Gao Xingjian

Last updated

Gao Xingjian
Gao Xingjian (2012, cropped).jpg
Gao in 2012
Born (1940-01-04) January 4, 1940 (age 79)
Ganzhou, Jiangxi, China
Occupationnovelist, playwright, critic, translator, screenwriter, director, painter
Language Chinese [1]
Citizenship Republic of China (1940–49)
People's Republic of China (1949–98)
France (since 1998)
Alma mater Beijing Foreign Studies University
Genre absurdism
Notable works The Other Shore , Soul Mountain , One Man's Bible
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
SpouseWang Xuejun (王学筠); divorced
Chinese name
Chinese 高行健

Gao Xingjian (born January 4, 1940) is a Chinese [2] émigré novelist, playwright, and critic who in 2000 was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity." [1] He is also a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter. In 1998, Gao was granted French citizenship.

An émigré is a person who has emigrated, often with a connotation of political or social self-exile. The word is the past participle of the French émigrer, "to emigrate".

Samuel Beckett Nobel-winning modernist Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, translator and poet

Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, theatre director, poet, and literary translator who lived in Paris for most of his adult life. He wrote in both English and French.

Eugène Ionesco French Romanian playwright

Eugène Ionesco was a Romanian-French playwright who wrote mostly in French, and one of the foremost figures of the French Avant-garde theatre. Beyond ridiculing the most banal situations, Ionesco's plays depict the solitude and insignificance of human existence in a tangible way.


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.

Early life

Born in Ganzhou, Jiangxi, during wartime China in 1940 (Gao's original paternal ancestral home town is in Taizhou, Jiangsu with his maternal roots from Zhejiang), his family returned to Nanjing with him following the aftermath of World War II. He has been a French citizen since 1998. In 1992 he was awarded the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Ganzhou Prefecture-level city in Jiangxi, Peoples Republic of China

Ganzhou, formerly romanized as Kanchow, is a prefecture-level city in southern Jiangxi, China, bordering Fujian to the east, Guangdong to the south, and Hunan to the west. Its administrative seat is at Zhanggong District. Its population was 8,361,447 at the 2010 census whom 1,977,253 in the built-up area made of Zhanggong and Nankang, and Ganxian largely being urbanized.

Jiangxi Province

Jiangxi is a province in the People's Republic of China, located in the southeast of the country. Spanning from the banks of the Yangtze river in the north into hillier areas in the south and east, it shares a border with Anhui to the north, Zhejiang to the northeast, Fujian to the east, Guangdong to the south, Hunan to the west, and Hubei to the northwest.

Taizhou, Jiangsu Prefecture-level city in Jiangsu, Peoples Republic of China

Taizhou is a prefecture-level city in central Jiangsu province in eastern China. Situated on the north bank of the Yangtze River, it borders Nantong to the east, Yancheng to the north and Yangzhou to the west.

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).

Bank of China state-owned bank in China

Bank of China is one of the four biggest state-owned commercial banks in China. Bank of China is legally separate from its subsidiary Bank of China, although they maintain close relations in management and administration and co-operate in several areas including reselling BOC's insurance and securities services.

Second Sino-Japanese War military conflict between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from 1937 to 1945

The Second Sino-Japanese War was a military conflict fought primarily between the Republic of China and the Empire of Japan from July 7, 1937, to September 2, 1945. It began with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 in which a dispute between Japanese and Chinese troops escalated into a battle.

Sketch (drawing) quickly executed freehand drawing

A sketch is a rapidly executed freehand drawing that is not usually intended as a finished work. A sketch may serve a number of purposes: it might record something that the artist sees, it might record or develop an idea for later use or it might be used as a quick way of graphically demonstrating an image, idea or principle.

In 1950, his family moved to Nanjing. In 1952, Gao entered the Nanjing Number 10 Middle School (later renamed Jinling High School) which was the Middle School attached to Nanjing University.

Nanjing Prefecture-level & Sub-provincial city in Jiangsu, Peoples Republic of China

Nanjing, formerly romanized as Nanking and Nankin, is the capital of Jiangsu province of the People's Republic of China and the second largest city in the East China region, with an administrative area of 6,600 km2 (2,500 sq mi) and a total population of 8,270,500 as of 2016. The inner area of Nanjing enclosed by the city wall is Nanjing City (南京城), with an area of 55 km2 (21 sq mi), while the Nanjing Metropolitan Region includes surrounding cities and areas, covering over 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi), with a population of over 30 million.

Nanjing University university in Nanjing, China

Nanjing University, known as Nanda, is a major public university, the oldest institution of higher learning in Nanjing, Jiangsu, and a member of the elite C9 League of Chinese universities.

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.

Beijing Foreign Studies University university

Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), popularly known as Běiwài in Mandarin and BFSU in English, is a university located in Beijing, China. BFSU boasts of the oldest language programs in China, offering the largest number of foreign language majors on different educational levels. Located in the Haidian District of Beijing, BFSU is divided into two campuses – the West Campus and the East Campus. BFSU is China's pre-eminent research university specializing in foreign studies according to recent collegiate rankings. It is a Chinese Ministry of Education Double First Class Discipline University, with Double First Class status in certain disciplines.

Central Academy of Fine Arts art academy in the Peoples Republic of China

The Central Academy of Fine Arts or CAFA is an art academy managed by the Ministry of Education of China. The Manila Bulletin calls the school "China’s most prestigious and renowned art academy". It is considered one of the most selective schools in the country and turns away more than 90% of its applicants each year.

In 1962 Gao graduated from the Department of French, BFSU, and then he worked for the Chinese International Bookstore (中國國際書店). 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 county, 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 China Reconstructs (《中國建設》).

In 1977 Gao worked for the Committee of Foreign Relationship, Chinese Association of Writers. In May 1979, he visited Paris with a group of Chinese writers including Ba Jin. 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 (《絕對信號》, 1982) and Bus Stop (《車站》, 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 (《靈山》). The part-memoir, part-novel, first published in Taipei in 1990 and in English in 2000 by HarperCollins Australia, 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 the late 1980s, Gao had shifted to Bagnolet, a city adjacent to Paris, France. The political drama Fugitives [3] (1989), which makes reference to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, resulted in all his works being banned from performance in China.


Gao Xingjian in 2008 Gao Xingjian.jpg
Gao Xingjian in 2008

Selected works:

Dramas and performances

  • 《絕對信號》 (Signal Alarm, 1982)
  • 《車站》 (Bus Stop, 1983)
    • 1983, in Beijing People's Art Theatre
    • 1984, in Yugoslavia
    • 1986, in Hong Kong
    • 1986, in Britain, University of Leeds, England. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
    • 1991, in United States (California) Southwestern College, Chula Vista. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
    • 1992, in Austria
    • 1997, in United States (Massachusetts) Smith College, Northampton. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood.
    • 1999, in Japan
    • 2004, in United States (California) University of California at San Diego. Translated and Directed by Carla Kirkwood
  • 《野人》 (Wild Men, "Savages", 1985)
  • 《彼岸》 ( The Other Shore , 1986)
  • 《躲雨》 (Shelter the Rain)
    • 1981, in Sweden
  • 《冥城》 (Dark City)
    • 1988, in Hong Kong
  • 《聲聲慢變奏》 (Transition of Sheng-Sheng-Man)
    • 1989, in United States
  • 《逃亡》 (Fugitives)
    • 1990, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1990, in Sweden
    • 1992, in Germany, Poland
    • 1993, in USA. Translated by Gregory B. Lee in Gregory Lee (ed.), Chinese Writing in Exile, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Chicago, 1993.
    • 1994, in France
    • 1997, in Japan, Africa
  • 《生死界》 (Death Sector / Between Life and Death)
    • 1991, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1992, in France
    • 1994, in Sydney, Italy
    • 1996, in Poland
    • 1996, in US
  • 《山海經傳》 (A Tale of Shan Hai Jing )
    • 1992, published by Hong Kong Cosmos Books Ltd. (香港天地圖書公司)
    • 2008, published by The Chinese University Press as Of Mountains and Seas: A Tragicomedy of the Gods in Three Acts
  • 《對話與反詰》 (Dialogue & Rhetorical / Dialogue and Rebuttal)
    • 1992, published in magazine Today (《今天》)
    • 1992, in Vienna
    • 1995, 1999, in Paris
  • 《週末四重奏》 (Weekends Quartet / Weekend Quartet)
    • 1999, published by Hong Kong New Century Press (香港新世纪出版社)
  • 《夜游神》 (Nighthawk / Nocturnal Wanderer)
    • 1999, in France
  • 《八月雪》 (Snow in August)
    • 2000, published by Taiwan Lianjing Press (台湾联经出版社)
    • Dec 19, 2002, in Taipei
  • 《高行健戲劇集》 (Collection)
  • 《高行健喜劇六種》 (Collection, 1995, published by Taiwan Dijiao Press (台湾帝教出版社))
  • 《行路難》 (Xinglunan)
  • 《喀巴拉山》 (Mountain Kebala)
  • 《獨白》 (Soliloquy)


  • 《寒夜的星辰》 ("Constellation in a Cold Night", 1979)
  • 《有隻鴿子叫紅唇兒》 ("Such a Pigeon called Red Lips", 1984) – a collection of novellas
  • 《給我老爺買魚竿》 ( Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather , 1986–1990) – a short story collection
  • 《靈山》 ( Soul Mountain , 1989)
  • 《一個人的聖經》 ( One Man's Bible , 1999)


While being forced to work as a peasant – a form of 'education' under the Cultural Revolution – in the 1970s, Gao Xingjian produced many plays, short stories, poems and critical pieces that he had to eventually burn to avoid the consequences of his dissident literature being discovered. [4] 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:

宰了 / 割了 / 爛搗碎了 / 燃一柱香 / 打一聲呼哨 / 來了 / 就去了 / 來去都乾乾淨淨
Sky Burial
Cut / Scalped / Pounded into pieces / Light an incense / Blow the whistle / Come / Gone / Out and out

(April 13, 1986, Beijing) [5]

Other texts

  • 《巴金在巴黎》 (Ba Jin in Paris, 1979, essay)
  • 《現代小說技巧初探》 ("A Preliminary Examination of Modern Fictional Techniques", 1981)
  • 《談小說觀和小說技巧》 (1983)
  • 《沒有主義》 (Without -isms, translated by W. Lau, D. Sauviat & M. Williams // Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia. Vols 27 & 28, 1995–96
  • 《對一種現代戲劇的追求》 (1988, published by China Drama Press) (中国戏剧出版社))
  • 《高行健·2000年文庫——當代中國文庫精讀》 (1999, published by Hong Kong Mingpao Press) (香港明报出版社)


Gao is a painter, known especially for his ink and wash painting. His exhibitions have included:

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

Works translated in English

  • Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather, short stories, trans. Mabel Lee, Flamingo, London, 2004, ISBN   0-00-717038-6
  • Bus Stop (Che zhan). Gao Xingjian. Trans. Carla Kirkwood. Ed. Roger Davies. World Anthology of Drama, London: Longman. 2004.
  • 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
  • The Other Side, play, trans. Jo Riley, in An Oxford Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama, 1997, ISBN   0-19-586880-3
  • Bus Stop (Che zhan) by Gao Xingjian. Trans. Carla Kirkwood. Modern International Drama Journal. New York. Spring 1995.
  • Silhouette/Shadow: The Cinematic Art of Gao Xingjian, film/images/poetry, ed. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Contours, Paris, ISBN   978-981-05-9207-3
  • Gao Xingjian: Aesthetics and Creation, essays, trans. Mabel Lee, Cambria Press, Amherst, New York, 2012, ISBN   978-160-49-7836-0


Response from Zhu Rongji

The Premier Zhu Rongji delivered a congratulatory message to Gao when interviewed by the Hong Kong newspaper East Daily (《东方日报》):

Comments from Chinese writers

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

In his article on Gao in the June 2008 issue of Muse, a now-defunct Hong Kong magazine, Leo Ou-fan Lee praises the use of Chinese language in Soul Mountain: 'Whether it works or not, it is a rich fictional language filled with vernacular speeches and elegant 文言 (classical) formulations as well as dialects, thus constituting a "heteroglossic" tapestry of sounds and rhythms that can indeed be read aloud (as Gao himself has done in his public readings).' [6]

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) [7] Pan Jun (潘军) [8] as early as 1999.



See also

Related Research Articles

Charles K. Kao Physicist, Nobel Prize Laureate

Sir Charles Kuen Kao was a physicist and electrical engineer who pioneered the development and use of fibre optics in telecommunications. In the 1960s, Kao created various methods to combine glass fibres with lasers in order to transmit digital data, which laid the groundwork for the evolution of the Internet.

Mabel Lee is a translator of the works of Nobel Prize-winning author Gao Xingjian. She has taught Asian studies at the University of Sydney and is one of Australia's leading authorities on Chinese cultural affairs. Lee was a professor of South-East Asian Studies at Sydney University and had already begun translation of the poems of Chinese writer, Yang Lian when she met Gao Xingjian, in Paris in 1991. After that meeting, Lee offered to translate Soul Mountain, a project which took seven years, and an additional two to find a publisher for the book in Australia. Following publication, Gao Xingjian became the first Chinese to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Mo Yan Chinese novelist

Guan Moye, better known by the pen name Mo Yan, is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. Donald Morrison of U.S. news magazine TIME referred to him as "one of the most famous, oft-banned and widely pirated of all Chinese writers", and Jim Leach called him the Chinese answer to Franz Kafka or Joseph Heller.

Eric Moo Chii Yuan, better known as Eric Moo or Wu Qixian, is a Malaysian Chinese award-winning singer-songwriter and record producer.

Dave Wang is a Hong Kong-Taiwanese singer and songwriter. His popular hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s include "一場遊戲一場夢" and "幾分傷心幾分痴", "是否我真的一無所有", "誰明浪子心", "忘了你 忘了我", and "安妮" (Annie).

Wong Shun Leung was a Hong Kong martial artist from Hong Kong who studied Wing Chun kung fu under Ip Man (葉問) and was credited with training Bruce Lee. In interviews, Wong claimed to have won at least 60, and perhaps over 100, street fights against martial artists of various styles, though these numbers cannot be independently confirmed. Due to his reputation, his students and admirers referred to him as 'Gong Sau Wong'. Wong recorded one instructional film entitled Wing Chun: The science of in-fighting.

Sayed Gouda is an Egyptian poet and novelist. He majored in the Chinese language. Dr Sayed Gouda was born in Cairo and moved to Hong Kong in 1992 where he currently resides. He did his undergraduate studies in Egypt and China, majoring in Chinese, and received his PhD in comparative literary studies from the City University of Hong Kong in 2014. His research interests include comparative literature, comparative cultural studies, and translation studies. Gouda is a published poet, novelist, and translator. His works and translations have appeared in Arabic, English, Chinese, French, German, Spanish, Macedonian, Uzbek, Romanian, and Mongolian. He is the editor of a literary website called Nadwah that features five languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and German ( From 2004 to 2010, he organised a monthly literary salon in Hong Kong. He has also participated in many international poetry festivals and academic conferences around the world. In 1990, Gouda won first prize in poetry from the Faculty of Languages (al-Alsun), Ain Shams University. In addition, in 2012, he was awarded the Enchanting Poet Award by The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, and in 2014, an honorary prize for his poem ‘Night Train’ from Shijie huawen shibao 世界華文詩報.

The Other Shore is a play by the Chinese writer Gao Xingjian. It was first published into English in 1997 and translated again in 1999.

Kong Lin, also known as Kong Ling, is a mainland Chinese actress, television series and movie producer, art director, and semi-rock-pop singer. Born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang she now lives in Beijing, Jilin.

Shi Tiesheng (史铁生) was a Chinese novelist, known for his story which was the basis of the film Life on a String. The China Daily stated regarding his essay about the park near where he lived, "Many critics have considered I and the Temple of Earth (zh:我与地坛) as one of the best Chinese prose essays of the 20th century."

<i>The Flower Girl</i> North Korean opera and film

The Flower Girl is a North Korean revolutionary genre theatrical performance, which was written by the country's sole President Kim Il-sung according to official North Korean sources. The performance is considered one of the "Five Great Revolutionary Operas", a group of classical, revolution-themed opera repertoires well received within North Korea. It was also made into a novel. A film adaption of the opera starring Hong Yong-hee was made in 1972.

<i>Only You</i> (2011 TV series) 2011 TV series

Only You is a 2011 Hong Kong television drama that was aired on Hong Kong's TVB Jade and TVB HD Jade channels. The drama began broadcast on 21 February 2011 and ran for 30 episodes.

Bao Guo'an is a Chinese actor and professor in the Central Academy of Drama. Best known for his role as Cao Cao in the 1994 television series Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Bao won two Best Actor awards at the 1995 Golden Eagle Awards and Flying Apsaras Awards. Bao was also a delegate in the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in 2003.

Shiyue is a Chinese literary magazine. It was established in August 1978 as a quarterly periodical in Beijing. Since 1980 Shiyue has been published bimonthly.

Hong Kong Autonomy Movement Hong Kong political movement favouring autonomy from Beijing

Hong Kong Autonomy Movement, sometimes Hong Kong City State Autonomous Movement, is a movement formed in Hong Kong amidst the raising awareness about Hong Kong's constitutional rights of high autonomy, free from interference of PRC government, as stipulated in Hong Kong Basic Law Article 2 and Article 22.

Gao Mang also known by his pen name Wulanhan, was a Chinese translator and painter who had been honored by the governments of both Russia and China.

Lee E-jun is a Taiwanese singer.

<i>Heibao</i> (Black Panther album) 1991 studio album by Black Panther

Heibao is the self-titled debut album by seminal Chinese rock band Black Panther, released August 1991 in Hong Kong on Kinn's Management Ltd. and December 1, 1992 in China and Taiwan on Magic Stone Records.

<i>Chinese Standard Bible</i>

The Chinese Standard Bible, is a Chinese New Testament translation produced by the Global Bible Initiative and Holman Bible Publishers in 2009.

Leung Ping-kwan

Leung Ping-kwan, whose pen name was Yesi, was a Hong Kong poet, novelist, essayist, translator, teacher, and scholar who received the Hong Kong Medal of Honor (MH) and was an important long-time cultural figure in Hong Kong.


  1. 1 2 "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2000". Nobelprize. October 7, 2010. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
  2. "The Nobel Prize for Literature 2000". The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2000 goes to the Chinese writer Gao Xingjian "for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama".
  3. Lee, Gregory Barry (1993). Lee, Gregory, ed. Chinese Writing in Exile. Chicago: Center for East Asian Studies, The University of Chicago.
  4. Mabel Lee, 'Nobel Laureate 2000 Gao Xingjian and his Novel Soul Mountain' in CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture: A WWWeb Journal, September, 2000
  5. Published on the website Ba Huang's Art Studio Archived August 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine .
  6. Lee, Leo Ou-fan (June 2008). "The happy exile". Muse Magazine (17): 93.
  9. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 10, 2007. Retrieved April 3, 2006.