Cover image for One man's Bible : a novel
One man's Bible : a novel
Gao, Xingjian.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Yi ge ren de sheng jing. English
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins, 2002.
Physical Description:
450 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library

On Order



One Man's Bible is the second novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Gao Xingjian to appear in English. Following on the heels of his highly praised Soul Mountain, this later work is as candid as the first, and written with the same grace and beauty.

In a Hong Kong hotel room in 1996, Gao Xingjian's lover, Marguerite, stirs up his memories of childhood and early adult life under the shadow of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. Gao has been living in self-imposed exile in France and has traveled to this Western-influenced Chinese city-state, so close to his homeland, for the staging of one of his plays.

What follows is a fictionalized account of Gao Xingjian's life under the Communist regime. Whether in "beehive" offices in Beijing or in isolated rural towns, daily life is riddled with paranoia and fear, as revolutionaries, counterrevolutionaries, reactionaries, counterreactionaries, and government propaganda turn citizens against one another. It is a place where a single sentence spoken ten years earlier can make one an enemy of the state. Gao evokes the spiritual torture of political and intellectual repression in graphic detail, including the heartbreaking betrayals he suffers in his relationships with women and men alike.

One Man's Bible is a profound meditation on the essence of writing, on exile, on the effects of political oppression on the human spirit, and on how the human spirit can triumph.

Author Notes

Xingjian Gao was born on January 4, 1940 in Ganzhou, China. As a child, he was encouraged to paint, write and play the violin, and at the age of 17, he attended the Beijing Foreign languages Institute, majoring in French and Literature. He is known as being at the fore of Chinese/French Literature, attempting to revolutionize Chinese literature and art.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, Gao destroyed all of his early work after being sent to the country for "rehabilitation." His "Preliminary Explorations Into the Techniques of Modern Fiction" caused serious debate in the Chinese literary world by challenging the social realism that was at the core of Chinese literature and art. The authorities condemned his work and Gao was placed under surveillance. He left China for Paris in 1987 and was honored by the French with the title of Chevalier de L'Ordere des Artes et des Lettres.

None of Gao's plays have been performed in China since 1987, when "The Other Shore" had been banned. In 1989, Gao left the Communist party. After the publication of "Fugitives," which was about the reason he left the communist party, Gao was declared "persona noon grata" by the Chinese regime and all of his works banned. On October 12, 2000, Gao won the Nobel Prize for Literature, becoming the first Chinese writer ever to do so. He is well known for his writing as well as his painting and has had exhibitions all over the world.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In his second novel to be translated into English, Gao combines the form of the Chinese travel journal with a novelistic technique that Milan Kundera (a kindred spirit) once labeled "novelistic counterpoint" a cadenced movement between the modes of essay, vision and story. The heart of the novel is a fragmented sequence of memories lifted from the Cultural Revolution, anchored by an unnamed "he" approximately Gao himself. The narrative often jumps forward to the present, exploring the narrator's relationships with two women: Margarethe, a German Jew fluent in Chinese, and Sylvie, an apolitical French artist. Mao's China, according to Gao, was a Hobbesian world of revenges, lynchings and millennial fervor. To be human, in that epoch, was to denounce. To be inhuman was to be denounced. The narrator/protagonist is a university-educated intellectual. He engages in an affair with Lin, a beautiful woman married to a high-ranking military official and becomes, briefly, the leader of a Red Army faction. He investigates an almost fatal blot on his files his father once owned and sold a gun and is "reformed" at a cadre "school," or labor camp. Finally, he escapes certain death in Beijing by getting transferred to a rural village. Gao, like Kundera, detects the totalitarian impulse in the politicization of everyday life, which is so easily summed up in the '70s slogan, "the personal is the political": "You want to expunge the pervasive politics that penetrated every pore, clung to daily life, became fused in speech and action, and from which no one at that time could escape." For Gao, even under the glaze of sexuality, the denunciatory animal is always lurking. When Gao won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, he was unknown in this country. This novel should justify his prize to doubters.(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Nobel prize winner Gao follows up his highly praised Soul Mountain with another autobiographical work, first published in Taiwan in 1999. Beginning in 1996 Hong Kong, before its handover to China, the book follows the author on a journey back in time to the heart of that country during the Cultural Revolution. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style, the novel vacillates between the past and the present. Readers learn of the writer's marriage, his love/hate obsession with women and sex (which is tinged with a slight Oedipus complex), and, most of all, what it's like to live under a repressive regime. Like other fictional accounts of life during this period by authors such as Anchee Min, Ha Jin, and Pu Ning, the book is pervaded by a sense of dread and a fear of discovery. The continual changes in setting and Gao's liberal shifting from second to third person, mixed with a sprinkling of dialog throughout, add to the novel's complexity and make it a difficult work. But perhaps this is a result of the translation. Only academic and public libraries that had demand for Gao's American debut will want to consider adding this title. Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



It was not that he didn't remember he once had another sort of life. But, like the old yellowing photograph at home, which he did not burn, it was sad to think about, and far away, like another world that had disappeared forever. In his Beijing home, confiscated by the police, he had a family photo left by his dead father: it was a happy gathering, and everyone in the big family was present. His grandfather who was still alive at the time, his hair completely white, was reclined in a rocking chair, paralyzed and unable to speak. He, the eldest son and eldest grandson of the family, the only child in the photo, was squashed between his grandparents. He was wearing slit trousers that showed his little dick, and he had on his head an American-style boat-shaped cap. At the time, the eight-year War of Resistance against the Japanese had just ended, and the Civil War had not properly started. The photograph had been taken on a bright summer day in front of the round gateway in the garden, which was full of golden chrysanthemums and purple-red cockscombs. That was what he recalled of the garden, but the photo was water-stained and had turned a grayish yellow. Behind the round gateway was a two story, English-style building with a winding walkway below and a balustrade upstairs. It was the big house he had lived in. He recalled that there were thirteen people in the photograph - an unlucky number - his parents, his paternal uncles and aunts, and also the wife of one of the uncles. Now, apart from an aunt in America and himself, all of them and the big house had vanished from this world. While still in China, he had revisited the old city, looking for the old courtyard compound at the back of the bank where his father had once worked. He found only a few cheaply built cement residential buildings that would have been constructed a good number of years earlier. He asked people coming in and out if such a courtyard used to be there, but no one could say for sure. He remembered that at the rear gate of the courtyard, below the stone steps, there was a lake. At Duanwu Festival, his father and his bank colleagues would crowd on the stone steps to watch the dragon-boat race. There was the pounding of big gongs and drums, as dragon boats decorated with colorful streamers came to snatch the red packets hanging from bamboo poles put out by the houses around the lake. The red packets, of course, contained money. His third uncle, youngest uncle, and youngest aunt, once took him out on a boat to fish for the two-horned water chestnuts that grew in the lake. He had never been to the opposite side of the lake, but even if he went there and looked back, from that short distance, he would not have recognized this dreamlike memory. This family had been decimated; it was too gentle and fragile for the times. It was destined to have no progeny. After his grandfather died, his father lost his job as bank manager and the family fell into rapid decline. His second uncle, who was keen on singing Peking Opera, was the only one to work with the new government authorities, and this was on account of his Democratic Personage title. Nevertheless, seven or eight years later he was labeled a rightist. Afterward, he grew sullen, barely spoke, and would doze off as soon as he sat down. Transformed into a listless, wizened old man, he held on for a few years, then quietly died. The members of this big family died of illness, drowned, committed suicide, went insane, or followed their husbands to prison farms and simply passed away, so that the only person left was a bastard like him. There was also his eldest aunt whose black shadow had once engulfed the whole family. She was said to have been alive and well a few years ago, but he had not seen her since that photo was taken. The husband of this aunt was a member of the Nationalist airforce. As ground personnel, he never dropped a bomb but he fled to Taiwan, where he died of some illness a few years later. He did not know how this aunt had managed to get to America, and had not bothered to find out. However, on his tenth birthday - it was customary in those times to use the lunar calendar, so he was actually only nine - the family was a large one, and it was a big event. When he got out of bed that morning, he put on new clothes as well as a new pair of leather shoes; to have a child wear leather shoes in those days was indulgent. He also received lots of presents: a kite, a chess set, a geometrical puzzle, imported coloring pencils, a pop gun with a rubber stopper, and the Complete Collection of Grimms' Fairy Tales in two volumes with copperplate illustrations. His grandmother gave him three silver dollars wrapped in red paper: one Qing Dynasty "dragon ocean," one Yuan Shikai "big bald head," and one new silver dollar with Chiang Kai-shek in full military regalia. Each of the coins made a different sound. The Chiang Kai-shek one made a tinkle, compared with the clank of the thick and heavy Yuan Shikai "big bald head." He put these in his little leather suitcase, together with his stamp album and his colored marbles. Afterward, the whole family went out to eat steamed crab-roe dumplings in a garden restaurant with artificial mountains and a pond full of goldfish. A big round tabletop had to be used to seat everyone. For the first time, he was the center of attention in the family and he sat next to his grandmother in the seat where his grandfather, who had recently died, would have sat. It was as if they were waiting for him to become the bastion of the family. He bit into a dumpling ... Excerpted from One Man's Bible by Gao Xingjian Copyright © 2002 by Gao Xingjian Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.