Asia-Pacific

Viewpoints

Nobel for Gao Xingjian

MONTREAL The Gazette (centrist), Oct. 13: Gao Xingjian burned his early writings to save himself from communist zealots, was denounced by his own wife, and eventually went into exile. Yesterday, the 60-year-old survivor of China’s upheaval and oppression became its first Nobel Prize laureate in literature.The Swedish Academy cited the novelist and playwright for the “bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity” in his writings about “the struggle for individuality in mass culture.”…China has been suspicious of the Nobel institution since it awarded the 1989 Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet’s struggle to end Chinese rule.

SINGAPORE The Straits Times (independent), Oct. 15: Gao’s win has to be a Pyrrhic victory for Beijing, which complained in 1997 that the Nobel Prize for literature ignored Asians, registering its disapproval that no Chinese writer had ever won the prize. China’s Nobel committee had nominated 98-year-old author Ba Jin this year. And it has already protested the Swedish Academy’s choice of Gao, who settled in France as a political refugee in 1986. The author has been persona non grata in Beijing since the 1993 publication of his novel Fugitives, which took the Tiananmen massacre as a backdrop. His works have been banned in China since 1986....Considering the prize’s high profile, giving it to an exiled dissident over China’s own nominee could be seen as a political message. In choosing Gao Xingjian, the Swedish Academy could be seen as silencing the accusations of racism. And Gao’s dissident status allows them to escape the perception of endorsing China’s politics.
—Ong Sor Fern

LONDON The Guardian (liberal), Oct. 13: In very bad years, the academy’s choice has boiled down to a kind of United Nations-inspired gesturing, picking some language or nation not previously represented, or deserving of exposure, and seeing what can be fixed.…To set against this is the tribe of international writers who are never going to win any sort of prize, either because their countries have no wider significance, because the academy has never heard of them, or in the case of certain Western writers, perhaps because it has heard too much about them. Gao Xingjian, who might just be available in a British bookshop or two (inspection reveals that HarperCollins published Soul Mountain in 1999), may well turn out to be an exemplary winner. All the same, one imagines that a good many critics, confronted by news of this year’s choice, will be making their usual baffled visit to the literature-in-translation shelf. 
—D. J. Taylor

MADRAS The Hindu (conservative), Oct. 16: Politics has never been absent from the decisions on Nobel prizes for peace and literature. Cynics have always pointed to the Western ideological interests that colored these decisions during the Cold War. The pattern might have begun to change somewhat since the collapse of the Soviet Union. This year’s literature Nobel to a Chinese dissident writer, Gao Xingjiang, may be seen as fitting the old pattern of anti-communism.

TAIPEI Taipei Times (liberal), Oct. 14: Certainly, Gao’s works, with virtually no plot or story line and full of absurd daydreaming and consciousness, are very hard for the general reading public to understand. Though refreshing in style and rich in the use of the Chinese language, some of his works…seem too derivative of Western literary works and forms. Nevertheless, his daring inspires reflection…, and his robust rejection of writing to support an ideology, be it nationality, motherland, or the masses, but rather writing to satisfy the needs of one’s soul may truly be considered refreshing for Chinese.              
 —Cao Chang-Ching

BEIJING Xinhua (government-owned news service), Oct. 13: During an interview with a Xinhua reporter, a relevant responsible official of the Chinese Writers’ Association said: China has many world-famous outstanding literary works and writers, about which the Nobel literature evaluation committee knows little. It seems that the Nobel Committee used its political, rather than literary, criteria in granting the prize for literature. It showed that the Nobel Prize in Literature has virtually been used for political purposes and thus lost its authority.

LAGOS Post Express (independent), Oct. 13: The Nobel Prizes have been funded since 1901 by a trust set up in the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite. Nobel said that the literature prize should recognize an author whose work moves in an “ideal” direction without specifying exactly what he meant.
—C.I.D. Oguagha

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