Gao Xingjian

Gao Xingjian (gouˈ shĭingˈjyänˈ) [key], 1940–, Chinese-French novelist and playwright, b. Ganzhou. He earned (1962) a degree in French in Beijing and embarked upon a literary life, which was cut short by the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) and six years of forced farm labor. During this period he destroyed all of his early work, fearing imprisonment. Upon his release, Gao resumed writing, but again fell afoul of the government for his modernist tendencies, rejection of socialist realism, and political views. His writing was banned in the 1980s, and he emigrated (1987) to France, where he settled in Paris and became (1998) a French citizen.

Influenced by Beckett, Ionesco (both of whom he has translated into Chinese), Artaud, and Brecht, he has a global vision, experimental technique, absurdist leanings, and a skepical point of view that place him squarely in the ranks of literary modernism. In his plays, Gao often mixes avant-garde elements with techniques of traditional Chinese theater, such as shadow plays, masked drama, dance, and music. Among his theatrical works are the Beckettian Bus Stop (1983) and the openly political Fugitives (tr. 1993), a love story set against the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Five of his translated plays are collected in The Other Shore (1999). His best-known novel is Soul Mountain (1990, tr. 2000), an epic and lyrical odyssey inspired by his own 10-month walking trip along the Chang River (Yangtze) that is a unique mixture of literary styles, techniques, and genres. His other fiction includes the semiautobiographical One Man's Bible. Gao is also a critic, essayist, short-story writer, director, and a painter known for his works in inkwash. In 2000 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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