2009 Golo Mann Lecture
In Search of My Homeland
ER TAI GAO
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 2009
Among numerous memoirs by Chinese authors, In Search of My Homeland stands out as an eloquent testimony to the violation and destruction of humanity. This revered scholar of aesthetic theories has written not only about his personal suffering in the remote labor camps and the political persecution he and his family experienced, but also about the fates of many common people. His style is fortified by concision, elegance, restraint, and depth. Each chapter here stands alone as a story and together they form a historical panorama of the Chinese society in the second half of the twentieth century. However, this is not just a book bearing historical witness; it is authentic literature.
Writer, critic, painter and scholar Er Tai Gao was born in 1935 near Nanjing. A former member of the Council of the National Association of Art and Literary Theory, he is widely known in China for his contributions to aesthetic theory. In 1957, he published an essay, "On Beauty," that challenged the prevailing Communist stance on aesthetics and objectivity. Gao was quickly branded a "rightist" and sentenced to three years of hard labor in the Gobi desert, where nearly three-quarters of his fellow prisoners died. Over the next forty years, as the Cultural Revolution overtook China and ensuing campaigns toward "eradicating spiritual pollution" rose in its wake, Gao's strong humanist views, which he expressed through his writing and teaching, made him a target of the Chinese government. He was sentenced again to hard labor from 1966 to 1972, and later dismissed from his duties at Lanzhou University and prohibited from writing and publishing. He was arrested in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square protests, and, after spending nearly a year in prison, was again prohibited from teaching and publishing. In 1992, he and his wife, the painter Maya Gao, escaped to Hong Kong and now live in exile in Las Vegas, Nevada. Gao's published works include The Struggle of Beauty and Beauty, The Symbol of Freedom (1987). His memoir, In Search of My Homeland, was published October 20, 2009 by HarperCollins.
Gao has been a member of the faculty at the Dunhuang Cultural Relics Research Institute and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Philosophy, and a professor at Lanzhou University, Sichuan Normal University, Nankai University, and Nanjing University.
Er Tai Gao’s visit to CMC, his second, is sponsored the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies as the 2009 Golo Mann lecture. This lecture is made possible through the generosity of CMC alumnus Eugene Wolver '51. Several works of art by Er Tai and Maya Gao will be on exhibit at the Athenaeum for this presentation, in anticipation of a full exhibition of their work beginning in January, 2010.