Winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize For Literature
Gao Xingjian (pronounced gow shing-jen) was born in January 1940 in Ganzhou (Jiangxi province) in eastern China. He grew up during the aftermath of the Japanese invasion. His father was a bank official and his mother an amateur actress who stimulated his interest in the theatre and writing. He was educated in the schools of the People’s Republic and took a degree in French in 1962 at the Foreign Languages institute in Beijing. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) basic human instincts, thinking, and judgements were systematically repressed and stunted, and all creative endeavours became representations of a distorted reality. Unable to hide the several hundred works of prose, plays and poems he had written, though not published, in the 1960s and 1970s, he burnt all of them rather than face the consequences of having them found.
The arrival of more liberal policies after the end of the Cultural Revolution meant that Gao Xingjian was able to publish his work in China and travel abroad as a member of writers’ delegations – in 1979 to France, and in 1980 to Italy. During the period 1980-1987 he published short stories, novellas, critical essays and plays in literary journals, as well as four books: A Preliminary Discussion of the Art of Modern Fiction (1981), a novella A Pigeon Called Red Beak (1985), Collected Plays of Gao Xingjian (1985), and In Search of a Modern Form of Dramatic Representation (1987). The three experimental and pioneering plays which made his name were inspired in part by Brecht, Artaud, and Beckett. The first, Signal d’Alarme/Absolute Signal (1982), was a resounding success; Arret de Bus/Bus Stop (1983) was the absurd drama which established his reputation, but which was also condemned and banned during the ‘Oppose Spiritual Pollution’ campaign; L’Homme Sauvage/Wild Man (1985) also ignited domestic polemic and international attention.
In 1986 L’Autre Rive/The Other Shore was banned and since then none of his plays has been performed in China. Although he was able to publish a substantial number of works during the 1980s, it was not without considerable anxiety in times still troubled by political ambiguity. In 1981 the publication of A Preliminary Discussion of the Art of Modern Fiction resulted in his being criticised for promoting modernist ideas borrowed from the capitalist West and he was placed under surveillance.
In 1983, shockingly, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and he resigned himself to imminent death until a later X-ray revealed an incorrect diagnosis. He had been summarily thrown back into the world of the living – and to a rumour that he was to be sent to a prison farm. He fled Beijing immediately and walked for ten months through forests and mountains in Sichuan province and followed the Yangtze River from its source to the coast. By the time the ‘Oppose Spiritual Pollution’ campaign had subsided, and it was safe to return, he had travelled over 15,000 kilometres of China.
In 1987, Gao, Xingjian left China to take up a D.A.A.D. fellowship in Germany, taking with him the manuscript of a novel he had begun in Beijing in 1982. This novel was Lingshan, which he completed in September 1989 in Paris where he had settled as a political refugee. He still resides in Paris and has French citizenship. Lingshan was published in Taipei in 1990; in Sweden as Andarnas Berg in 1992; and in French as La Montagne de l’Ame, in 1995. The English translation, Soul Mountain, was first published by HarperCollins in Australia. In 2000 Gao Xingjian was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.