Wang Xiaobo


Wang Xiaobo
b. 1952; d. 1997, Beijing
Writer, essayist, screenwriter
Wang Xiaobo was one of the most important writers of the mid to late 1990s and became a veritable cultural phenomenon after his untimely death in 1997. Wang had a rich and diverse background, spending time as an agricultural worker in Yunnan, an ‘educated youth’ in Shandong, and a worker in an instrument factory, before earning a degree in trade economics from People’s University in 1982. After two years as an instructor at his alma mater, Wang went to America where he earned an MA in East Asian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Returning to China in 1988, Wang held teaching posts in sociology and accounting until 1992, at which point he became a fulltime freelance writer.
Wang Xiaobo is best known for his ‘trilogy of the ages’: The Golden Age (Huangjin shidai), The Silver Age (Baiyin shidai) and The Copper Age (Qingtong shidai). His novels are marked by black humour, absurdist rhetoric and an attention to the plight of the intellectual which seems ever-present whether he is writing about the Tang dynasty, the Cultural Revolution or a science fiction future. In The Golden Age an ‘educated youth’ sent to the countryside for education through labour ends up with a sexual education instead, through his affair with a nurse. The novella’s existential absurdity, however, proved to effectively deconstruct traditional narratives of the Cultural Revolution. Wang was also a talented essayist whose sensitive, sharp and highly perceptive collections, such as My Spiritual Garden (Wo de jingshen jiayuan) and The Silent Majority (Chenmo de daduoshu), won him just as many readers as his fiction.
Wang is also credited for several firsts. He was the first PRC writer to twice win Taiwan’s prestigious Unitas Literary Award for outstanding novella; he co-authored (with his sociologist wife, Li Yinhe) the first serious study of homosexuality in China, entitled Their World (Tamen de shijie); and he was the first Chinese screenwriter to win a best screenplay award at a major international film festival—the film, Zhang Yuan’s East Palace, West Palace (Donggong, xigong) was also the first gay film in China. Many of Wang’s major works were only published posthumously after his tragic death from a heart attack at the age of forty-five. In the wake of his death he became a bestselling author and virtual cultural phenomenon, inspiring such memorial books as Wang Xiaobo: A Life in Pictures (Wang Xiaobo huazhuan), Romantic Warrior—Remembering Wang Xiaobo (Langman qishi—Jiyi Wang Xiaobo) and No Longer Silent (Buzai chenmo).
MICHAEL BERRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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