GAO XINGJIAN (1940-)
my experience in writing, I can say that literature is inherently man's
affirmation of the value of his own self and that this is validated during
the writing, literature is born primarily of the writer's need for self-fulfilment.
Whether it has any impact on society comes after the completion of a work
and that impact certainly is not determined by the wishes of the writer."
(from the Nobel lecture, 2000)
|Gao Xingjian was born
in Ganzhou (Jiangxi province) in eastern China. His father was a bank official
and his mother an amateur actress, a member of a Y.M.C.A. theater troupe
before the Communist Revolution, and an avid reader of Western literature.
As a child Gao was encouraged to paint, write and play the violin. Gao studied
French literature at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute between 1957-1962,
taking a degree in French and literature. In the early 1960s, Gao's mother
was sent to the countryside, where she drowned in an accident, and Gao was
forced into farm labor. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), Gao was
sent to a re-education camp because of his learning. He had started to write
for himself, but fearing the consequences the aspiring writer burned a suitcase
full of manuscripts, including novels, plays and articles, and spent six
years at hard labor in the fields. "I've always had this obsession
with writing," Gao Xingjian has told. "It's what caused my suffering
and misfortune in China, but I'm not about to stop. Even during the most
difficult times in China, I carried on writing secretly, without thinking
that one day I would get published."
After surviving cadre school Gao Xingjian worked as a translator in the Chinese Writers Association. He became a resident playwright at the People's Art Theatre in Beijing and in 1978 he published his first novella. The first opportunity to travel abroad opened for him in 1979 and he visited France and Italy. In the same year his first works appeared. Between the years 1980 and 1987 Gao Xingjian produced a prolifical stream of short stories, essays and plays. The publication of A Preliminary Discussion of the Art of Modern Fiction (1981) led to a heated debate about "spiritual pollution" and Gao was put under surveillance. Bus Stop (1983) was written in the spirit of Beckett's Waiting for Godot. In the satire a group of people have been waiting for the right bus for some ten years. The play was called when it opened as "the most pernicious work since the establishment of the People's Republic" and condemned by Communist Party officials. In 1986 his play The Other Shore was immediately banned but performed in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Next year Gao Xingjian was allowed to travel abroad as a painter. He left China as a blacklisted writer and settled in Paris, where he continued to write in Chinese and in French. After the massacre on the Square of Heavenly Peace in 1989 he left the Chinese Communist Party. When he publicly condemned the acts against the student movement, he also closed the door to his home country. He dealt later with the massacre in the play Exile which originally was written for a performing-arts center in Los Angeles, but then rejected. When it was performed in Germany, the setting was changed from Tiananmen Square to Germany during the Nazi era.
|Gao Xingjian's reflective
and impressionistic novel Soul Mountain, completed in 1989, is based on
10-month walking tour along the Yangtze River. The journey took five months
and resulted from the author's personal crisis: in 1982 he had been mistakenly
diagnosed with lung cancer - the ailment killed his father - and next year
the Communist Party criticised Gao's works as ``spiritual pollution''. Rumors
spread that Gao was about to be sent to a labor camp.
In the work Gao Xingjian used different literary styles, techniques, and a variety of narrators. "You know that I am just talking to myself to alleviate my loneliness. You know that this loneliness of mine is incurable, that no-one can save me and that I can only talk with myself as the partner of my conversation." At one point, the narrator criticizes the author, saying: "You've slapped together travel notes, moralistic ramblings, feelings, notes, jottings, untheoretical discussions, unfable-like fables, copied out some folk songs, added some legend- like nonsense of your own, and are calling it fiction!" Soul Mountain is a travelogue, description of rural villages, a story of a love affair, pieces of folklore and history. One of its central themes - as in Gao's work in general - is a skeptical attitude to all generally accepted or authoritarian views: "Oh history oh history oh history oh history / Actually history can be read any way and this is a / major discovery!"
After concluding Soul Mountain Gao Xingjian wrote a short essay in which he rejected literature's "duty to the masses" and stated that "literature is not concerned with politics but is purely a matter of the individual." Gao Xingjian wanted to free artistic expression from its struggle for social approval, calling this kind of literature, that has recovered its innate, spiritual character, 'cold literature'.
As an artist Gao Xingjian has illustrated his own book covers and he has had some thirty international ink-wash painting exhibitions. He has translated into Chinese such authors as Beckett, Ionesco, Artaud and Brecht. Among his several awards are Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 1992, Prix Communaute francaise de Belgique 1994, and Prix du Nouvel An chinois 1997. Before the Nobel Prize, Gao earned most of his living from his works as an artist, not from his writings. In 1998 he acquired French citizenship.
"I'm not involved in politics, but that does not prevent me from criticizing the policies of Communist China. I say what I want to say. If I have chosen to live in exile, it is to be able to express myself freely without constraints."
After the decision of the Nobel committee China's Foreign Ministry called the award a political maneuver the nation took no pride in. Members of the Communist Party-line literati questioned whether the author and playwright was Nobel material. In Sweden Gao's way for the prize was paved by Goran Malmqvist, who had translated Gao's plays and had them produced in Stockholm. Malmqvist is a China expert at the University of Stockholm and also one the academy members, who make the selection of Nobel laureates.
Gao's autobiographical One's Man's Bible appeared in English in 2000. It is an account of China's Cultural Revolution, seen through the eyes of the author as a political activist, victim, and outside observer. "Tragedy, comedy and farce do not exist but are aesthetic judgements of human life that differ according to person, time and place." (from One Man's Bible, 2000) In the work the numerous narrators from Soul Mountain have reduced to "you" (Gao's alter ego), "he" (an old acquaintance), and "she" (a Jewish woman).