Gao Xingjian was born in Ganzhou, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, in 1940. He studied French Literature at the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages. Shortly afterwards he was sent away for »re-education« during the Cultural Revolution, and was deployed among other things as a farm labourer and village teacher. Following the rehabilitation of intellectuals, Gao started working as an interpreter and translator for the Chinese Writer’s Union in 1978, and as a playwright at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre in 1981. He first published essays and translations – among them Ionesco’s »The Bald Soprano« – and later stories, novels and plays, in which he integrated modern Western narrative techniques into Chinese literature.
For his dramatic work, influenced above all by Brecht, Beckett and Artaud, Gao is considered an important pioneer in the renewal of Chinese theatre. The absurd drama »Chezhan« (1983; t: Bus station), often compared to »Waiting for Godot«, heralded his literary breakthrough and at the same time caused the cultural authorities to exert severe pressure on him, accusing him of »modernism« and »spiritual contamination«. In 1983, after the diagnosis of cancer had proved unfounded and in order to avoid further repression, Gao undertook a ten-month long walking tour through the forest and mountain regions of the Yangtse River Area, where he came into contact with old folk traditions and began working on ink drawings. After he received a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service which led him to Berlin, his travels in China found literary reflection in the novel »Lingshan« (1990; Eng. »Soul Mountain«, 2000). In this book Gao pieces together eighty-one episodes of legends, memories, annals and diary-like chronicles into a multi-layered portrait of his home country. The narrative perspective shifts from »I« to »you« and to the authorial »he« and »she«. The only form avoided by the author is the collective »we« with its overtones of Party ideology, as he increasingly aspired towards a »cool literature« beyond all ideologies.
When the novel appeared in Taiwan in 1990, Gao had already been living for three years in self-imposed French exile, having left the Chinese Communist Party following the massacre on Tiananmen Square. The publication of his play »Taowang« (1990; t: Fugitives), which is set against the backdrop of this event, led to a complete ban of his work in China. Along with further theatre pieces and essays, some written in French, such as the programmatic essay »Simply No Theories!« (1993), Gao has most recently written a novel entitled »Yige ren de shengjing« (1999; Eng. »One Man’s Bible«, 2002), depicting the era of the Cultural Revolution. In 2000, three years after the author took on French nationality, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for »a work of universal validity, bitter insight and a wealth of sensuous language«, in which »literature is reborn out of the individual’s struggle to survive the history of the masses«. Gao lives in Paris.
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