Gao Xingjian

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Gao Xingjian

Gao Xingjian (pronounced [káu ɕĭŋ tɕiɛ̂n]; Chinese: 高行健; pinyin: Gāo Xíngjiàn; Wade-Giles: Kao Hsing-chien; born January 4, 1940) is a Chinese-born novelist, playwright, and critic. An émigré to France, Gao was granted the French citizenship in 1997. The recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Literature, he is also a noted translator (particularly of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco), screenwriter, stage director, and a celebrated painter.


  • The writer is an ordinary man, not a spokesman for the people, and that literature can only be the voice of one individual. Writing that becomes an ode to a country, the standard of a nation, the voice of a party... loses its nature—it is no longer literature. Writers do not set out to be published, but to know themselves. Although Kafka or Pessoa resorted to language, it was not in order to change the world. I, myself, believe in what I call cold literature: a literature of flight for one's life, a literature that is not utilitarian, but a spiritual self-preservation in order to avoid being stifled by society. I believe in a literature of the moment, for the living. You have to know how to use freedom. If you use it in exchange for something else, it vanishes.

Buying a fishing rod for my grandfather[edit]

traslated from the chinese by Mabel Lee, published by Harper Perennial, 2005

  • I want to write a novel so profound that it would suffocate a fly.
    • p. 99
  • I came to the riverbank. The sand underfoot crunches and sounds like my grandmother sighing. She is fond of chattering endlessly, although no-one understands her. If you ask, Grandmother, what did you say? She will look up absentmindedly and, after a while, say, oh, you’re back from school? Are you hungry? There are sweet potatoes in the bamboo steamer. When she chatters it is best not to interrupt; she is talking about when she was a young woman. But if you eavesdrop from behind her chair, she seems to be saying. It’s hidden, it’s hidden, everything is hidden, everything… All these memories are making noises in the sand under your feet.
    • p. 100
  • The sand murmurs that it wants to swallow everything.
    • p. 101
  • A good man never fights with a woman.
    • p. 103
  • Grandfather, when you saw the tiger were you scared? Bad people scare me, not tigers.
    Grandfather, have you ever run into bad people?
    There aren’t many tigers but lots of bad people, only you can’t shoot people.
    • p. 105
  • They say it only takes an instant to have a dream; a dream can be compressed into hardtack.
    • p. 110, from "buying a fishing rod for my grandfather"
  • She says she doesn’t know what to do! But he says coldly that he knows what he wants to do, but he can’t.
    • p. 128, from "In an instant"

Soul Mountain (1989)[edit]

translated from the chinese by Mabel Lee, published by flamingo, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2001.

  • Body odour (known also as scent of the immortals) is a disgusting condition with an awful, nauseating smell.
    • ch. 1, p. 6
  • Realty exists only through experience, and it must be personal experience.
    • ch. 2, p. 15
  • Indeed, loft aspirations produce ideas.
    • ch. 5, p. 32
  • It takes a full sixty years for the Cold Arrow Bamboo to go through the cycle of flowering, seeding, dying and for the seeds to sprout, grow, and flower. According to Buddhist teachings on transmigration this would be exactly one kalpa. "Man follows earth, earth follows sky, sky follows the way, the way follows nature, don’t commit actions which go against the basic character of nature, don’t commit acts which should not be committed." "Then what scientific value is there in saving the giant panda?" I ask. "It’s symbolic, it’s a sort of reassurance―people need to deceive themselves. We are preoccupied with saving a species which no longer has the capacity for survival and yet on the other hand we’re changing ahead and destroying the very environment for the survival of the human species itself."
    • ch. 8, p. 47
  • The creature known as man is of course highly intelligent, he's capable of manufacturing almost anything from rumours to test-tube babies and yet he destroys two to three species every day. This is the absurdity of man.
    • ch. 8, p. 49
  • Not knowing what one is looking for is pure agony. Too much analytical thinking, too much logic, too many meanings! Life has no logic, so why does there have to be logic to explain what it means? Also, what is logic? I think I may need to break away from analytical thinking; this is the cause of all my anxieties.
    • ch. 8, p. 50
  • Some distance away is a white azalea bush which stuns me with its stately beauty.____ This is pristine natural beauty. it is irrepressible, seeks no reward, and is without goal, a beauty derived neither from symbolism nor metaphor and needing neither analogies nor associations.
    • ch. 10, p. 61.
  • I hadn't originally intended to do any reading, what if I did read one book more or one book less, whether I read or not wouldn't make a difference, I would still be waiting to get cremated.
    • ch. 12, p. 69
  • Life is probably a tangle of love and hate permanently knotted together.
    • ch. 12, p. 70
  • What is essential is whether it is perceived and not whether it exists. To exist and yet not to be perceived is the same as not exist.
    • ch. 77, p. 481
  • Life is fragile, yet to obstinately struggle is natural.
    • ch. 80, p. 503
  • In the snow outside my window I see a small green frog, one eye blinking and the other wide open, unmoving, looking at me . I know this is God.
    • ch. 81, p. 505
  • When God talks to humans he doesn’t want humans to hear his voice.
    • ch. 81, p. 505

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