A four-year research project which brings the works of Gao Xingjian, Nobel Prize-winning writer, to a broader English-speaking audience is near completion.
Professor Gilbert C.F. Fong, Reader in Translation at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, has led the project. He was motivated by a desire to study Gao as a writer, an artist and a person. Gao left China in 1987 and moved to Paris where he has lived and worked for the past 20 years. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2000 and remains the first and only Chinese writer to receive this honour.
"To me, Gao represents a particular as well as typical 21st century situation - he is a writer who finds himself at the crossroads of East and West. He is in exile physically, spiritually and figuratively. How do you deal with this? Do you become Western or do you retain your Chinese heritage and culture?"
"In Gao's case, he treats this dilemma quite casually. He doesn't mould his character in either direction. His attitude is that life will take care of itself, very much like the idea of no mind in Zen Buddhism. His essence remains Chinese, but his writing, particularly in the form of his plays, has been influenced by the West."
Professor Fong has focused on the translation of Gao's plays into English and the development of a formal collection of works which will be an important base for future academic research. He has published The Other Shore (a collection of five plays), Snow in August and Escape and The Man Who Questions Death. Some of these translations have been used for theatrical performances across the world. Besides translating the plays into English, he also co-edited Cold Literature: Selected Works by Gao Xingjian with Mabel Lee, another translator of Gao's works. The plan is to publish The Collected Plays of Gao Xingjian, which hopefully will be completed in two years' time.
There is an important oral history element to Professor Fong's research. In a series of exclusive interviews in Paris, Gao has given his views on drama and theatre.