Review of “The Other Shore” by Xingjian Gao

Xingjian Gao wrote a book called The Other Shore and it is play that emphasizes the everyday contest of humans intended to reach a spiritual state of nirvana. These intentions can only be realized when people cross the river of life to the other shore where paradise is. Even though the characters of the play and the performances are unconventional in a way, they symbolically characterize personal experiences concerning the struggle for illumination and meaning of life. Additionally, it is a political allegory where Gao achieves suggestive power utilizing a radical style by joining the Chinese philosophy with traditional features of the drama.

Furthermore, the play displays the societal symbols and rituals amongst a nation that experienced modernity in its early day as a Republic. Fundamentally, the book can be studied on different fronts such as the religious concepts of Buddhists, personal experiences faced daily, and the political condition of China through modern theatre (Gao 194). This paper discovers the intentions and communications in the current China that Gao wanted to express.

The writer states that if plays promote unity among people, they make actors feel lonely, especially those who are desperate to pass a message but cannot since they struggle to manage the overflow of words. Additionally, the acts cause aggression and physical violence inflicted to the actors even though in unnamed settings, they confront different challenges including impatience, death, aging, and passing love (Gao 186). The author symbolically explains the life and experience that theatre players were subjected to and that experience was prevalent in the nation. Due to this, the life events of Gao assist in highlighting the political environment that existed in the motherland.

Gao was influenced by the way of life of the French and he turned into a theatre enthusiast devoted to language and literature. In addition, he was recruited in the Red Guard Brigade and was sent to rural areas for six years. Gao later excelled in experimental plays that resulted in his expulsion from China in the year 1987. Although the play had a religious implication, it emphasized the government’s failure and the intrinsic struggle by the people which aggravated the leaders to leave the country and become French citizens.

The play is not political yet it serves as a piece of explanation on communism that signifies collective captivity where acts of a person affect the entire society. On the other hand, actors of the play relive the everyday cohabitation of the individuals in the homeland. Expressing exhilaration and worry in the course of the journey to cross the river displays dissatisfaction among the actors (Lee and Jianmei 88). After crossing to the other side of the river, they are discouraged when they encounter oblivion rather than the enlightenment that they expected. The writer illustrates that using modern philosophy instead of Buddhism shows that life is in a constant fight applicable to individuals against society.

Gao combines concepts of both the Western and the Chinese magnificently and this makes him become an effective author with a strange and radical approach. A fortification of religious concepts in the Buddhist philosophy exists and it presumes that human life in the society is denoted by sufferings and that while on the other side of the river, happiness becomes dominant. The play also illuminates the way people lose their identity in the event of surviving in society.

Characters are inhibited by inequalities of power and its legality as opposed to what is envisioned; this is an allegorical reference to the conditions in communist China. Additionally, the play was not acted in the country as planned by the writer as a result of the political atmosphere at that time. Despite this, the author highlights the life of the people by performing it from a foreign country. In other words, the actors are a part of the audience with lost dialects and memory.

A woman offers to help them by volunteering from oblivion to bring back their capabilities and as the people acquire knowledge, they rebel against her. Another matter decides to intercede so that he convinces them to harm her but, in the end, they murder the woman. The intervention results in a conflict between the man and the people revealing that there is a connection between crowds and an individual. This is imagery since the writer wanted to show the world that it is very difficult to change communism in China as citizens have been molded into it.

The play is not a political piece as the author clearly states his position on how politics relates to art many times. Gao states that for literature to protect its reason for existence, it has to go back to the voice of the people since literature is principally acquired from an individual’s feeling and it is the outcome of the feelings. From the Chinese background where the requirements of the community are considered crucial than the needs of an individual, any piece that discovers the relations between a person to the bigger community can have deep political impacts. On one side, Gao’s play is just that meaning that it is an investigation of the effect of the collective as characterized by crowds has on an individual like the woman and the man.

The Chinese political system has been able to survive for a long period due to its success in strictly regulating the intellectual lives of citizens by controlling materials to be published, plays to be produced and artwork to be displayed. These actions have effectively controlled the thoughts of individuals and history reveals that average people in the country did not feel free to share their thoughts even to closest people due to the fear of being reported to authorities (Song 76). Gao’s play represents the plight of individuals within a collective structure and stresses the need for an individual to control their destiny.

Gao aims at addressing collectivism and individualism and the issue of salvation where characters in the play cross the river of life although at the end they find out that the nirvana they were after does not exist. This play does not replicate life realistically but instead, it gives an imaginary world that so the actors are permitted to continually give a different interpretation of their roles (Fusini 180). The other shore emphasizes that individuals are always in pursuit of freedom.

A man crosses the river and embarks on a search that could have liberated him if he was successful. The author highlights the impact of language on relationships; when actors lost all languages, they had to be taught afresh for them to distinguish themselves from each other. It is the education of the woman that made them regain their language even though after fully acquiring their languages they killed her collectively (Mambrol 4). Language has the capability of uniting people, separating them, and even causing them harm.

This play is labeled as an experimental theater category and a political fable. It achieves subjective power by connecting elements of Chinese and experiential philosophy. The play is regarded to have been an exercise for actors intended to assess their flexibility by compelling them to engage in multiple roles. The book has a comprehensible plot with dramatic problems and resolutions that most theatrical works represent; there is minimal understandable moral development throughout the plays single out (Chun 240). The play addresses profound political, psychological, and social issues that have been matters of life and death for many in China.

Gao is an author of what he regards to be steadily unpolitical literature; he chose to focus his play on the struggles of personality and of the individual. He believes that if philosophy unites with power and is changed into a factual force then destruction will happen to both the individual and the plays. Nevertheless, in a theater world with realism and communism inspected by the Chinese government, Gao’s pieces were considered rebellious.

The Other Shore is a spectacular collection of pieces investigating many aspects of the human condition and the contest and association among the individual and the society (Nagata and Ravi 6). The play has explored different themes including spirituality, hatred, cruelty, and relationships. The play was inspired by Chinese ethnicities and Buddhism and likewise by the western artistic and is difficult to understand and all the more appropriate in light of the growing social globalization of the contemporary world.

Humans have to find a way of retaining distinctiveness in the face of globalization and therefore this piece is seen as a reflection of what means to be human from the perspective of a Buddhist. Gao states that his ideas are meant to expose the realities of the modern man and his circumstances of living. The writer’s language is lyrical most times and sometimes gossipy although it can be very powerful. His texts address the heart directly touching the very center of the human soul.

The author does not yell in this play, he avoids fighting the war meant for other but resort to fighting only the one that is in his heart. His play is a short but complicated one and its plot has disorganized narrative pieces that do not essentially link to one another but each of the units is independent and is meaningful by itself. The play was intended to be a revelation to show several life experiences dramatically.

In conclusion, the author has captivatingly presented a meditated piece of literature in play form by revealing the tensions that are predominant among the crowds as well as the rights individuals have to exist. The other shore play by Gao begins in a destitute manner and it culminates in confusion and desolation proven by how people are seen engaging in random talks and this clearly shows that there is confusion in the final scenes of the play. The author displays the daily struggles of ordinary citizens through metaphors and imagery and so aspirations of individuals to have a better tomorrow through the longing to cross to the other side of the shore.

This was done so that individuals achieve nirvana as portrayed in the country of China. The desire for individuals and the collectives to gain power is also a reflection of their daily struggles. The nature of humans and the changes that take place in the country has also been reflected by the author. Finally, Gao has revealed to individuals how their daily existence is dependent on their continual aspirations and anticipation for a better future. The piece done by Gao pushes one to reflect on his or her life.

Works Cited

Chun, Tarryn Li-Min. “Gao Xingjian’s Post-Exile Plays: Transnationalism and Postdramatic Theatre by Mary Mazzilli.” Asian Theatre Journal 34.1 (2017): 239-242.

Gao, Xingjian. The other shore: plays. Chinese University Press, 1999.

Fusini, Letizia. Dionysus on the Other Shore: Gao Xingjian’s Theatre of the Tragic. Brill, 2020.

Lee, Mabel, and Jianmei Liu, eds. Gao Xingjian and Transmedia Aesthetics. Cambria Press, 2018.

Mambrol, Nasrullah. “Analysis of Gao Xingjian’s the other shore.” Literary theory and criticism, 2020. Web.

Nagata, Yasushi, and Ravi Charturvedi. Modernization of Asian Theatres. Singapore: Springer, 2019.

Song, Binghui. “The experimental drama of Gao Xingjian inspired by avant-garde theatre.” Neohelicon 46.1 (2019): 69-79.

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