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Gender in Gao Xingjian’s Between Life and Death: The Notion of Originary Self and the Use of Tripartition

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

The relationship between the sexes and the female condition are underlying motifs in Gao Xingjian’s post-exile plays, yet very few scholarly studies of his work have focused solely on the analysis of gender in his plays. In those studies that have, most have directed their attention toward Gao’s novels, and many scholars have come to regard Gao as a misogynist writer. This paper examines Gao’s attitude toward gender through an analysis of his plays, specifically Between Life and Death (Shengsijie, 1991). The theatrical medium illustrates a more complex elaboration of gender representation than those seen in Gao’s novels—one that complicates conceptions of the writer’s misogyny. Focusing on Between Life and Death, I assert that Gao’s alleged misogyny is a misrepresentation. Regarding my theoretical approach, I make particular reference to feminist theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler. The debate is linked to Gao’s concept of an un-gendered/originary self and considers the use of dramatic devices—specifically focusing on the use of tripartition.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Theatre and Performance, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross,London, SE146NW,


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