WANG XIAOBO (1952—1997)
WANG XIAOBO (1952—1997). Fiction writer and essayist. Born in Beijing, Wang Xiaobo spent several years as an educated youth in the countryside of Shandong and Xishuanbanna, a tropical region in remote Yunnan, and later attended the University of Pittsburgh. He went back to Beijing in 1988 with a master’s degree and for the next few years taught sociology and statistics in Beijing universities. His sudden death from a heart attack at the height of his career was widely mourned and considered a great loss to Chinese literature.
Wang’s sardonic wit, his ironic narrative style, and his profound examination of the interplay between power and sex are brilliantly captured in his Xishuanbanna stories, set in the lush landscape of the border region of Yunnan during the Cultural Revolution. Huangjin shidai (The Gold Times), Baiyin shidai (The Silver Times), Qingtong shidai (The Bronze Times), and the unfinished novel Heitie shidai (The Iron Times) are his main fictional works. In his characteristically satirical tone, Wang mocks the absurdities of life in Maoist China, where ideology trumped basic human needs and stifled creativity. Of these works, Huangjin shidai and Qingtong shidai are the best in representing Wang’s style. Huangjin shidai is based on his personal experience as an educated youth in Xishuanbanna and later as a worker in a small factory in a Beijing suburb. Qingtong shidai, on the other hand, is a fictitious novel in which the narrator makes frequent references to fantastic classical Chinese tales within a story about contemporary life. Other than these novels, Wang also wrote short stories and many essays. He made a foray into the movie industry with his screenplay Donggong xigong (East Palace West Palace), a movie about homosexuality and power, which won the Best Screenplay Award at the 1996 Mar del Plata (Argentina) International Film Festival. As an independent thinker who preferred to remain on the periphery of society, Wang waged a lonely and courageous battle through his essays in his declarations against the power of the state and the seduction of the market.