GAO XINGJIAN (1940— )
GAO XINGJIAN (1940— ). Playwright, fiction writer, critic, and painter. The winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for literature, Gao Xingjian is widely credited with introducing “absurd theater” into China’s dramatic performance. In addition, a small brochure he wrote on narrative techniques in modern Western literature stimulated discussions in the 1980s on modernism and led to a pervasive experimentation in fictional narratives in China.
Gao was born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi Province, when his family was fleeing from the Japanese invasion. He studied French at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages and worked as a translator for the China International Bookstore. During the Cultural Revolution, Gao was sent to a reeducation camp and could not publish his writings until 1979, when Deng Xiaoping’s reforms brought more freedom for the country. Gao rose to fame as an innovative dramatist while working for the Beijing People’s Art Theater; from 1982 to 1986 he wrote and produced a series of trend-setting plays, which were largely influenced by Bertolt Brecht, Antonin Artaud, and Samuel Beckett, including Juedui xinhao (Signal of Alarm), Chezhan (Bus Stop) in collaboration with Liu Huiyuan, Ye ren (Wild Man), and Bi an (The Other Shore). The antispiritual pollution campaign in 1986 halted his creative endeavors and Gao was forced to take a 10-month hiatus during which he embarked on a walking tour in the mountains of southwestern China. Gao left China in 1987 and settled in Paris, supporting himself with his paintings. After the government’s crackdown on the Tian’anmen Prodemocracy Movement in 1989, Gao wrote a play, Taowang (Fugitives), denouncing the brutality of the Communist regime. The play landed him on the blacklist of the Chinese government, which declared him persona non grata.
Since the 1990s, Gao has written and directed a number of plays, including Shengsi jie (Between Life and Death), Duihua yu fanjie (Dialogue and Rebuttal), Zhoumo sichongzou (Weekend Quartet), Yeyoushen (Nocturnal Wanderer), and Bayue xue (August Snow), some of which were originally written in French. Nearly all of Gao’s plays, particularly those written since the 1990s, and to some extent his novels, contain an introspective character who often steps outside himself or herself to examine the meaning of subjectivity, thus constructing a type of nihilist view on language and consciousness. Although Gao’s plays have been staged all over the world, only three have ever been performed in China.
Gao has written two novels. Ling shan (Soul Mountain) is a meditative narrative recording a journey through space and time in search of a spiritual anchor. The book, which reflects his 1986 trip to Sichuan, was begun in 1982 in China and finished in 1990 in France. His autobiographical novel, Yige ren de shengjing (One Man’s Bible), deals with the inner turmoil of a political exile through his relationships with two women. See also SPOKEN DRAMA.