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Gao Xingjian and Transcultural Chinese Theater
240pp. April 2004
Gao Xingjian and Transcultural Chinese Theater
Author: Quah, Sy Ren;
A reclusive painter living in exile in Paris, Gao Xingjian found himself instantly famous when he became the first Chinese language writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (2000). The author of the novel Soul Mountain, Gao is best known in his native country not as a visual artist or novelist, but as a playwright and theater director. This important yet rarely studied figure is the focus of Sy Ren Quah’s rich account appraising his contributions to contemporary Chinese and World Theater over the past two decades.

A playwright himself, Quah provides an in-depth analysis of the literary, dramatic, intellectual, and technical aspects of Gao’s plays and theatrical concepts, treating Gao’s theater not only as an art form but, with Gao himself, as a significant cultural phenomenon. The Bus Stop, Wild Man, and other early works are examined in the context of 1980s China. Influenced by Stanislavsky, Brecht, and Beckett, as well as traditional Chinese theater arts and philosophies, Gao refused to conform to the dominant realist conventions of the time and made a conscious effort to renovate Chinese theater. The young playwright sought to create a "Modern Eastern Theater" that was neither a vague generalization nor a nationalistic declaration, but a challenge to orthodox ideologies. After fleeing China, Gao was free to experiment openly with theatrical forms. Quah examines his post-exile plays in a context of performance theory and philosophical concerns, such as the real versus the unreal, and the Self versus the Other. The image conveyed of Gao is not of an activist but of an intellectual committed to maintaining his artistic independence who continues to voice his opinion on political matters.

"Gao Xingjian is the only Chinese dramatist whose plays are performed on the international stage. It is interesting to see, as Quah shows convincingly, how Gao manages to taverse cultures and languages, synthesizing and molding them into something new and unique. Gao should feel happy with this book. Lucid yet erudite, it is the best treatment of his dramaturgy to date." —China Journal (July 2005)

"In this reviewer’s opinion, [this book] is the best overall study of Gao, inclusive of his personal background, his status as a transnational exile, and his dramaturgy and dramatic theory." —Theatre Journal (57, 2005)

"As Gao’s works become central to courses on world literature and drama, Quah’s work will be a valuable reading." —Asian Theatre Journal (spring 2006) (Read full review on Project Muse)

"Quah’s book ... offers stimulating insights about the playwright’s dramatic and theoretical production, as well as on China’s recent artistic and cultural developments, thus constituting a valuable contribution not only to the field of Chinese studies but also to Theatre studies in general. Moreover, its straightforward style and clear exposition make it accessible to specialists and non-specialists alike." —Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (68, 2005)

Author: Quah, Sy Ren;
Sy Ren Quah is assistant professor of Chinese literature at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Read the introduction (PDF).