The Swedish Institute announced, Oct. 12, that Chinese novelist and playwright Gao Xingjian has won the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature. Though specifically lauded for his novels, “Soul Mountain” and “One Man’s Bible,” Gao [sic] (Chinese names put the surname first) is also praised for the fact that his political play, Fugitives, “irritated the democracy movement just as much as those in power.”
The Academy’s release also goes on to stress the significance of “non naturalistic trends in Western drama” on the playwright’s style, with Gao himself citing Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Beckett and Tadeusz Kantor as influences. Gao’s brand of “Chinese oral theatre” takes elements from masked drama, dance, shadow plays, singing and percussion performance.
As the Academy put it, “[Gao] has embraced the possibility of moving freely in time and space on the stage with the help of one single word or gesture — as in Chinese opera. The uninhibited mutations and grotesque symbolic language of dreams interrupt the distinct images of contemporary humanity. Erotic themes give his texts feverish excitement...” Gao is also praised for his ability to depict women with as much complexity as he does men.
Born Jan. 4, 1940 in Ganzhou to a bank official and an amateur actress, Gao was educated in the People’s Republic public schools and received a degree in French from the Department of Foreign Languages in Beijing. During the so-called Cultural Revolution, where he was sent to a “re education camp,” Gao was compelled to burn a suitcase full of his manuscripts. Nevertheless, by 1979 he was traveling abroad and publishing essays, short stories and plays (“Collected Plays” was released in 1985). In 1981, he wrote a book examining modern fiction; six years later he published “In Search of a Modern Form of Dramatic Representation.” In the interim, such plays as Signal Alarm and the absurdist Bus Stop were staged at the Theatre of Popular Art in Beijing. According to Gao’s official bio, Bus Stop “was condemned during the campaign against `intellectual pollution’ (described by one eminent member of the party as the most pernicious piece of writing since the foundation of the People’s Republic).” Xingjian’s 1986 play, The Wild Shore, was banned, and he left China for France the following year as a political refugee. Fugitives was inspired by the 1989 Massacre in Tiannamen Square, which led the Chinese government to declare Gao as persona non grata in his homeland.
No doubt, Gao came to the attention of the Swedish Academy because his plays (Summer Rain in Peking and Fugitives) have been performed at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. The author playwright was also honored by the French with the title of Chevalier de l'Ordere des Artes et des Lettres, and his drawings have been exhibited in Europe and America -- as well as on the covers of his books. -- By David Lefkowitz