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Who is Wang Xiaobo

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There are probably ONLY two alumni from University of Pittsburgh who are (were) well-known public figures in China.

One is a renowned Chinese novelist Mr. Wang Xiaobo (a master’s degree from University of Pittsburgh in Asian Studies,1988). The other one is his wife Ms. Li Yinhe (a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Pittsburgh,1988), the beacon of sociology in sexuality in China, an activist for LGBT rights.

It’s the 21st year since Wang passed away at age of 45 at his home in the suburb of Beijing. A heart attack took away his life.

But who is Wang anyway?

In a nutshell, he’s China’s Calvino, or Patrick Modiano, or William Faulkner. But only if they were all outcasts in eyes of a collectivism society, and if they were university instructors in Accounting and self-taught computer programmers besides a freelancer novelist career. Then Wang is the equivalent of those big names.

Wang died at the end of 20th century, prior to the handover of Hong Kong from UK to China. To date, his essays, novels, and his name, have been shimmering among liberal-minded Chinese readers.

For people who are interested to read about him in English, here is the article on The New York Review of Books about Wang written by Ian Johnson.

An Italian writer Hugo Bertello came across the name of “Wang Xiaobo” during his trip in Morocco. It just happened over a chat with a backpacker from Shanghai.

I found his account of this encounter rather novelistic, hence I roughly polished the Google translated version of the Italian texts, as the end of my wee piece dedicated to the memory of Wang.

Here it is:

The first time I “met” Wang Xiaobo was on a bus. It was August of 2013, Morocco. The vehicle was struggling through the shabby streets of Morocco. The outside temperature was 42 ° C, the inside temperature a little bit higher.

The bus driver had brought a single CD of melodic Arabic music for the eight hours of the journey, which was repeated at high volume. Tested by the altitude, the heat and the waves of habibi coming from the speakers, I started a conversation with the person besides me.

She told me that she’s from Shanghai, and in a while she began to talk to me enthusiastically about European and South American literature.

She knew by heart of Kafka, Hesse, Camus,Calvino, Borges and all those that needed to be known. I was stunned. I asked her to recommend someone from her country. About a billion Chinese people in the world I knew one author only, Mo Yan. (In 2012, Mo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature) A shameful moment for me.

She did not hesitate and immediately uttered those three phonemes: Wang-Xiao-Bo.

She said that Wang was an outcast, but for her Wang was bigger than Confucius and Mao put together.

In a desert during the trip, I was “haunted”by that name and later I conducted a brief search on the internet. His page on Wikipedia was available in four languages and some of his books had been published in the United States and in France. I immediately ordered my copy.

As I slowly flipped through the pages, I learned more about the author’s life and learned of the three years he spent inrural Yunnan province at his youth, at a Maoist-inspired “rustication” center.

I also discovered that Xiaobo in Chinese meant “little wave”, a name which in this historical context had are volutionary meaning and had been chosen for him by his father, an academic (in Science of Logic) in struggle with the Party apparatus.

From that point it became clear that those of Wang Xiaobo were essentially the writings of a partisan born in the early 50s in Beijing and with a certain obsession with sex, which in his vision represented the engine of all forms of resistance.

Not only that, they were also the writings of a talented author, capable of a sometimes coarse irony, others very fine, but always careful in his narration to stay within the confines of a profound poetry.

Four years after that trip, “The Meaning of the Art”, the first work by Wang Xiaobo available in our country, is now released in Italy. The translation has been cumbersome, long, treacherous, carried out by the writer mainly from English, with incursions from the original through bizarre connections.

For his availability and copyright, we would like to thank the wife of the late author, sociologist Li Yinhe. In Chinese, Yinhe means galaxy.

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