Snow in August
Gilbert Fong's lucid translation of the Chinese Nobel Laureate Gao Xingjian's Snow in August is a welcome addition to the growing body of Gao's works available in English. Fong has already translated a number of Gao's plays and published them as a collection under the title The Other Shore: Plays by Gao Xingjian (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1999). Snow in August is both readable and suitable for performance. Therefore, like The Other Shore, this single play volume lends itself to use in both drama and acting courses. Fong has retained most of the wordplay and puns and has preserved the sudden changes in register and the style of Gao's original Chinese.
Snow in August comes with an informative introduction to the play [End Page 214] and its author, but does not include a bibliography. For further reading, readers will have to turn to Fong's The Other Shore, which comes with useful appendices of selected criticism and major productions of Gao's plays. Snow in August contains eight color plates of the production in Taiwan (2002) and a number of black and white reproductions of Gao's paintings inspired by Zen Buddhism. These illustrations help readers envision Gao's ideas of staging and visualization.
The introduction connects the biographies of the hero and the playwright. Huineng, the subject of the play, was an unorthodox Zen Buddhist master and the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism. Gao is an unorthodox intellectual and playwright. Fong observes that both Huineng and Gao are exiles and outsiders to the established orders. The play adapts Beijing opera performing idioms. Huineng, an illiterate Chinese Zen Buddhist master, is the quintessential representation of intellectual freedom and spontaneous Truth. Gao's creative impulse has, likewise, led him to a long search for freedom. The introduction provides outlines and critical analysis of each act.
Gao's ideal theater, as represented by Snow in August's premier in Taiwan, was not well received. It would have been helpful if the introduction addressed the reception of Snow in August and its controversial use of Beijing opera style. A balanced representation of the promise and problems of Snow in August would save the unsuspecting and nonspecialist readers from missing an interesting part of the history of a complex and provocative play. Nonetheless, this compact translation of a single play with a brief introduction is both portable and useful.