Gao Xingjian

Start Your Free Trial

Download Gao Xingjian Study Guide

Subscribe Now


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gao Xingjian (gow shihng-jyahn) was the first Chinese-born writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, in eastern China, on January 4, 1940. His father was a bank official, and his mother was an actress before she became a housewife. Gao attended the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute in 1957 and graduated with a degree in French in 1962. His first job was as a translator and editor at the Foreign Languages Press. He later was forced to spend five years in a cadre school for “reeducation”—the equivalent of brainwashing and hard labor—during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).{$S[A]Xingjian Gao;Gao Xingjian}

Stimulated by his parents, Gao had cultivated interests in the theater and writing from an early age. He began his career as a writer in 1957, when he was just a freshman in college. However, he sensed that what he wrote might not be in accord with the Communist principle of literature, which requires that all literature and artwork must “serve the masses.” Therefore, during the Cultural Revolution, when almost all writers and their works were severely criticized and denounced and there seemed no way for him to publish any of them, he burned most his manuscripts.

In 1978 Gao visited Paris the first time, as a translator for the Chinese Writers Delegation. Beginning in that year, he was able to publish again. Two years later he was transferred to the Beijing People’s Art Theater as a playwright. He attracted great attention in 1981 for his literary theory work Xiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan. In it, he introduced to the Chinese literary and academic worlds the developments that had taken place in world literary theory and practice and reassessed China’s rich literary heritage in the light of modern times. In the following years, his experimental plays, Alarm Signal and The Bus Stop, were performed in Beijing. His translations of works by Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jacques Prévert, as well as numerous introductory essays on modern Western writers, were also published. These works established Gao’s literary credentials among writers, academics, and the reading public in China.

He once again suffered from the policies of the Chinese government in 1983. This time, a campaign called “oppose spiritual pollution” censored any foreign influences in literature and the arts. His plays were banned in Beijing. In fear of potential arrest and out of a resolution he had made after a misdiagnosis of cancer the previous year, he left Beijing and traveled to the remote mountains and ancient forests in southwest China and from there back to the east coast, a journey of fifteen thousand kilometers over a period of ten months. This journey helped him rediscover himself and his fellow Chinese and helped change his worldview.

In the following years, Gao was able to continue publishing his plays (including The Other Shore) and his collection of short fiction You zhi gezi jiao hongchunr (a pigeon called red beak) and to stage his plays in foreign theaters, in Yugoslavia (The Bus Stop in 1984), Germany (Wild Man in 1988), and England (The Bus Stop in 1988). His reputation as a leading modern playwright had spread beyond the Chinese borders.

In 1985 he was invited to Germany and France to hold exhibitions of his artworks and lectures on his literary works. He was again invited to those countries to do his artwork in 1987. After the Chinese government’s crackdown on the democracy movement caused bloodshed at Tiananmen Square in 1989, he quit the Communist Party. Two years later, angered by Gao’s new play, Fugitives , the Chinese government banned all of his works, discharged him from public employment, and took away his apartment in Beijing. Gao reacted by settling in Paris as a political refugee and then acquired French citizenship in 1998. Having been married and divorced twice before he left China, Gao made his home with his girlfriend, Yang Fangfang, also a writer, in the Paris suburb...

(The entire section is 2,241 words.)