Course:ASIA351/2021/Wang Xiaobo

From UBC Wiki
Wang Xiaobo (王小波)
A Picture of Wang Xiaobo
Born 13 May, 1952

Beijing, China

Died 11 April, 1997

Beijing, China

Occupation Writer
Education Renmin University of China (1978-1982),

University of Pittsburgh (1984-1988)

Period 1980 - 1997
Genre Political fiction

Wang Xiaobo (王小波) was born on May 13, 1952 in Beijing and passed away on April 11, 1997, at the age of 45.[1] He was a famous contemporary Chinese novelist and essayist. Wang himself was known as an educated youth, and has worked as an educator and factory worker. After receiving his Master's Degree at the University of Pittsburgh[2] in 1988, Wang became a lecturer at Peking University and Renmin University of China. He then quit to become a freelance writer to focus on his literary work.[3] During the latter years of the 1990s in China, "his popularity reached unprecedented heights."[3] Subsequent to Wang’s death, in 2004 the first list of China’s 50 “most influential public intellectuals” was published and included his name.[3] His major works include the Trilogy of Ages which comprises of three volumes respectively: The Golden Age, The Silver Age, and The Bronze Age, and his well known essay "The Silent Majority" (1997).[4] The title story of the first volume of his trilogy, "The Golden Age" was awarded a "major prize in Taiwan", which "made [him] famous virtually overnight," as readers were attracted by "the combination of sexually explicit scenes and the sensitive subject" of sent-down youths in the times of the Cultural Revolution.[5] Wang Xiaobo dedicated his most influential literary works to Chinese literature history in the 1990s. During this time, China had a tremendous economic transformation, so Wang Xiaobo's work had crossed over time from late Qing to contemporary China.[6] After his death, his life story and literary works had an exhibition at Beijing Lu Xun Memorial Hall in Spring 2005 as a representative contemporary Chinese literature writer.[6]


Family Background

Father: Wang Fangming (王方名), from Qu Country (渠县), Sichuan Province; he was a logician and a professor at Renmin University of China[7]. In 1952 before Wang Xiaobo‘s birth date, he was wrongly labelled as a "class dissident," therefore, his post as commissioner of the Higher Education Department was revoked; until 1979, he was rehabilitated and resumed his party membership[7].

Mother: Song Hua (宋华), from Muping County (牟平县), Shandong Province and is a cadre of the Ministry of Education; later met with Wang Fangming (Wang Xiaobo's father) at the anti-Japanese base in Shandong.[7]

Eldest Sister: Wang Xiaoqin (王小芹)

Second Older Sister: Wang Zheng (王征)

Older Brother: Wang Xiaoping (王小平)

Younger Brother: Wang Chenguang (王晨光)

Experience of Early Life

May 13, 1952: Wang Xiaobo was born into a revolutionary intellectual family in Beijing.[7] However, the "class dissident" incident of Wang Xiaobo's father had influenced his future life.

April 11, 1957: Due to the tense relationship between China and the Soviet Union, Wang Xiaobo's father published a series of articles on the logic textbooks of the Soviet Union, which caused significant repercussions.[7] As a result, Wang Fangming, Zhou Gucheng (周谷城) and others went to Chairman Mao's interview.[7] This matter had a certain impact on Wang Xiaobo's family situation and his growing-up environment.

1958: The Great Leap Forward Movement left a deep impression on Wang Xiaobo, which can be seen in some of his essays and novels.

1959: At the age of seven, Wang Xiaobo entered a primary school affiliated with Renmin University of China. Although he was at the age of seven, he was able to read Outlaws of the Marsh《水浒传》, a short edition of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio《聊斋志异》, fairy tales and recite long poems by Mayakovsky.[7]

1964: Wang Xiaobo, who was in Grade 5, wrote a composition that was selected as a model essay and broadcasted in the school.[7] This experience indeed was an affirmation of his ability to write.

1966: Wang Xiaobo, who was in the first grade of junior high school, was involved in the red guard organization of the Ministry of Education and witnessed the vice-minister Liu Shi jump down from a building and burst his brain.[7] Consequently, the Cultural Revolution period of life created a massive impact on Wang Xiaobo's perception of the world.

1968: During his participation in the Down to the Countryside Movement in Yunnan and Shandong, Wang Xiaobo began his literary creation.[8]

1969: Wang Xiaobo was diagnosed with acute hepatitis the first year he arrived in Yunnan.[7]

1973: He participated in the Down to the Countryside Movement in his mother's hometown (Muping County (牟平县), Shandong Province). Wang Xiaobo's early works, such as 《战福》,《荷兰牧场与父老乡亲》,《绿毛水怪》,《我在荒岛上迎接黎明》, and 《这辈子》were created based on his experience in the movement.[7]

1978: Failed to attend The Central Academy of Drama, but was later admitted to the Department of Trade and Economics at Renmin University of China.[7]

1982: Graduated from university and taught at a branch school of Renmin University of China; his life as a teacher is the background story of his novel《三十而立》.[7]

1984: Went to the United States and attended the University of Pittsburgh.[8]

1986: Received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh.[8]

1988: Returned to China with his wife and taught at Peking University and Renmin University of China.[8]

1993: Quit his job and devoted himself to literary creation.

1994: In this year, Wang Xiaobo ushered in the peak of his essay creation[7], which would later earn him a reputation as a liberal intellectual.

1995: The Golden Age《黄金时代》started to serialize and published in the magazine called 《人之初》.[7]

1997: Wang Xiaobo deceased of a heart attack at the age of 45.

Conclusively, most of Wang Xiaobo's works were created based on his own life experiences; therefore, people could gain insights into the old society through reading his works. Although Wang Xiaobo is no longer alive, all of his works have significantly influenced future generations.


Wife: Li Yinhe (李银河), born in Beijing in 1952; a Doctor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, a researcher, professor, and doctoral supervisor in Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.[9] Encountered Wang Xiaobo at the beginning of 1977[9] because of the popular script of 《绿毛水怪》, and married him on January 21, 1980.[7] On October 10, 1996, Li Yinhe was on her way to Cambridge University as a visiting scholar. Her goodbye to Wang Xiaobo at the airport was her last chance to speak with him.[9]

Literary Career

Wang Xiaobo was born in an intellectual family and was enlightened by various works of literature in childhood. In 1968, Wang initially started his own literary production during the sent-down period in Yunan and Shandong.[8] In 1991, Wang returned and was recruited by the Renmin University of China and worked under the Department of Accounting. However, in 1992 September, Wang resigns from the Renmin University of China and concentrates on his literary career.[10]

Early Stage

As a famed and influential writer in China, Wang produced and published many stunning literary works in his career. By the time of his death in 1997, Wang had written three novels, nine novellas, ten short stories, and essays with approximately hundreds of thousands of characters.[11] However, there were several early works that Wang never published, including《绿毛水怪》、《战福》、《这是真的》、《哥仙》、《这辈子》、《变形记》、《我在荒岛上迎接黎明》、《猫》、《不成功的爱情》、《地久天长》, and《马但丁》.[10] Although these early works were never individually published, these works were collected and edited by Ai Xiaoming and published in 1998 as a collection titled《黑铁时代——王小波早期作品及未竟 稿集》.[10]

Second Stage

After the composition of these early works, which what Wang considered as "immature," Wang's literary career began to get on the right track. From 1984 to 1991, Wang's literary career entered the second stage, where he started to produce and publish several mature works. In 1989, Wang published his first novel collection titled《唐人密传故事》, including 《立新街甲一号与昆仑奴》、《红线盗盒》、《红拂夜奔》Running Away At Night、《夜行记》, and《舅舅情人》.[10]

Rising Stage

Most of Wang's representative works emerged during the 1990s, and he mainly focused his literary theme on the life of educated youths. During the rising period of Wang's literary career, he highly produced many literary works and began to publish on the literary periodical. Wang completed the first draft of The Golden Age during his study at the University of Pittsburgh, and in 1991, The Golden Age received the Novelette Award of the 13th United Daily News Literature Prize.[10] During the period from 1992 to 1997, Wang completed most of his representative works and many of his works were published in the literary periodical. However, it is difficult to trace the various editions and the publication dates of Wang's literary works, but the approximate writing timeline is as follows:[10]

1992: 《革命时期的爱情》Love in Revolution

1992/1993: 《我的阴阳两界》 My Two Boundaries of Yin and Yang

1993 July: 《寻找无双》In Search of Wushuang

1993: 《红拂夜奔》Running Away At Night

1993: 《2010》

1994 April: 《未来世界》Future World

1995: 《2015》

1996 Summer: 《万寿寺》Wan Show Temple

1996 Fall: 《白银时代》The Silver Age

1996 Winter: 《时代三部曲》Trilogy of Ages: The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age


1991: Novelette Award of the 13th United Daily News Literature Prize - The Golden Age

1995: Novelette Award of the 16th United Daily News Literature Prize - Future World

1997: Mar del Plata International Film Festival Best Script Award - East Palace, West Palace

Representative works


《黄金时代》 The Golden Age (1992)

Wang started writing The Golden Age in 1982 and published in 1992 in Taiwan, and was acclaimed because of this work.

The story illustrates the sentimental awakening of a sent-down youth in the country, which becomes the most reflective and provocative fictional works devoted to the Cultural Revolution. Though it is considered as "scar literature", rather than focusing on the miserable lives of the victims of the violence of Maoism, the playful fictionality of Wang's writing reclaims the active posture of the individuals.

Wang trivializes Maoists' ideology of achieving a "Golden Age" of communism through the suppressions by converting the environment of the Countryside Movement to a place full of opportunities for sexual activities. [12] The sexual relationship between Wang'er and Chen Qingyang reflected their rebellious attitudes towards the absurd society and their desire for freedom.

《白银时代》 The Silver Age (1997)

The setting of the story is a totalitarian utopia in the beginning of the 21st century.

Wang depicts an intellectual protagonist who makes a living by writing programmed literature repetitively. Besides, all employees will be flogged at the end of the month depending on their performances. In this utopia, the passion of writing and freedom of speech is abolished to ensure a unitary society. The indignation towards the arranged settled life, humiliation and the pursuit of liberation drew the protagonist into a miserable state, in which he eventually lost his internal dignity, and became a masochist of the system.

The reference to a fictional time denounces the history, warns the future, and also reveals the terror and absurdity to the contemporary living state, especially for intellectuals.[13]

Wang mocked authoritarianism as well as the surrenders who would rather be enslaved. He believed that it is the submissiveness from the victims towards their position led to the eventual acceptance, and consolidated the absurd social structure.[13]

Short stories and Essays collections

《唐人故事》The Story of Tang-ren (1989)

The Story of Tang-ren is Wang's first novel collection composed of five stories. The novels were originally written in the 1980s and published at his own expense by printing 1,000 copies in total. [14]

The collection embodies Wang Xiaobo's pursuit of artistic imagination. Relying on the legends of the Tang Dynasty, he created these fictional stories, and composed those legendary figures and events in the time and space between ancient and modern times. His narration was unbounded, passionate and full of vitality.

Wang uses a new storytelling method to extract anecdotes from the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era (太平廣記 978 AD) and reorganized them with his own ideas. His stories are not restricted to the form of traditional or superficial fairy tales, but they incorporate the essence of art which demonstrates Wang's unique artistic understanding in literature. By ridiculing people of the Tang Dynasty from the perspective of a modern urchin, the detachment innovated a happy escape from the mission concept that a typical Chinese novel was expected to carry.[13]

The other novel collection《青铜时代》The Bronze Age (1997) refurnished some of the stories from The Story of Tang-ren,

《沉默的大多数》 The Silent Majority (1997)

The collection of essays are mainly argumentative. Wang frequently uses humorous and black humour as literary devices to concretize complex theoretical problems such as the awkward position of minority groups. He makes full use of the art of language and philosophy to continue the critical tradition since the May 4th movement. [15]

Wang compares discourse to the term 话语权 (discursive tax) to satirize the transitional phenomenon of Chinese people from being obligated to speak to inclined to speak. In Wang's opinion, the silent majority’s everyday lives, experiences, and language are subdued, but not entirely evaporated by dominant discursive structures and narratives. Instead, they constitute a potential chaos that can be excavated, articulated, and reworked.[16]


Wang Xiaobo's novels and essays have reached "cult status among China's youth."[3] Specifically, among students and readers under the age of 35, he continues being a largely read and discussed author even years after his death. He has also been acknowledged by "literary establishments" who had previously shown hostility towards his work.[5] In 2011, to commemorate his death anniversary, Changjiang Literature and Art "published a new seven-volume selection" of his work.[4]

Wang's admirers "praised [him] as a literary genius due to his original language style, creative imagination, free spirit and rational thinking, as well as his choice to live a ‘liberal’ lifestyle as a freelance writer.” However, mainstream literary critics were “reluctant to consecrate Wang’s literary achievement” as the “boldness of sexuality in his works” were controversial. As a result, Wang and his “sexual representations were appropriated by the media to legitimize certain value judgements, justify particular cultural stances, and make specific social distinctions in 1990s China."[17]

Moreover, Wang had a contrasting perception of Maoism in comparison to intellectual groups involved in the intellectual debate in 1990s China during the reform.[16] Thus, his popularization of the conception of "weak groups" or ruoshi qunti (弱势群体) became fundamental in academic discourse that "completely turned around the Marxist theory of society".[4] Wang’s view of "weak groups" are the "subaltern groups", in particular homosexuals, sex workers, migrant rural workers, and those of Mao Zedong’s Five Black Categories (黑五类 heiwulei), who stay silent due to reasons such as their inability to, the lack of an opportunity or by choice, or the "silent majority".[4][5][18] Further, he saw the "migrant workers in the reform era are a new incarnation of the disenfranchised 'black elements' of Mao's time". This understanding of society consisting of various "weak groups" under the oppression of power "informed the activities of an entire generation of 'grassroots intellectuals'" (ie. academics, legal activists, and NGO workers), which has just began progressing after Wang's death.[4]


  • East Palace, West Palace (1996) is a film directed by Zhang Yuan adapted from Wang's novella, "Sentiments Like Water".[5]

Further Reading


1. Okay, Whatever: Intellectuals, Sex, and Time in Wang Xiaobo's "The Golden Age”[19]

Intensely focusing on analyzing Wang Xiaobo's literary work and observes why Wang depicted the novel highly sexually and politically through Wang Er's character in the book "The Golden Age."

2. The Subversive “Pleasure of Thinking”[20]

The article explains Wang Xiaobo's literary works through the Cultural Revolution, Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality, and Wang's experience.

3. Utopian Fiction and Critical Examination: The Cultural Revolution in Wang Xiaobo’s “The Golden Age”[21]

The author deeply analyzed how Wang Xiaobo was against the utopia of Maoism and politics, and how Wang encourages intellectuals to open the new literature world.

4. Creating a Literary Space to Debate the Mao Era: The Fictionalization of the Great Leap Forward in Yan Lianke's Four Books.[22]

A brief explanation of the scar literature of the late 1970s introduces how Wang Xiaobo's literary work represented a new form of writing with the example of "The Golden Age."


1. Exhibiting the Past: Historical Memory and the Politics of Museums in Postsocialist China[6]

The book introduces how Wang Xiaobo's literary work exhibited as the first individual Chinese literature writer in Beijing Lu Xun Memorial Hall. Further, the chapter also includes the content of how Lu Xun and Wang's literary work has relation.

2. Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals[23]

The author, Sebastian Veg, defines and explains what the meaning of "Minjian" is; also, he depicts how Minjian smudged into the Chinese society. In this book, Veg analyzes and explores the intellectual literature writer from various perspectives.

3. Wang Xiaobo: From the Golden Age to the Iron Age, or, Writing against the Gravity of History[24]

The book introduces how Wang Xiaobo's individual experience, political and sexual points relate with his literary works, "The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, Trilogy of Our Time and Wang Er series."

4. A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film (PART TWO: CENTRIFUGAL TRAUMA)[25]

The book introduces the diversity of Wang's literary works. It explains how the Cultural Revolution and Yunnan's geography had reflected the literary works mainly through the character Wang Er and his novella "The Golden Age."

5. Wang Xiaobo and the no longer silent majority[26]

The Impact of China's 1989 Tiananmen Massacre introduces how and why Wang Xiaobo's literary work has relation to the spirit of the 1980s and dealing with history and politics. Also, the author will examine why Wang Xiaobo decided to come out to the public after the student movement in Tiananmen. Further, the author, Sebastian Veg, will mainly discuss and analyze Wang's work published between 1995 and 1997 in the four categories.


  1. Wang, Sen (2019). 《余波未了》. Guangzhou: 广东人民出版社. p. 2. ISBN 978-7-218-13479-6.
  2. "Rich History". Rich History | University of Pittsburgh - Shanghai.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Fornahl, Kai (16 May 2014). "East Asian Library - Digital Resources - Fifty Influential Public Intellectuals". Bibliothek, Abteilung Ostasien.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Veg, Sebastian (April 11, 2017). "Commemorating an Anti-Authoritarian Provocateur: Reflections on Wang Xiaobo". BLARB.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Veg, Sebastian. “The Subversive ‘Pleasure of Thinking.’” China Perspectives, French Centre for Research on Contemporary China, 1 Jan. 2008,
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Denton, Kirk A (2014). "8: Literary Politics and Cultural Heritage Modern Literature Museums". [ Exhibiting the past : historical memory and the politics of museums in postsocialist China] Check |url= value (help). University of Hawaiʻi Press. pp. 177–198. ISBN 0-8248-3687-1.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 Huang, Ping (2017). 《反讽者说 当代文学的边缘作家与反讽传统 微光 青年批评家集丛》. Shanghai: 上海文艺出版社. pp. 153–163. ISBN 978-7-5321-6382-3.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Song, Xiangyang; Wang, Zhenjun (2017). 中国现当代文学精品导读. Beijing: 中国广播影视出版社. p. 239. ISBN 7-5043-7843-9 Check |isbn= value: checksum (help).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Editors of the book (2008). 《读者参考丛书 83 安贫与安富》. Shanghai: 学林出版社. pp. 151–154. ISBN 978-7-80730-700-6.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Huang, Ping (2017). [10.19862/j.cnki.xsyk.2017.12.018 "王小波与文学史 (Wang Xiaobo and Chinese Contemporary Literature History)"] Check |url= value (help). Academic Monthly. 49: 134–143, 133.
  11. Wang, Duo (2017). A Study of Wang Xiaobo’s Works in Contemporary China. Chengdu: 西南交通大学. pp. 1–77.
  12. Veg, Sebastian (2007). "Utopian Fiction and Critical Examination: The Cultural Revolution in Wang Xiaobo's "The Golden Age"". China Perspectives. 4: 75–87 – via JSTOR.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Han, Y.H. 2008. "A Study of Wang Xiaobo's Novels". East China Normal University. Shanghai.
  14. "唐人故事", Douban, Available: 17 Mar. 2021.
  15. Liu, Shuang (2019). "呼唤自由的先声——浅析王小波《沉默的大多数》". 青年文学家: 48–50 – via CNKI.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Gao, Gengsong (Spring 2019). "Work through Power, Discourse, and Subject Formation". Modern Chinese Literature and Culture. 31: 121–160 – via JSTOR.
  17. Ma, Yue (July 2005). "Wang Xiaobo: The Double Temptation of Revolution and Sexual Allurement" (PDF). Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies. 31.2: 203, 210–211 – via Airiti Library.
  18. Wang, Xiaobo. "The Silent Majority." Asia Literary Review, 1997, p. 22,
  19. Larson, Wendy (Spring 2003). [ "Okay, Whatever: Intellectuals, Sex, and Time in Wang Xiaobo's "The Golden Years""] Check |url= value (help). China Review. 3, NO. 1: 29–56 – via JSTOR.
  20. Sebastian, Veg (2008/1). [http:// "The Subversive "Pleasure of Thinking""] Check |url= value (help). China Perspectives. doi: 3483 Check |doi= value (help) – via JSTOR. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. Sebastian, Veg (December 2010). "Utopian Fiction and Critical Examination: The Cultural Revolution in Wang Xiaobo's "The Golden Age"". China Perspectives. doi:10.4000/chinaperspectives.2613 – via JSTOR.
  22. Veg, Sebastian (2014/4). "Creating a Literary Space to Debate the Mao Era". China Perspectives: 7–15. doi: Check |doi= value (help) – via OpenEdition Journals. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  23. Veg, Sebastian (April 23, 2019). "Wang Xiaobo and the Silent Majority: Redefining the Role of Intellectuals After Tiananmen". Minjian: The Rise of China’s Grassroots Intellectuals (Global Chinese Culture). Columbia University Press. pp. 52–83. ISBN 0231191405.
  24. Huang, Yibing (2007). "5. Wang Xiaobo: From the Golden Age to the Iron Age, or, Writing against the Gravity of History". Contemporary Chinese literature : from the Cultural Revolution to the future. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 137–180. ISBN 9781403979827.
  25. Berry, Michael (New York 2008). ""Yunnan 1968." A History of Pain: Trauma in Modern Chinese Literature and Film,". Columbia University Press: 253–297 – via JSTOR. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  26. Veg, Sebastian (2010). "Wang Xiaobo and the no longer silent majority". In Béja, Jean-Phillippe (ed.). The Impact of China's 1989 Tiananmen Massacre (1st Edition ed.). Routledge. pp. 86–94. ISBN 9780203842607.CS1 maint: extra text (link)

This resource was created by the UBC Wiki Community.