Living Without ‘Isms’

From The Guardian:

In May this year, when news of the Sichuan earthquake reached the Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian at his home in Paris, he remembered living through a similar disaster in China more than 30 years ago: “Even though I was quite far away then, I was terrified.” That earthquake, in Tangshan, near Beijing, was one of the 20th century’s worst in terms of lives lost. “Afterwards there were terrible downpours, but no one wanted to stay in the buildings. I can imagine the fear in Sichuan.”

It was the tail-end of the cultural revolution, the collapse of which was accelerated by the aftermath of the 1976 quake. When the 10-year terror began in 1966, Gao felt compelled to burn a suitcase-full of all his manuscripts since adolescence, in case he was denounced. But he was still sent for “re-education” in the countryside. Labouring in the fields, he began again, hiding his work in a hole in the ground, when “to write, even in secret, was to risk one’s life”. As Gao said in 2000 when he became the first (and only) writer in Chinese to win the Nobel prize for literature, “it was only during this period, when literature became utterly impossible, that I came to comprehend why it was so essential.”


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