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Gao Xingjian
Gao in 2012
Gao in 2012
Born (1940-01-04) January 4, 1940 (age 84)
Ganzhou, Jiangxi, China
Occupation
  • Novelist
  • playwright
  • critic
  • translator
  • screenwriter
  • director
  • painter
Language Chinese
Citizenship Flag of the Republic of China.svg (1940–49)
 People's Republic of China (1949–98)
 France (since 1998)
Alma mater Beijing Foreign Studies University
Genre Absurdism
Notable works Absolute Signal (1982)
The Bus Stop (1983)
Wild Man (1985)
The Other Shore (1986)
Soul Mountain (1990)
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
(2000)
Spouse Wang Xuejun (王学筠); divorced
Chinese name
Chinese 高行健

Gao Xingjian (高行健 in Chinese - born January 4, 1940) is a Chinese émigré and later French naturalized novelist, playwright, critic, painter, photographer, film director, and translator who in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity." He is also a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter.

Gao's drama is considered to be fundamentally absurdist in nature and avant-garde in his native China. Absolute Signal (1982) was a breakthrough in Chinese experimental theatre. The Bus Stop (1983) and The Other Shore (1986) had their productions halted by the Chinese government, with the acclaimed Wild Man (1985) the last work of his to be publicly performed in China. He left the country in 1987 and his plays from The Other Shore onward increasingly centered on universal (rather than Chinese) concerns, but his 1989 play Exile angered both the government for its depiction of China and the overseas democracy movement for its depiction of intellectuals. In 1998, he was granted French citizenship.

Gao's influences include classical Chinese opera, folk culture, and 20th century European drama such as Antonin Artaud, and he said in 1987 that as a writer he could be placed at the meeting point between Western and Eastern cultures. He is a very private person, however, and later claimed, "No matter whether it is in politics or literature, I do not believe in or belong to any party or school, and this includes nationalism and patriotism." His prose works tend to be less celebrated in China but are highly regarded elsewhere in Europe and the West, with Soul Mountain singled out in the Nobel Prize announcement.

Early life

Born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, during wartime China in 1940 (Gao's original paternal ancestral home town is in Taizhou, Jiangsu with his maternal roots from Zhejiang), his family returned to Nanjing with him following the aftermath of World War II. He has been a French citizen since 1998. In 1992 he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Early years in Jiangxi and Jiangsu

Gao's father was a clerk in the Bank of China, and his mother was a member of YMCA. His mother was once a playactress of Anti-Japanese Theatre during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Under his mother's influence, Gao enjoyed painting, writing and theatre very much when he was a little boy. During his middle school years, he read much translated literature from the West, and he studied sketching, ink and wash painting, oil painting and clay sculpture under the guidance of painter Yun Zongying (simplified Chinese: 郓宗嬴; traditional Chinese: 鄆宗嬴; pinyin: Yùn Zōngyíng).

In 1950, his family moved to Nanjing. In 1952, Gao entered the Nanjing Number 10 Middle School (later renamed Jinling High School) which was the Middle School attached to Nanjing University.

Years in Beijing and Anhui

In 1957 Gao graduated, and, following his mother's advice, chose Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) instead of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, although he was thought to be talented in art.

In 1962 Gao graduated from the Department of French, BFSU, and then he worked for the Chinese International Bookstore (中國國際書店). During the 1970s, because of the Down to the Countryside Movement, he was persecuted as a public intellectual, forced to destroy his early writings, and was sent to the countryside to do hard labor in Anhui Province for six years. He taught as a Chinese teacher in Gangkou Middle School, Ningguo county, Anhui Province for a short time. In 1975, he was allowed to go back to Beijing and became the group leader of French translation for the magazine China Reconstructs (《中國建設》).

In 1977 Gao worked for the Committee of Foreign Relationship, Chinese Association of Writers. In May 1979, he visited Paris with a group of Chinese writers including Ba Jin. In 1980, Gao became a screenwriter and playwright for the Beijing People's Art Theatre.

Gao is known as a pioneer of absurdist drama in China, where Signal Alarm (《絕對信號》, 1982) and Bus Stop (《車站》, 1983) were produced during his term as resident playwright at the Beijing People's Art Theatre from 1981 to 1987. Influenced by European theatrical models, it gained him a reputation as an avant-garde writer. The production of the former work (the title of which has also been translated as Absolute Signal) was considered a breakthrough and trend-setter in Chinese experimental theatre. His book Preliminary Explorations Into the Art of Modern Fiction was published in September 1981 and reprinted in 1982, by which point several established writers had applauded it. His plays Wild Man (1985) and The Other Shore (《彼岸》, 1986) openly criticised the government's state policies. The rehearsal of the latter was ordered to stop after one month.

In 1986 Gao was misdiagnosed with lung cancer, and he began a 10-month trek along the Yangtze, which resulted in his novel Soul Mountain (《靈山》). The part-memoir, part-novel, first published in Taipei in 1990 and in English in 2000 by HarperCollins Australia, mixes literary genres and utilizes shifting narrative voices. It has been specially cited by the Swedish Nobel committee as "one of those singular literary creations that seem impossible to compare with anything but themselves." The book details his travels from Sichuan province to the coast, and life among Chinese minorities such as the Qiang, Miao, and Yi peoples on the fringes of Han Chinese civilization.

Years in Europe and Paris

By the late 1980s, Gao had shifted to Bagnolet, a city adjacent to Paris, France. His 1989 political drama Fugitives (also translated as Exile), about three people who escape to a disused warehouse after the tanks roll into Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, resulted in all his works being banned from performance in China and he was officially deemed persona non grata.

Works

Gao Xingjian
Gao Xingjian in 2008

Selected works:

Dramas and performances

  • 《絕對信號》 (Signal Alarm / Absolute Signal, 1982)
    • 1982, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
    • 1992, in Taiwan
  • 《車站》 (Bus Stop, 1983)
    • 1983, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
    • 1984, in Yugoslavia
    • 1986, in Hong Kong
    • 1986, in Britain, University of Leeds, England. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
    • 1991, in United States (California) Southwestern College, Chula Vista. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
    • 1992, in Austria
    • 1997, in United States (Massachusetts) Smith College, Northampton. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
    • 1999, in Japan
    • 2004, in United States (California) University of California at San Diego. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
  • 《野人》 (Wild Men / Wilderness Man, 1985)
    • 1985, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
    • 1988, in Hamburg, Germany
    • 1990, in Hong Kong
  • 《彼岸》 (The Other Shore, 1986)
    • 1986, published in magazine Oct. (《十月》), Beijing
    • 1990, in Taiwan
    • 1994, translated into Swedish by Göran Malmqvist
    • 1995, in The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts
    • 1997, translated into English by Jo Riley as The Other Side
    • 1999, translated into English by Gilbert C. F. Fong
  • 《躲雨》 (Shelter the Rain)
    • 1981, in Sweden
  • 《冥城》 (Dark City)
    • 1988, in Hong Kong
  • 《聲聲慢變奏》 (Transition of Sheng-Sheng-Man)
    • 1989, in United States
  • 《逃亡》 (Fugitives / Exile, 1989)
    • 1990, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1990, in Sweden
    • 1992, in Germany, Poland
    • 1993, in USA. Translated by Gregory B. Lee in Gregory Lee (ed.), Chinese Writing in Exile, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago, 1993.
    • 1994, in France
    • 1997, in Japan, Africa
  • 《生死界》 (Death Sector / Between Life and Death)
    • 1991, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1992, in France
    • 1994, in Sydney, Italy
    • 1996, in Poland
    • 1996, in US
  • 《山海經傳》 (A Tale of Shan Hai Jing)
    • 1992, published by Hong Kong Cosmos Books Ltd. (香港天地圖書公司)
    • 2008, published by The Chinese University Press as Of Mountains and Seas: A Tragicomedy of the Gods in Three Acts
  • 《對話與反詰》 (Dialogue & Rhetorical / Dialogue and Rebuttal)
    • 1992, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1992, in Vienna
    • 1995, 1999, in Paris
  • 《週末四重奏》 (Weekends Quartet / Weekend Quartet)
    • 1999, published by Hong Kong New Century Press (香港新世纪出版社)
  • 《夜游神》 (Nighthawk / Nocturnal Wanderer)
    • 1999, in France
  • 《八月雪》 (Snow in August)
    • 2000, published by Taiwan Lianjing Press (台湾联经出版社)
    • Dec 19, 2002, in Taipei
  • 《高行健戲劇集》 (Collection)
  • 《高行健喜劇六種》 (Collection, 1995, published by Taiwan Dijiao Press (台湾帝教出版社))
  • 《行路難》 (Xinglunan)
  • 《喀巴拉山》 (Mountain Kebala)
  • 《獨白》 (Soliloquy)

Fiction

  • 《寒夜的星辰》 ("Constellation in a Cold Night", 1979)
  • 《有隻鴿子叫紅唇兒》 ("Such a Pigeon called Red Lips", 1984) – a collection of novellas
  • 《給我老爺買魚竿》 (Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather, 1986–1990) – a short story collection
  • 《靈山》 (Soul Mountain, 1989)
  • 《一個人的聖經》 (One Man's Bible, 1999)

Poetry

While being forced to work as a peasant – a form of 'education' under the Cultural Revolution – in the 1970s, Gao Xingjian produced many plays, short stories, poems and critical pieces that he had to eventually burn to avoid the consequences of his dissident literature being discovered. Of the work he produced subsequently, he published no collections of poetry, being known more widely for his drama, fiction and essays. However, one short poem exists that represents a distinctively modern style akin to his other writings.

Other texts

  • 《巴金在巴黎》 (Ba Jin in Paris, 1979, essay)
  • 《現代小說技巧初探》 ("A Preliminary Examination of Modern Fictional Techniques", 1981)
  • 《談小說觀和小說技巧》 (1983)
  • 《沒有主義》 (Without -isms, translated by W. Lau, D. Sauviat & M. Williams // Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia. Vols 27 & 28, 1995–96
  • 《對一種現代戲劇的追求》 (1988, published by China Drama Press) (中国戏剧出版社))
  • 《高行健·2000年文庫——當代中國文庫精讀》 (1999, published by Hong Kong Mingpao Press) (香港明报出版社)

Paintings

Gao is a painter, known especially for his ink and wash painting. His exhibitions have included:

  • Le goût de l'encre, Paris, Hazan 2002
  • Return to Painting, New York, Perennial 2002
  • "無我之境·有我之境", Singapore, Nov 17, 2005 – Feb 7, 2006
  • The End of the World, Germany, Mar 29, – May 27, 2007
  • Calling for A New Renaissance, Taiwan, 2016
  • S A Solo Exhibition by Gao Xingjian, Singapore, 2021

Works translated into English

  • Bus Stop (Che zhan):
    • Translated by Kirkwood, Carla. "Bus Stop". Modern International Drama Journal. SUNY Binghamton. Spring 1995.
  • Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather, short stories, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2004, ISBN: 0-00-717038-6
  • Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation (2012), essays, trans. Mabel Lee. Cambria Press. ISBN: 978-160-49-7836-0
  • One Man's Bible, novel, trans. Mabel Lee. Flamingo. ISBN: 0-06-621132-8
  • The Other Shore (Bi'an):
  • Silhouette/Shadow: The Cinematic Art of Gao Xingjian, film/images/poetry, ed. Fiona Sze-Lorrain. Contours, Paris, ISBN: 978-981-05-9207-3
  • Soul Mountain, novel, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2001, ISBN: 0-00-711923-2
  • Wild Man. Translated by Roubicek, Bruno. Asian Theatre Journal. University of Hawaii Press. 7 (2): 184–249. Autumn 1990.
  • Calling for a New Renaissance, ed. by Mabel Lee, trans. Mabel Lee and Yan Qian, Cambria Press, 2022. ISBN: 978-1621966548 - includes 50 images, of which 45 are paintings selected by Gao Xingjian from his private collection.

Trivia

  • Gao is the second of the three laureates to give Nobel lecture in Chinese (the other two are Samuel C. C. Ting in 1976 and Mo Yan in 2012).
  • Gao is an atheist.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Gao Xingjian para niños

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