Gao Xingjian, the Nobel Prize and Chinese Intellectuals:
Notes on the Aftermath of the Nobel Prize 2000

By Julia Lovell

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 14, no. 2, pp.1-50

On 12 October 2000, when Gao Xingjian, a novelist and playwright born in China, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, China’s century-long quest for Nobel glory finally came to an end. Chinese intellectuals and politicians had worried for decades over when a Nobel Literature Prize would come to China, particularly since the mid-1980s when the search for a Nobel Prize was promoted to the level of an official policy issue and Nobel anxiety attained the status of a “complex” (Nuobeier qingjie) amongst writers, critics and academics. However, the lack of a Chinese laureate was now, it seemed, resolved and the mystique of the prize dispelled: Chinese literature could live happily ever after.

Reactions to Gao’s prize across the global Chinese community, and particularly in the Mainland, immediately refuted such hopes, as rumors and accusations of politicization began to circulate. This essay explores the historical and cultural background to the Chinese “Nobel Complex,” examines the significance of Gao’s prize in the contemporary world literary economy, and analyses reactions to the award in Mainland China for the light they shed on the links between modern Chinese literary intellectuals, politics and national identity.