Chinese writer — his work banned in homeland — wins Nobel in literature


Associated Press

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Gao Xingjian, a self-exiled author whose individualistic works are banned in his native China, won the Nobel Prize in literature today — the first Chinese to win the award in its 100-year history.

The Swedish Academy cited the 60-year-old novelist and playwright for his "bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity" in his writings about the struggle for individuality in mass culture.

The award was likely to boost morale among China’s dissidents and reinforce Beijing’s suspicion of the Nobel Prizes. In 1989, the Peace Prize went to communist China’s foe, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet.

Gao survived the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, the mass political upheaval fomented by Mao Tse-tung to rekindle the communist revolution. The novelist and playwright became a leading cultural figure in China but left in 1987 after one of his plays was banned. He settled in France as a political refugee.

"For me, writing is a question of survival," Gao said in an interview in his modest 18th-floor apartment in a Paris suburb.

"In China, I could not trust anyone, even my family," he said. "The atmosphere was so poisoned. People even in your own family could turn you in."

Gao said he burned "kilos and kilos" of manuscripts in China, where he wrote clandestinely.

According to his friend, poet Bei Ling, he did so after his wife informed on him to the communist zealots who terrorized China during Mao Tse-Tung’s Cultural Revolution.

The writer, whose name is pronounced gow shing-zhahn, is little known in the West. And he said he did not intend to use his sudden fame to score political points.

"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," he said.

Gao quit the Communist Party and joined the dissident movement after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. His play "Fugitives" was set against the background of the slayings in Beijing. The Communist regime declared him "persona non grata" and banned all his works.

Many Chinese reacted with pride to the announcement of the first Chinese Nobel literature laureate. The government and its approved artistic associations issued no immediate reaction.

Bei, the poet, said the prize was "a great show of support for all of us independent writers and exiled writers."

Gao’s play, "The Other Shore," was banned in 1986 in a crackdown on foreign influence in the arts. To avoid further harassment, he took a 10-month walking tour in central China and left the country the next year.

His trek produced "Soul Mountain," his most ambitious novel, published in English last year.

In Gao’s writing, "literature is born anew from the struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses," the academy said in its citation. "He is a perspicacious skeptic who makes no claim to be able to explain the world."

The literature award — usually the first — was the fifth and last Nobel prize unveiled in Stockholm this week. The Nobel Peace Prize winner will be named Friday in Oslo, Norway.

"It was nice to be able to surprise everybody," Horace Engdahl, the head of the academy, said, denying any geographical or political consideration in making the choice.

Guenter Grass won last year’s prize as one of the most prominent authors to emerge from a group of young intellectuals who set out to revive German literature after the Nazi era.

The prize this year is worth $915,000.

The Nobel Prizes are funded by a trust set up in the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. Nobel said the literature prize should recognize an author whose work moves in an "ideal direction" without specifying exactly what he meant.

Americans James J. Heckman and Daniel L. McFadden won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics on Wednesday for developing theories on how people work and live, research that contributed greatly to employment training, public transportation, communication systems and other areas.

The physics prize was shared by Americans Jack Kilby, who invented the integrated circuit at Texas Instruments in 1958, and Herbert Kroemer; and Russian Zhores Alferov.

This year’s chemistry prize went to Alan Heeger and Alan MacDiarmid of the United States and Hideki Shirakawa of Japan for their discoveries in the use of plastics to conduct electricity.

The medicine prize recognized Swede Arvid Carlsson and U.S.-based researchers Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel for discoveries about how messages are transmitted between brain cells, leading to treatments of Parkinson’s disease and depression.

Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf will present the prizes as always on Dec. 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896.

On the Net: Nobel Web site



Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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