GAO XIAOSHENG (1928—1999)
GAO XIAOSHENG (1928—1999). Fiction writer. Born in rural Jiangsu, Gao Xiaosheng began writing poetry, fiction, and plays in the 1950s, which, instead of attracting critical attention, earned him a rightist label in 1958. He was sent back to the countryside for reform through physical labor until 1979 when the party’s new policy returned him to his old post. In the 1980s, two of his stories earned him national recognition, “Li Shunda zaowu” (Li Shunda Builds a House) and “Chen Huansheng shangcheng” (Chen Huansheng’s Adventure in Town), both dealing with the changes brought about by Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the Chinese countryside. Li Shunda is an honest peasant whose modest ambition to build a house for himself and his family is repeatedly thwarted by unpredictable political campaigns including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which result in the devastation of the country’s economy and morality. Experience has taught Li valuable lessons and when the new era of economic reform arrives, Li, now a smarter man, knows how to work the system. Chen Huansheng’s transformation, from a simple workhorse who never questioned authority to a man learning to become his own master, is emblematic of the difficulties that accompany the Chinese peasantry on their journey toward selfhood in the new era of economic reforms. A son of peasants, Gao is keenly aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese peasants. He understands that the reforms offer the peasants unprecedented opportunities but they also pose serious challenges to the peasants’ traditional way of thinking. Gao captures their sense of disorientation and fear. His stories, noted for their detached humor and ironic overtones, offer a scathing condemnation of capricious government policies and poke fun at the peasants’ lack of consciousness.