Premier Kazakh Literary Competition Announces Winners

Novel by Aydos Amantay, winning entry for the Aksay New Writer's Award

Novel by Aydos Amantay, winning entry for the Aksay New Writer’s Award

The winners of the first-ever Aksay Kazakh Literary Competition have been announced (“阿克塞” 哈萨克族文学奖揭晓). It joins two existing high-profile sets of awards for writing in non-Han languages: the Junma Ethnic Literary Awards, which accepts entries in all indigenous languages besides Mandarin, and the Duorina Mongolian Literary Prize. The competition was jointly sponsored by China Institute of Minority Writers and Aksay Kazakh Autonomous County in Gansu Province, with the collaboration of National Literature Magazine (民族文学).

Some 94 entries were reportedly judged. The press release states that the entries were overwhelmingly in Kazakh (only 5 in Chinese), but I am not sure this is the case — at least 2 of the winners below are in Chinese, after all. It may be that the “Kazakh” nature of the competition refers to either the language of the entry, or the ethnicity of the author or that the topic is intimately related to the Kazakh lifestyle. Since all the titles have been given in Chinese, and none in Kazakh, it’s difficult to clarify!

At any rate, here are the winners:

Grand Aksay Literary Award

《幻想》: poetry collection by 叶尔兰·努尔得汗

Aksay Creative Writing Award

《艾克拜尔·米吉提短篇小说精选》: short story collection by 艾克拜尔·米吉提

《生存》: short story collection by 朱玛拜·比拉勒

《无眠的长夜》: novella by 胡马尔别克·状汗

《东迁的哈萨克》: reportage by 阿排泰·木哈拉甫

Aksay Translation Award

Mo Yan’s《透明的红萝卜》(The Crystal Carrot) as translated into Kazakh by 卡克西·海尔江

《唐加勒克诗歌集》: poetry collection as translated into Chinese by 阿依努尔·毛吾力提

Aksay New Writer’s Award

《艾多斯 舒立凡》: novel by 艾多斯·阿曼泰 (Aydos Amantay)

《音色阳光》: poetry collection by 哈志别克·艾达尔汗

11th-Century Turkic Classic “Kutadgu Bilig” Recited in Chinese at the Great Hall of the People

Wish I could have been there along with former Minister of Culture Wang Meng — a Han who spent part of the Cultural Revolution in Ili laboring

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency:  What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency: What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

among Uyghurs — and central government and Xinjiang dignitaries. I was briefly in Beijing but unaware of the event: On January 18, a new Chinese rendition of the 11th-Century Turkic Classic Kutadgu Bilig (福乐智慧) was launched and an excerpt recited at the Great Hall of the People.

The symbolism of this recital should not be underestimated. It took place on Tiananmen Square, the heart of political China, at a time when Xinjiang society is the object of a harsh crackdown that at times appears more “anti-Uyghur” than “anti-terrorist”: Uyghur women wearing the hijab and long-bearded men are being banned from public transport; Uyghurs in some areas of Xinjiang can no longer travel freely with their national ID, but must apply for difficult-to-obtain additional identification such as a (便民卡, or “Convenience Card”); moderate Uyghur intellectual and spokesman Ilham Tohti has recently been sentenced to life in jail for operating a web site alleged to have incited separatism; and hundreds of writers and translators have reportedly signed an Open letter to our Uyghur Compatriots in which they call for Muslims to “go to mosques under the sunshine instead of illegal teaching sites hidden in underground dens.”

In this context, the re-publication — it was first published in 2003, and nothing in the news item explains if there is any major difference between the two editions — of the Chinese-language Kutadgu Bilig is intriguing. Thus the questions: What is the nature of the work, and why the high-profile relaunch?

The book was authored by Yusuf Khass Hajib (يۈسۈپ خاس ھاجىپ‎), an 11th-century Turkic poet from the city of Balasaghun, the capital of the Karakhanid Empire in modern-day Kyrgyzstan. He died in Kashgar in 1085 and a mausoleum now stands on his gravesite.

According to Wikipedia, Kutadgu Bilig was written in Uyghur-Karluk language (Middle Turkic), and employed the Arabic mutaqārib metre (couplets of two rhyming 11-syllable lines). [Read more…]

Compiling New 150,000-entry Tibetan Dictionary: Any Role for the Tibetan Diaspora?

1902 Tibetan-English Dictionary: Compiled by an Indian spy for the British Empire

1902 Tibetan-English Dictionary: Compiled by an Indian spy for the British Empire

Xinhua reports that the first 3 volumes of a new all-Tibetan dictionary will be published within 2015, with another 27 to be gradually launched through the end of 2018 (新版《藏文大辞典》). The aim seems to be to create the Tibetan equivalent of the much respected《辞海》(Cihai), the large-scale dictionary and encyclopedia of the Chinese language.

Anyone who follows the PRC’s dictionary scene knows that the Chinese authorities can be more than a tad political about these reference tools – which script they employ, which words make the cut (or don’t), and crucially, who actually edits them.

The news item informs us that there are some 8 million potential end-users out there in China, Bhutan, Nepal and India. Given that about 120,000 Tibetan refugees are located in India (source: Wikipedia), many of whom have been educated in English and have unfettered access to the Internet (unlike their compatriots who live behind the Great Firewall of China), one might imagine some ethnic Tibetan scholars in India have been invited to take part in the compilation. Or academics worldwide, for that matter.

There was nothing in the news item about whether anyone outside mainland China would play a part in the massive project. Over the years I have used and/or reviewed many dictionaries compiled in China (see Turkish-Chinese Dictionary or Vaporware), and the prevailing spirit is well captured in an old Chinese idiom: Fabricating a cart behind closed doors (闭门造车). In fact, it wasn’t until recently that Taiwan-based scholars began to be officially consulted about all-Chinese dictionaries, a development that has helped to make them more inclusive and representative of Chinese as it is actually used worldwide.

Just take a look at one of China’s leading works, The Chinese-English Dictionary (《汉英大辞典》,吴光华主编) published in 2010: Well over 500 names of compilers/editors are listed for the past and current three editions, but not one is in English, and none of the names look faintly non-Chinese, i.e., have more than 3 syllables, etc. [Read more…]

“Nationalities Literature” Magazine Announces 2014 Award Winners

China’s most high-profile, state-run “literature-in-translation” magazine available in Mandarin and five indigenous languages, Nationalities Literature (民族文学), has announced its 2014 awards for excellent novels, short stories, translations, poetry and “China Dream” essays. Only pieces published in at least one edition of the magazine are eligible. For the full list, see 年度奖 .

Perhaps in an attempt to bring a bit of glasnost to the judging process for literary awards that has been strongly criticized — see 2014 Scandals for details — the news item notes that 23 judges took part, including several whose names indicate they are themselves members of non-Han ethnic groups such as Tujia, Uyghur, etc.

Here is the list of award winners for novels and short stories:


《一眼望不到头》(汉文版 2 期) by Hui writer Yu Huai’an (于怀岸, 回族)

《蛋壳》(汉文版 3 期) by Uyghur writer A She (阿舍, 维吾尔族)

《愧疚》(维吾尔文版 3 期) by Uyghur writer Tuerxunjiang Maimaiti (吐尔逊江·买买提, 维吾尔族)

《霪雨》(藏文版 6 期) by Tibetan writer Huazan (华赞, 藏族) [Read more…]

Beijing Jan 17 Event: Sheng Keyi to Launch Novel at her Premier Solo Painting Exhibition

You may recognize the name of Sheng Keyi (盛可以) as the novelist who wrote Northern Girls (北妹)Sheng Keyi and more recently Death Fugue (死亡赋格), both translated into English. But you might not know that she is a budding artist as well. She took up painting in 2013. Check out her brushwork here.

You are invited to attend the exhibition, comprising 26 tableaux, as well as the launch of her latest novel, Savage Growth (野蛮生长), which also features her own illustrations:

Date/time: 3:00-5:00 pm, January 17
Venue: New Millenium Gallery (北京千年时间画廊)
Curator: Zhang Siyong (张思永)
Academic Support: Feng Tang (冯唐)
Special Guests: Li Jingze (李敬泽), Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), Wu Hongbin (武洪滨), Li Jian (李健), Li Xiuwen (李修文) and A Yi (阿乙)

Bilingual Han Cadres: Coming Soon to Tibet Autonomous Region?

In Han Cadres Required to Learn Tibetan Language, the Global Times reports that Xi Jinping and company are getting serious about implementing the “bilingual policy” (藏、汉双语方针) that was legislated in Tibet way back in 1987:

Mastery of the Tibetan language will become a requirement for non-native cadres in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

All seven prefecture-level cities in Tibet have started organizing Tibetan language training for non-native cadres, according to the regional bureau of compilation and translation on Monday.

Qoizha, deputy director of the bureau, said they have handed out 40,000 books on basic Tibetan language for daily conversation.

In a country where statistics and quantifiable targets pepper most news reports — e.g., 90 percent of Tibet residents are Tibetan, 40,000 handbooks distributed — there are several key numbers missing from the report:

  • Percentage of Han cadres who can currently conduct their daily tasks in Tibetan
  • Percentage who must attain basic fluency within 2015
  • Date when formal testing of Han cadre fluency in Tibetan will begin

Although the new announcement regarding the implementation of the old bilingual policy is certainly a step in the right direction, it sounds like a statement of intention rather than the “requirement” being suggested in Global Times’ lead paragraph.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make bilingualism among civil servants in Tibet a reality:

1) Announce a realistic timetable and a budget for implementing the program. It will certainly take at least 5 years to get this project off the ground;

2) Gradually introduce examinations in oral and written Tibetan for would-be and current civil servants. Gradually tie promotions for cadres to ability to communicate in both Putonghua and Tibetan;

3) Offer free, intensive Tibetan language training to current and new civil servants;

4) Do not refer to ethnicity of candidates in recruitment ads. Instead, note the level of Putonghua and Tibetan required for each job;

5) Send a delegation to Hong Kong to see how 1-4 were fairly successfully implemented for Cantonese and English during British rule, and continue to be implemented in the post-1997 Hong Kong SAR.

For the Chinese-language version of the news item, see 西藏动员全区汉族干部学藏语 “接地气” .

Liao Yiwu: Charlie Hebdo and the Hijackers

Chinese dissident writer Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武), who slipped through the Sino-Vietnamese border and has taken refuge in Germany, draws parallels between the jihadists who killed Charlie Hebdo staff, and censors everywhere:

In 2012, Mo Yan, who believes in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, received the Nobel prize for literature. In front of the assembled Western media he compared censorship to airport security control. Nothing special, everybody had to go through it. He took writers who believe in freedom, and everyone who pays a price for saying their minds, for hijackers.

No, they are the hijackers! They hold countries for ransom, they take religion hostage, their ultimate goal is to hijack everyone’s freedom of speech. If you don’t hand it over, they will follow you like a nightmare to the ends of the world.

To read the entire text translated by Martin Winter, click here.

Uyghur Short Story Conference: Focus on Two Xinjiang Writers

In the closing days of 2014, a conference entitled “Modern Uyghur Short Story Writing and Research” was organized in Beijing by the Institute of Ethnic Literature (维吾尔散文).

It focused on two Uyghur writers: 拜格买提·玉苏甫 (Begmet Yusup, ﺑﻪﮔﻤﻪﺕ ﻳﯜﺳﯜﭖ ) and 艾合买提·伊明 (Exmet Imin, ئەخمەت ئىمىن).

I’d like to introduce these writers and their works to you, so that we can get an idea of why the literary establishment wishes to hold them up as a model for Uyghur mother-tongue writers. But it’s not easy, because — as is so often the case with non-Han authors — Internet searches turn up very few meaningful links.

Despite the fact that Begmet Yusup has won several recent awards, I cannot find Chinese-language links to his published works anywhere. According to my academic source who knows Uyghur (I don’t), if you google him using his Uyghur name, the search will generate 100+ links. Which begs the question: If he is so little known in the Uyghur and Han communities, why have his works been chosen for discussion and study?

Exmet Imin, on the other hand, is a famous poet who has translated several works and novels, but it is not clear from the listing on Baidu which languages — the target or source languages —were involved. It is almost as if citing the title of a Uyghur-language text, or specifying that a work was translated from or into Uyghur, is somehow not permitted when one is writing an article in Chinese.

That said, here’s what I’ve culled from online searches:

Begmet Yusup

  • According to this Uyghur-language BBS (here), he graduated from Xinjiang University with a degree in literature in 1987 and then worked for the next decade or so in a variety of schools and literature establishments in the Hami area (including as editor of the journal Kumul Literature). He is currently an editor for the journal Xinjiang Culture.
  • Winner of the 2013 Nationalities Literature Magazine Prize for his short story, 隐形人 (literally, The Invisible Man). Click here to hear it in Uyghur.
  • Winner of 2014 Junma Ethnic Literature Prize for his collection of reportage, 愚昧的人们 (literally, The Ignorant Ones)

Exmet Imin (艾合买提·伊明)

  • Poet, short story writer, dramaturge and translator born in 1944. Almost 10,000 hits come up when you search his name in Uyghur on Google. A lot of his poetry and writing is posted and reprinted on internet forums such as this poem, entitled Woman (here). His most famous prose poem is My Mother Tongue (Ana Tilim, here in Uyghur), which describes his love for the Uyghur language.

Coming to China in 2015: A Facebook Free of Unpleasantness?

Just a few weeks ago Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg showed up in China and blew people’s minds by delivering a speech in pǔtōnghuà. Well .Meng Huang arrested in Stockholm . . something like pǔtōnghuà (mouth full of marbles).

The next phase in Facebook’s Long March to appear in the Forbidden City? Ensure that account holders get with the agenda, and post only politically correct stuff. Pictures like this definitely don’t meet the social media web site’s tough standards, apparently.

Nor do real-life pictures of Tibetan Buddhists sacrificing themselves in order to show their discontent with Chinese rule. After all, it’s quite unpleasant to see that sort of thing, isn’t it?

Read about how Facebook has begun censoring the accounts of Chinese activists: Facebook Blocks Account of Liao Yiwu, Exiled Chinese Writer, and Facebook Deletes Post on Tibetan Monk’s Self-immolation.

Note to “The Diplomat” and Shannon Tiezzi: Uyghur is Not a Dialect of Chinese

In her Dec 24 analysis of a document designed to guide China’s future ethnic policies, China’s Prescription for ‘Improving Ethnic Work’, Shannon Tiezzi makes a reference to “local dialects”:

The document attempts to address governance and policy issues as well, starting with the sensitive topic of language. Beijing reiterates that all officials, including those from minority groups, must learn Mandarin. However, the document also urges Han officials to learn the local dialects in use where they are stationed. As James Palmer noted for Foreign Policy, though, such well-meaning directives are often disregarded by local officials. “Han officials are encouraged by official directives to learn Uyghur, but, despite the availability of excellent Uyghur-Chinese textbooks, it is rare for any of them to make it past the level of ‘Hello,’” Palmer writes.

No doubt Palmer’s observation is correct. But Tiezzi’s use of Uyghur as an example, and use of the term “local dialects,” are both very unfortunate.

First of all, Uyghur is not a Sinitic language or a dialect of Mandarin. It is a member of the Turkic language family. [Read more…]