Gao Xingjian Biography


(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...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

On January 4, 1940, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, Gao Xingjian (gow shihng-jyahn) was born in Ganzhou in China’s Jiangxi province. His father held a senior position with the Bank of China, and his mother was a former actress who volunteered in patriotic plays staged by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). As the family retreated from advancing Japanese forces, survived the end of World War II and the subsequent civil war in China, which ended with a Communist victory on the mainland in late 1949, Gao’s mother installed in her son a lifelong love for reading, writing, and painting.

In 1957, Gao graduated from high school in Nanjing. Instead of studying painting, he enrolled in the department of French at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages. Upon his graduation in 1962, he was made a translator at the Foreign Languages Press, a position he held formally until 1980. In the early 1960’s, Gao lost his mother, who drowned when the Communists sent her to the countryside.

When the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, Gao’s position linking him to the West became dangerous. He was sent to a cadre school for reeducation and from 1970 to 1975 labored in the countryside. There, he burned all his accumulated unpublished manuscripts. Allowed to return to Beijing in 1975, Gao resumed his job, writing, and painting. He traveled to France and Italy in 1979 as a delegation translator and published his novella, Hanye de xingchen (1980; stars on a cold night), and his first critical essay. In 1981, Gao published his influential book Xiandai xiaoshuo jiqiao chutan (a preliminary exploration of the techniques of modern fiction), which established him as a proponent of Western-style modernism.

After his travels to France as translator for Chinese writers, Gao was transferred to the Beijing People’s Art Theater. His first play, Juedui xinhao (pr. 1982; Alarm Signal, 1996), was produced by Lin Zhaohua, one of China’s most renowned theater directors. His...

(The entire section is 832 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Wenxue de liyou” (“The Case for Literature”), delivered in Stockholm on December 7, 2000, Gao Xingjian stated that he wrote neither to educate the masses nor for a commercial market. Instead, his writing is for himself and for those readers willing to accompany him on his quest for the meaning of self, of human existence, and of humanity’s role in the physical world. A reader of his two outstanding novels, his innovative plays, and his experimental short stories may concur that Gao has remained true to his goals. His writings in many genres, as well as his paintings, all question the fate of the individual soul struggling to carve out some meaning in an often hostile environment. In the end, the characters of Gao’s literary work refuse to become recluses but seek the comfort of a loving other, no matter how impossible to achieve this may be.