Gao Xingjian

Gao Xingjian

Infobox Writer
name = Gao Xingjian

birthdate = birth date and age|1940|1|4
birthplace = Ganzhou, Jiangxi, People's Republic of China
nationality = People's Republic of China
France (since 1997)
occupation = playwright, screenwriter, novelist, painter, director
genre =
period = from 1982
influences =
influenced =
awards = awd|Nobel Prize in Literature|2000
website =

Gao Xingjian (pron. IPA2|káu ɕĭŋ tɕiɛ̂n; zh-cp|c=高行健|p=Gāo Xíngjiàn; Wade-Giles: Kao Hsing-chien; born January 4, 1940), is a French Chinese émigré novelist, dramatist and critic, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is also a noted translator, particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, a stage director and a celebrated painter.


Gao's original home town is city-state|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 & 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 Zongyin (Traditional Chinese:鄆宗嬴; Simplified Chinese: 郓宗嬴; Pinyin: yùn zōng yíng).

1950, his family moved to Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province. 1952, Gao entered the Nanjing Number 10 Middle School (南京市第十中学; later known as the Middle School attached to Jinling University, 金陵大学附属中学; Jinling University now is named Nanjing University).

Years in Beijing & Anhui

In 1957 Gao graduated, and listening to his mother's advice, chose Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU, 北京外国语大学) instead of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (中央美术学院), 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 Provice. He taught as a Chinese teacher in Gangkou Middle School (港口中学), Ningguo Xian (宁国县), 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 (中国作家协会对外联络委员会). In May 1979, he visited Paris with Chinese writers including Ba Jin (巴金), 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 (北京人民艺术剧院).

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 state government.

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 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 civilisation.

Years in Europe (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.

Selected works

Dramas & Performances

* 《绝对信号》 ("Signal Alarm", 1982)
** 1982, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
** 1992, in Taiwan
* 《车站》 ("Bus Stop", 1983)
** 1983, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
** 1984, in Yugoslavia
** 1986, in Hongkong
** 1988, in Britain
** 1992, in Austria
** 1999, in Japan
* 《野人》 ("Wild Men", "Savages", 1985)
** 1985, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
** 1988, in Hamburg, Germany
** 1990, in Hongkong
* 《彼岸》 ("The Other Shore: Plays by Gao Xingjian ", 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
* 《躲雨》 ("Shelter the Rain")
** 1981, in Sweden
* 《冥城》 ("Dark City")
** 1988, in Hongkong
* 《声声慢变奏》 ("Transition of Sheng-Sheng-Man")
** 1989, in United States
* 《逃亡》 ("Escape")
** 1990, published in magazine "Today" (《今天》)
** 1990, in Sweden
** 1992, in Germany, Poland
** 1994, in France
** 1997, in Japan, Africa
* 《生死界》 ("Death Sector")
** 1991, published in magazine "Today" (《今天》)
** 1992, in France
** 1994, in Sydney, Italy
** 1996, in Poland
** 1996, in US
* 《山海经传》 ("A Tale of Shan Hai Jing")
** 1992, published by Hongkong Tian & Di Book Press (香港天地图书公司)
* 《对话与反诘》 ("Dialogue & Rhetorical")
** 1992, published in magazine "Today" (《今天》)
** 1992, in Vienna
** 1995, 1999, in Paris
* 《周末四重奏》 ("Weekends Quartet")
** 1999, published by Hongkong New Century Press (香港新世纪出版社)
* 《夜游神》 ("Nighthawk")
** 1999, in France
* 《八月雪》 ("Snow in August")
** 2000, published by Taiwan Lianjing Press (台湾联经出版社)
** 19 Dec 2002, in Taipei
* 《高行健戏剧集》 (Collection)
* 《高行健戏剧六种》 (Collection, 1995, published by Taiwan Dijiao Press (台湾帝教出版社))
* 《行路难》 ("Xinglunan")
* 《喀巴拉山》 ("Mountain Kebala")
* 《独白》 ("Soliloquy")


* 《寒夜的星辰》 ("Constellation in a Cold Night", 1979)
* 《有只鸽子叫红唇儿》 ("Such a Pigeon called Red Lips", 1984) - a collection of novellas
* 《给我老爷买鱼竿》 ("A Fishing Rod for my Grandpa", 1986) - a short story collection
* 《灵山》 ("Soul Mountain", 1989)
* 《一个人的圣经》 ("One Man's Bible", 1998)


* 《巴金在巴黎》 ("Ba Jin in Paris", 1979, essay)
* 《现代小说技巧初探》 ("A Preliminary Examination of Modern Fictional Techniques", 1981)
* 《谈小说观和小说技巧》 (1983)
* 《没有主义》 ("Without -isms", "No Ideology", 1995)
* 《对一种现代戏剧的追求》 (1988, published by China Drama Press (中国戏剧出版社))
* 《高行健·2000年文库——当代中国文库精读》 (1999, published by Hongkong Mingpao Press (香港明报出版社))

Works of Gao Xingjian in English

* "Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather", short stories, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2004, ISBN 0-00-717038-6
* "Soul Mountain", novel, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2001, ISBN 0-00-711923-2
* "One Man's Bible", novel, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, ISBN 0-06-621132-8
* "The Other Shore", plays, trans. G. Fong, Chinese University Press, ISBN 962-201-862-9
* "Silhouette/Shadow: The Cinematic Art of Gao Xingjian", film/images/poetry, ed. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Contours, Paris, ISBN 978-981-05-9207-3


* "Trees on the Mountain: an Anthology of New Chinese Writing" by Stephen C Soong and John Minford. - Hong Kong: The Chinese U.P., copilot 1984.
* "Gao Xingjian, le moderniste" // La Chine aujourd'hui NO 41, September 1986.
* "World Literature with Chinese Characteristics: On A Novel by Gao Xingjian" by Torbjoern Lodén, // Stockholm journal of East Asian Studies 4, 1993.
* "Chinese Writing and Exile" by Gregory B. Lee - Center of East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, 1993.
* "Gao Xingjian, the Voice of the Individual" // Stockholm Journal of East Asian Studies, 6, 1995.
* "Without Politics: Gao Xingjian on Literary Creation" by Mabel Lee // Stockholm journal OF East Asian Studies 6, 1995.
* [ "Gao Xingjian and "Soul Mountain": Ambivalent Storytelling] , Robert Nagle, Houston, Texas, 2002.
* "Pronouns as Protagonists: Gao Xingjian's Lingshan as Autobiography" by Mabel Lee// Colloquium of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics at the University of Sydney. Draft Paper, 3-4 Oct. 1996.
* "Personal Freedom in Twentieth Century China: Reclaiming the Self in Yang Lian's Yi and Gao Xingjian's Lingshan" by Mabel Lee // History, Literature and Society. - Sydney: Sydney Studies in Society and Culture 15, 1996.
* "Outer one plus près you réel: dialogues sur l'écriture 1994-1997, entretiens avec Denis Bourgeois" /trad. par Noeel et Liliane Dutrait. - La route of d'Aigues: l'Aube, 1997.
* "Gao Xingjian's Lingshan/Soul Mountain: Modernism and the Chinese Writer" by Mabel Lee, // Heat 4, 1997.
* "Gao Xingjian, le peintre de l'âme" by Robert Calvet, // Brèves No 56, more hiver 1999.
* "Towards A Modern Zen Theatre: Gao Xingian and Chinese Theatre Experimentalism". Henry Y.H. Zhao, - London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 2000.

Poem by Gao Xingjian

While being forced to work as a peasant - a form of 're-education' under the Cultural Revolution - in the 1970s, Gao Xingjian produced many plays, short stories, poems and critical pieces that he had eventually to burn to avoid the consequences of his dissident literature being discovered. [Mabel Lee, [ 'Nobel Laureate 2000 Gao Xingjian and his Novel Soul Mountain'] in "CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal", September, 2003, Accessed 14 August 2007] 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.











Sky Burial



Pounded into pieces

Light an incense

Blow the whistle



Out and out

- 13 April 1986, Beijing

[Published on the website [ "Ba Huang's Art Studio"] ]


Gao is a renowned painter, especially for his ink and wash painting.


* "The End of the World", Germany, 29 Mar - 27 May 2007
* “无我之境·有我之境”, Singapore, 17 Nov 2005 - 7 Feb 2006
* "Return to Painting", New York, Perennial 2002
* "Le goût de l'encre", Paris, Hazan 2002


Official response from mainland China

Although the general position by the Chinese media and current government towards Gao is that of silence, the Yangcheng Evening News (《羊城晚报》), a state-run newspaper, in 2001, criticised one of his works. A Chinese columnist called him an "awful writer", and said that the idea of his winning the Nobel Prize was "ludicrous".

During Gao's early years in China, his works were published and his dramas were performed, and he had a large readership and audience. He was considered an "experimental playwright" or an avant-courier. Since the ban of his works and his migration to Europe, he has become less known - or even unknown - in China.

The Premier Zhu Rongji delivered a congratulatory message to Gao when interviewed by the Hong Kong newspaper "East Daily" (《东方日报》):
* Q.: "What's your comment on Gao's winning Nobel Prize ?"
* A.: "I am very happy that works written in Chinese can win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chinese characters have a history of several thousand years, and Chinese language has an infinite charm, (I) believe that there will be Chinese works winning Nobel Prizes again in the future. Although it's a pity that the winner this time is a French citizen instead of Chinese, I still would like to send my congratulations both to the winner and the French Department of Culture." (Original words: 我很高兴用汉语写作的文学作品获诺贝尔文学奖。汉字有几千年的历史,汉语有无穷的魅力,相信今后还会有汉语或华语作品获奖。很遗憾这次获奖的是法国人不是中国人,但我还是要向获奖者和法国文化部表示祝贺。)

Comments from Chinese writers

Gao's work has led to fierce discussion among Chinese writers, both positive and negative.

Many Chinese writers who comment that Gao's "Chinoiserie," or translatable works, have opened a new approach for Chinese modern literature to the Swedish Academy, and that his winning the Nobel Prize in its 100th anniversary year is a happy occasion for Chinese literature.

Before 2000, a dozen Chinese writers and scholars already predicted Gao's winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, including Hu Yaoheng (Chinese:胡耀恒) [ [] ] Pan Jun (潘军) [ [] ] just in 1999. Due to Chinese literature (characters, language, etc) having the longest continuous tradition [] and having heavily influenced East Asian literature, Chinese language elements are widely used in several languages including Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. In addition, with 20th century Japanese writers having already won the Prize, many Chinese writers had predicted before 2000 that soon there would be a Literature winner with a Chinese background.


* Gao Xingjian's Swedish translator Göran Malmqvist, is a member of the Swedish Academy and was responsible for the translation to Swedish for Nobel Prize consideration. Ten days before the award decision was made public, Gao Xingjian changed his Swedish publisher (from "Forum" to "Atlantis"), but Göran Malmqvist has denied leaking information about the award [] .
* Gao is the second Nobel laureate to give an Nobel acceptance speech in Chinese (after Samuel C. C. Ting in 1976).
* Gao has been the center of an artistic piece of video art. The art exhibit is entitled 'Voom' and was presented at the University of Iowa art museum in March 2008.


* 2006, "Lions Award", by the New York Public Library (NYPL) at Library Lions Benefit event
* 2000, "Nobel Prize in Literature"
* 1992, "Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres"


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