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Susan Lawrence, Far Eastern Economic Review
"Most people in China are not going to be at all familiar with the name"
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Bao Lian, a friend
"In a way he could be a dissident"
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Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Profile: Gao Xingjian
Gao Zingjian
Gao Zingjian, pictured in the 1980s, fled China and is now a French citizen
Gao Xingjian has become the first Chinese writer ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He was awarded the prize for "an oeuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama," the jury decided.

Gao Xingjian, now a French citizen, was born in Jiangxi province in 1940 and grew up in the aftermath of the Japanese invasion of China.

He has written numerous plays in Chinese, including The Bus Stop, and has introduced avant-garde ideas from European theatre to Chinese audiences. His first novella was published in 1978.

One of his best known works is Soul Mountain, in which he portrays an individual's search for roots, inner peace and liberty via an odyssey in time and space through the Chinese countryside.

Dissident writer

During the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, Gao had to destroy all his early writing - a suitcase of manuscripts, several novels and about 15 plays - and was sent to the countryside for 'rehabilitation'.

He was not able to publish or travel abroad until 1979.

In 1986 his play The Other Shore was banned and his plays have not been performed in China since. He left China in 1987 as a political refugee and has settled in the Paris suburb of Bagnolet.

Previous winners
1999: Guenter Grass (Germany)
1998: Jose Saramago (Portugal)
1997: Dario Fo (Italy)
1996: Wislawa Szymborska (Poland)
1995:Seamus Heaney (Ireland)
France was a natural choice, as he had studied French and Literature at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute as a 17-year-old. He had also worked as a translator in the Chinese Writers' Association.

The Chinese writer left the Communist Party and joined the dissident movement after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. His play Fugitives was set against the background of the killings.

Gao Xingjian had a creative childhood and was encouraged with his writing as well as painting and playing the violin. He paints in ink and provided the cover illustrations for his own books.

France has given him the title Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and his art has been exhibited in Europe and America.

Many of his writings have been translated into English, Swedish and French. He has also translated many French writers into Chinese.

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12 Oct 00 | Europe
Chinese writer wins Nobel prize
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