HONG KONG (AFP) — A friend of Gao Xingjian, the first and only Chinese writer to win the Nobel prize for literature, recently managed to find a pirated copy of his banned work at an underground Chinese bookstore.
Gao's works are becoming increasingly popular on China's black market, but he was amused to find that the "author" picture on the cover of the book his friend bought was of someone else.
"I find it very funny. In fact, I want to have a collection of all the pirated copies and put them in my personal library," the 68-year-old told AFP in an interview during a trip to Hong Kong from his adopted home of France.
Since he received the highest honour in literature in 2000, Gao's books have been translated into more than 30 languages.
Nevertheless, he remains a target of derision from some Chinese who argue he was only awarded the prize because of his open criticism of China.
Gao said he is indifferent to the attacks.
"The criticisms are mainly political. Those who criticised me have never read my works so I do not think the criticisms are worthy of my consideration," he said.
"As to whether people can read my books in China, I don't know. I should say I don't really care about it, since I have many other things to do," he said.
Born in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi in 1940, Gao, like many intellectuals, was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
The 10-year purge of "representatives of the bourgeoisie" inspired by Mao Zedong saw writers brutally repressed.
Fearing for his safety, Gao burnt a suitcase full of his manuscripts and said he had to write in secret, being careful not to cross any political lines.
"I never imagined what I wrote would create such problems for me," he said.
In the post-Mao era as China began to reform, Gao began to establish himself as a prolific writer, playwright, artist and critic.
But it was not long before he once again caught the government's attention when a senior Communist Party member condemned "Bus Stop," his 1983 satirical play about a group of people waiting a decade for their bus, as anti-socialist and "the most pernicious piece of writing since the foundation of the People's Republic of China".
To avoid harassment, he made a solitary journey along the Yangtze River in 1983, an experience which culminated in his best-known work, "Soul Mountain," the story of an individual's search for roots, inner peace and liberty which was published in 1990.
"Soul Mountain" was singled out in his Nobel citation, which the Swedish Academy which awards the annual prize said was in recognition of his "universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama".
Believing his work would never be published in China, Gao had exiled himself to France in 1987 and caused further controversy a few years later with his play "Fugitives" about the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing and other cities, and the subsequent bloody crackdown.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed in Beijing when the military was ordered to halt the protests.
Gao's horror at the massacre led him to publicly renounce his membership of the Communist Party, which he had kept up even after being sent to "re-education camp" during the Cultural Revolution.
"I think a writer has to get away from any type of political recognition or affiliation, since his voice should be the voice of an individual. Only then could his voice be a real voice," he said.
After his renunciation of the ruling party, Gao was told he was no longer welcome in China and all his works were banned.
He says he feels no regret and no desire to return.
"To me, China is a page turned. It's already a past," he said.
Instead, the writer's focus is his new life in France, a country he had visited several times as an interpreter before his exile. He now has French citizenship and said he had no trouble integrating into French society, something he attributes to having grown up with Western culture.
"I never resisted Western culture. I never regarded the main characters in Western novels as foreigners," said Gao, who studied French at university. "They touched me because they were human -- humanity supersedes national boundaries, cultures and languages."
In both his work and his life, Gao says, he has always strived to emulate such a feeling.
"I like to joke and say that I am a 'universal nomad' -- I run all over the world for my works and other activities," he said.
In fact, he says his fame is now his biggest headache and he wishes readers were more keen to get to know him through his writing than in person.
"The Nobel prize is very important to me. But at the same time, it has put me under a lot of pressure. It is very difficult to say no to those invitations because they were all from my friends," he said.
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