's laureate in the year 2000. He is the first Chinese writer
to win this award
(also the first non-Japanese Asian
). Living in self-imposed exile
, he is primarily a playwright
and has written in both Chinese
. His works include:
Gao has been translated into many language
s, including Swedish
(in fact, Goran Malmqvist, a member of the Swedish Academy
is Gao's Swedish translator, a fact that has produced one among myriad
bits of controversy over the Academy's choice this year). Cited in the Swedish Academy's reasons for choosing Gao is his novel
/memoir Soul Mountain
, which has just been released in English, translated by the Australian
Soul Mountain is Gao's description of his wanderings along the Yangtze River delta in the '80s after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer and then, seemingly miraculously, told that he didn't really have this fatal disease. In his travels, he meets up with many minority groups and people attempting to work for unheralded causes, most prominent among them, environmentalism. At the same time, he writes of an imagined "you" who searches for a fabled place called "Ling Shan," Soul Mountain.
As Gao himself writes in this book, "you've slapped together travel notes, moralistic ramblings, feelings, notes, jottings, untheoretical discussions, unfable-like fables, copied out some folk songs, added some legend-like nonsense of your own invention, and are calling it fiction!'' Criticisms of Soul Mountain have been abundant, some calling it male chauvanist, some with "putting things in a way that aren't super clear" (Perry Link, NPR interview), and one critic that sometimes "he is less eloquent, offering truisms in the place of substance. His narrative stunts muddy the waters even more. Throughout the novel he switches pronouns from "I" to "you" to "he" to "she." Rather than present us with different viewpoints, this gimmick merely distracts
and annoys." (John Freeman, The Dallas Morning News) Perhaps his work loses a lot in translation.
There is a lot of speculation that the prize was awarded with mainly political motives this year. The Chinese government, especially, thinks so. Gao said that "I'm not involved in politics, but that does not prevent me from criticizing the policies of Communist China. I say what I want to say. If I have chosen to live in exile, it is to be
able to express myself freely without constraints."
Although the prize has been shushed up in China this year, and no one really knows about it there, in Hong Kong and Taiwan there has been a flurry of activity concerning him, including invitations to visit and lecture.
From Gao's Nobel Prize lecture:
"What I want to say here is that literature can only be the voice of the individual and this has always been so. Once literature is contrived as the hymn of the nation, the flag of the race, the mouthpiece of a political party or the voice of a class or a group, it can be employed as a mighty and all-engulfing tool of propaganda. However, such literature loses what is inherent in literature, ceases to be literature, and becomes a substitute for power and profit.
"In the century just ended literature confronted precisely this misfortune and was more deeply scarred by politics and power than in any previous period, and the writer too was subjected to unprecedented oppression.
"In order that literature safeguard the reason for its own existence and not become the tool of politics it must return to the voice of the individual, for literature is primarily derived from the feelings of the individual and is the result of feelings."
The Swedish Academy's press release says that he received the award “for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama." and that "His great novel Soul Mountain is one of those singular literary creations that seem impossible to compare with anything but themselves."