the domestic media have largely been banned from discussing.
But with mainstream Chinese culture caught between unbridled commercialism and official censorship, the award may serve to draw attention to China's small but vital avant-garde arts sector, which Gao helped nurture before going into exile in France in 1987.
On Friday, China's Foreign Ministry dismissed Gao's award, saying in a statement that it “shows again the Nobel literature prize has been used for ulterior political motives, and it is not worth commenting on.”
And in a move certain to make Gao even less popular with Beijing, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian chipped in...
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SOURCE: Lovell, Julia. “Nobel Prize for Literature 2000.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5090 (20 October 2000): 15.
[In the following essay, Lovell evaluates the significance of Gao's winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature to his status as a self-exiled dissident Chinese writer and to Western conceptions of Chinese literature.]
“The Nobel Literature Prize has been used for ulterior political motives, and is not worth commenting on.” (Chinese Foreign Ministry, October 13, 2000). The awarding, last week, of the Nobel prize for Literature to Gao Xingjian was instantly politicized, partly thanks to Beijing's hardliners, who responded to the announcement by denouncing the “political purposes” of the Prize and declaring that it had lost authority. The Western press also played its part. In the wave of panic that swept the British media last Thursday afternoon (who is he? what has he written? how is his name pronounced?), everyone reached for the first security blanket of modern Chinese studies: the playwright and novelist Gao Xingjian is an exiled dissident (he lives in France). But what significance, if any, does this political virtue have for his writing?
Born in 1940, Gao Xingjian spent the first forty-seven years of his life in China. Though he did not start writing as a professional playwright until 1981, he was active in a drama group while at university in Beijing, where...
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SOURCE: Williams, Carol J. “Dubious Maneuvers Soil Nobel.” Los Angeles Times (1 November 2000): A1, A6.
[In the following essay, Williams contends that the Swedish Academy's Nobel Prize committee has a conflict of interest that puts into question the validity of Gao's winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.]
Somewhere between shameless promoter of personal interests and champion of a once little-known literary talent from China stands an unapologetic Goran Malmquist, a member of the Swedish Academy whose behavior in this year's Nobel literature prize selection has besmirched the world of letters' sanctum sanctorum.
A retired Stockholm University professor of Chinese languages and literature, Malmqvist just happens to be the Swedish translator of this year's laureate, exiled dissident Gao Xingjian. He's also the confessed middleman in the writer's recent defection from one Swedish publisher to another just before the Nobel announcement.
The nine-month deliberations leading up to literature's most prestigious award are supposed to be held in the strictest confidence. Malmqvist insists that he neither broke the Swedish Academy's vow of silence nor did anything wrong in steering Gao into the hands of a publishing friend.
“There were no leaks from the Swedish Academy—certainly not from me. I'm not that foolish,” Malmqvist said Tuesday from...
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SOURCE: Ruark, Jennifer K. “Hot Type.” Chronicle of Higher Education 47, no. 15 (8 December 2000): A18.
[In the following essay, Ruark assesses the publishing history of Gao's works in English translation.]
HARD TO GET
American readers looking for books by Gao Xingjian, this year's Nobel laureate in literature, may have wondered if they were banned in the United States as well as in China. Until this week, only one volume of his works was available: a collection of plays titled The Other Shore.
The Swedish Academy singled out Mr. Gao's novel Soul Mountain for praise when it announced the prize in October, but publicists at HarperCollins in New York were bewildered when they started getting phone calls asking for copies. It turned out the book, translated by Mabel Lee, was published by the press's Australian branch. The New York office rushed an American edition into print that at press time was due out on December 5.
Until then, the University of Michigan Press has cornered the U.S. market on Gao with The Other Shore, which it has distributed for the Chinese University Press, of Hong Kong, since October of last year. Michigan had sold fewer than 100 copies and had only 50 more in stock when the Nobel was announced, says the press's publicist, Jessica Sysak. Editors quickly requested more, and the press has now sold...
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SOURCE: Levi, Jonathan. “Internal Exile.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (17 December 2000): 2.
[In the following review, Levi examines the experimental narrative voice in Soul Mountain.]
In its occasionally quixotic battle for universalism, the Swedish Academy often awards the Nobel Prize for literature to a writer whose name is greeted with surprise and ignorance by the world press. (One doesn't have to search too far back in the annals to unearth Vicente Aleixandre in 1977, or Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson, who shared the prize in 1974, about whom ignorance is still almost complete.)
This year's winner, Chinese expatriate Gao Xingjian, is not only relatively unknown in this country but virtually untranslated into English. A resident of Paris since the late 1980s, Gao is best known in Europe for his plays and his paintings. But it seems, according to the helpful introduction by the Australian translator Mabel Lee (who also provides a bibliography of Gao's works in English and French), that the author was also something of a political thorn in the Beijing of the early 1980s. Soul Mountain, written in 1990, is the first example of Gao's fiction to appear in English. As a true work of great literature, it ought immediately to vault Gao out of obscurity and into the ranks of the first-class laureates.
Soul Mountain is billed as a novel. But it is a...
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SOURCE: Lin, Sylvia Li-Chun. “Between the Individual and the Collective: Gao Xingjian's Fiction.” World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 12-18.
[In the following essay, Lin offers an overview of Gao's works to Western readers unfamiliar with his oeuvre, focusing on the theme of individual versus collective rights and responsibilities in Gao's plays and fiction.]
When the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature was announced on 12 October 2000, many people in the United States and in the People's Republic of China were wondering just who Gao Xingjian was. It was not a totally invalid question for American observers, since he was virtually unknown here outside of academic circles. What was unusual was the excitement in China over the selection of a Chinese Nobel laureate of whom most had never heard. As a self-exiled writer and naturalized French citizen, Gao Xingjian has witnessed the erasure of his name from the literary scene and the national collective memory in China for reasons that will be briefly explained in the following pages.
This is not to say that Gao's selection went unnoticed in the country of his birth; the Shanghai novelist Wang Anyi, for instance, announced that she was “very happy a Chinese writer won this award, no matter where he lives.”1 And the internationally renowned novelist Mo Yan has spoken of Gao's enormous contributions. But this...
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SOURCE: Haiping, Yan. “Theatrical Impulse and Posthumanism: Gao Xingjiang's ‘Another Kind of Dream.’” World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 20-9.
[In the following essay, Haiping discusses the theme of posthumanism and the individual in Gao's dramatic works.]
Chinese drama since the late 1970s, like other forms of art and literature of the era, began as an emotionally charged negation of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and developed as a multi-dimensional reflection on the turbulent history of contemporary China, fueled by the rapidly unfolding and violently changing forces of what has been called “modernization.”1 Many emerging playwrights in the early 1980s, as spiritual children of the long tradition of Chinese literary ethics,2 viewed themselves as “speakers for the common folk” and “authors of social conscience and cultural change.”3 Connected with yet different from many of his contemporaries in this regard, Gao Xingjian appeared on the nation's cultural scene with a distinctive impulse: taking Western literary modernism in general and the theater of the absurd in particular as points of engagement, his first staged play, Juedui xinghao (Absolute Signal; 1982),4 treats of such overt social issues as youth unemployment and juvenile delinquency to enact a mode of psychic rhythms subjectively felt by socially...
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SOURCE: Wu, Fatima. Review of Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian. World Literature Today 75, no. 1 (winter 2001): 101.
[In the following review, Wu explores Gao's narrative voice and the theme of the collective search for the meaning of life in Soul Mountain.]
Gao Xingjian was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1982. Faced with imminent death, he began to gorge himself with sumptuous food and to immerse himself in reading in an old graveyard in a Beijing suburb. However, a second examination revoked the first diagnosis, and Gao was then returned to the human world. It was at this time that he left the city of Beijing to begin his 15,000-kilometer journey from central China to the east coast. This journey, which lasted over five months, gave birth to the book Soul Mountain.
The work is an account of Gao's odyssey, or a pagan's Pilgrim's Progress. In eighty-one chapters covering over five hundred pages, the author makes use of multiple narrators named “I,” “you,” “he,” and “she” to iterate various perspectives of his ideas. One can regard the text as a traveler's journal recording Gao's feelings and routes, or even as a philosophical treatise on life, religion, culture, history, et cetera. It is also an extended monologue, bordering on stream of consciousness, by a writer who is eager to find himself and to make sense of the world around him. Above all, the...
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SOURCE: Xingjian, Gao, Mabel Lee, and Susan Salter Reynolds. “The World According to Gao.” Los Angeles Times (27 February 2001): E1, E4.
[In the following interview, Gao and Lee, the English-language translator of Soul Mountain, discusses the theme of love and male-female relationships in Gao's body of work.]
There ought to be a Nobel Prize for readers. Consider the terrible isolation of the reader, for example, turning the pages of Gao Xingjian's Nobel Prize-winning novel, Soul Mountain, a beautiful, confusing, thought-demanding book full of questions and no answers. Whom can you talk to about the self and the soul and the constrictions of culture? Or about the perversions of social will on the pure, animal needs of the individual? On page 506, the loyal reader is told that God is a small green frog on a snowy windowsill in Sichuan province, that conclusions are bogus, the self is elusive and nothing can be understood.
And he gets the ＄900,000.
Last October, Gao Xingjian (pronounced gow shing-jen) became the first Chinese Nobel laureate (poet Bei Dao has been a past finalist), yet officials in Beijing were not happy about it. Soul Mountain, which won him the award, has been banned in China since 1985. One state newspaper, the Yangcheng Evening News, called him “an awful writer.” Chinese officials refused to attend the prize...
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SOURCE: Mehegan, David. “The Man Who Can't Be ‘We.’” Boston Globe (7 March 2001): A17.
[In the following essay, Mehegan asserts that Gao acts as a spokesperson for individual freedoms through his works of drama and fiction.]
Standing alone at the podium, a slender Chinese man in a black suit spoke softly. All around and high above, the concave amphitheater at Harvard University was packed to overflowing with people, primarily Chinese, of all ages, hanging on his measured words. An interpreter stood at a microphone nearby.
The room was hot and airless, but Gao Xingjian, the 2000 Nobel laureate for literature, was a kind of cool island. His short talk was on literature and freedom. The writer must break free, he said, of all constraints and external pressures: political, social, economic. “For a writer trapped by ideology,” he said, “it is hard to achieve freedom. I take a stand against ‘isms’ of any kind; I try to jump out of all frameworks.”
In the four months since he became the first Chinese winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Gao Xingjian's selection still makes waves. His works are banned in China and his receipt of the Nobel was denounced last month by a state-controlled newspaper as “ludicrous,” “disappointing,” and “a kind of joke played by the Swedish Academy on the Chinese people.” It's not only the government that scorns...
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SOURCE: Jenner, W. J. F. “Heading for the Hills.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5110 (9 March 2001): 22.
[In the following review, Jenner argues that Soul Mountain is a book about a male mid-life crisis and criticizes the English translation of the novel, noting the “clumsiness of expression in virtually every paragraph.”]
So you are climbing this mountain—which mountain?—almost any mountain in central or southwest China—searching for you don't quite know what. Or perhaps you are wandering around the streets of country towns, drawn by the ambiance folklorique. Sometimes you are catching up on a spot of archaeology and ruminating on neolithic pottery spindle whorls (or spinning wheels, as your translator so quaintly renders them). Or again, you might be talking to friends. You press-gang your reader into being a character in some parts of the book [Soul Mountain] by addressing him (and it evidently is him) as “you” and telling him what he is doing in the middle of the action. This allows the reviewer to “you” the author.
When you are not staggering up the misty wooded slopes or seeking the truth from sages, you occasionally like to involve your reader in a sex scene. Every few chapters you drag us poor embarrassed things into these second-person bouts with anonymous women, all desperate for your favours as you go through your prolonged mid-life...
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SOURCE: Twitchell-Waas, Jeffrey. Review of Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian. Review of Contemporary Fiction 21, no. 2 (summer 2001): 161.
[In the following review, Twitchell-Waas asserts that the primary achievement of Soul Mountain is Gao's experimental use of narrative voice throughout the novel.]
Although last year Gao Xingjian became China's first Nobel laureate (much to the annoyance of Beijing), until very recently little of this remarkable dramatist and fiction writer's work has appeared in English. The first of Gao's two big novels, Soul Mountain is an autobiographical, highly episodic epic that follows the protagonist's wanderings throughout much of southwest China, driven both by the desire to escape official persecution back in Beijing and the search for renewed spiritual grounding. This vast remote region of China—with its primeval forests, diverse minority nationalities, and remnants of authentic Buddhism and Taoism—has long represented a reservoir of oppositional cultural traditions against the dominant Han Confucianism, of which it is implied that communism is just another version. Posing as an ethnographer collecting vestiges of folk rituals and songs, the protagonist searches randomly for epiphanic moments, yet never deludes himself that these tribal or religious orders of life offer him a personal solution—if nothing else, he is too fiercely individualistic and...
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SOURCE: Review of Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian. Virginia Quarterly Review 77, no. 3 (summer 2001): 98.
[In the following review, the critic contends that Gao's narrative structure in Soul Mountain requires patience on the part of the reader and that the novel may not hold the attention of readers looking for a conventional storyline.]
Soul Mountain, the 2000 Nobel Prize winner in literature, requires its readers to have patience. Patience, for example, to believe that the short, episodic chapters are leading toward a cohesive whole. Patience, to wait for a narrator split into four personal pronouns—I, you, he, and she—to deliver a comprehensible story. Though story, at least in the sense of most contemporary novels, is not what Xingjian is attempting in this book. Instead, he cobbles together a mix of folklore, character sketches, and snapshots of the rural Chinese countryside to create a modernist mosaic. The result is half-memoir, half-fiction, an expatriate's re-imagined journey through the Qiang, Miao, and Yi districts—places as much on the fringe of Chinese history as civilization. From biologists studying giant Pandas to Daoist masters and small-town Communist thugs, the people we meet along the way are interesting enough. Still, the interactions are minimal. After all, a traveler who gets involved is only asking for trouble. The question is whether the resulting...
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Eder, Richard. “A Dreamlike Chinese Journey Haunted by Past and Present.” New York Times (18 December 2000): E1.
Eder evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Soul Mountain.
Goldblatt, Howard, editor. Worlds Apart: Recent Chinese Writing and Its Audience. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990.
Goldblatt presents a collection of essays on a variety of contemporary Chinese writers, including Gao.
Pan, Philip P. “Nobel of Little Note.” Washington Post (14 October 2000): C3.
Pan discusses the response of the Chinese government to Gao's winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Weeks, Linton. “Chinese Exile Wins Nobel for Literature.” Washington Post (13 October 2000): C1, C8.
Weeks discusses the significance of Gao's status as a Chinese dissident writer to his winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
———. “Hard Climb to Freedom's Peak.” Washington Post (22 February 2001): C1, C8.
Weeks interviews Gao about how his life has been altered since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Weeks also discusses Gao's narrative technique in Soul Mountain.
Additional coverage of Gao's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group:...
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