About Gao Xingjian 高行健, Nobel Prize in Literature 2000
Gao Xingjian, 高行健 (born January 4, 1940) is a Chinese-born novelist, playwright, critic, and painter. An émigré to France since 1987, Gao was granted French citizenship in 1997. He is a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter.
Gao was the recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature "for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama". Gao's drama is considered to be fundamentally absurdist in nature and avant-garde in his native China. His prose works tend to be less celebrated in China but are highly regarded elsewhere in Europe and the West. He once burnt a suitcase packed with manuscripts during the Cultural Revolution to avoid persecution.
Gao's original home town is Taizhou, Jiangsu. Born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, China, Gao has been a French citizen since 1997. 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 the Young Men's Christian Association. 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 lots of literature translated 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, the capital city of Jiangsu Province. 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 entered the Chinese International Bookstore (中国国际书店), where he became a professional translator. During the 1970s, because of the Down to the Countryside Movement, he went to and stayed in the countryside and did farm labour in Anhui Province. He taught as a Chinese teacher in Gangkou Middle School, Ningguo Xian, 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 Construction in China (《中国建设》).
In 1977 Gao worked for the Committee of Foreign Relationship, Chinese Association of Writers. In May 1979, he visited Paris with Chinese writers including Ba Jin, and served as a French-Chinese translator in the group. 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 (《绝对信号》, 1982) and Bus Stop (《车站》, 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. His other plays, The Primitive (1985) and The Other Shore (《彼岸》, 1986), all openly criticised the government's state policies.
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 (《灵山》). The part-memoir, part-novel, first published in Taiwan in 1989, 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 1987, Gao had shifted to Bagnolet, a city adjacent to Paris, France. The political Fugitives (1989), which makes reference to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, resulted in all his works being banned from performance in China.
See also: "Gao Xingjian - Photo Gallery". Nobelprize.org.