Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: China’s Media — Many Channels, One Voice

The nationalist image Rui cultivated will live on. The official news media are already separating the message from the messenger. That’s too bad. It would serve China well to ditch both.

(Nailene Chou Wiest in Silencing the Spokesperson on the arrest of CCTV’s news anchor Rui Chenggang ( 芮成钢), allegedly for corruption)

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Impoverished Globish

English today is the global language of commerce and trade, so while it’s dominant, it’s also in some respects deeply impoverished. It desperately needs these transfusions from other languages. 

(Translator of the Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai on the state of the English language, in Recalcitant Language Q & A)


China’s Schizophrenic Media Apparatchiks: Manage the Press, or Program it?

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television has recently announced a number of measures aimed at “tightening” management of journalists on the ground. First there was a circular on “critical reporting” that, according to the China Media Project (June 18 Media Circular), seeks to ensure that news bureaus “do not engage in ‘reporting activities across industries and across sectors’,” and that “journalists are not striking out on their own and maintaining websites.” The latter is an obvious reference to blogs where Chinese reporters publicize sensitive facts that were deleted from their published articles.

Then on June 30, an official statement on the organ’s web site was published “warning Chinese journalists not to share information with their counterparts in the foreign press corps” (How to Read China’s New Press Restrictions).  In this same article, Orville Schell succinctly explains the historic background to China’s schizophrenic persona when it comes to the press:

. . . the People’s Republic of China has two competing conceptions of the press that are vying with each other and are constantly in a state of dynamic yin-yang tension. The first is the Western notion of the press not just as an independent, public watchdog arrayed against wrong-doing of all kinds, but as a check and balance against the over-reach of state, ecclesiastical, and corporate power. The second is the Leninist notion of the press—indeed, of all art, culture and media—as the exclusive megaphones for the party and state. 

Bill Porter on “Yellow River Odyssey” and the Han

Perhaps better known as Red Pine, Bill Porter lived in Taiwan for several decades where he practiced Buddhism, authored books such as Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, and famously translated Daoist and Buddhist canons into English. In Journeys, Poets and Best-Sellerdom in China, he speaks with Ian Johnson about his latest book in English, Yellow River Odyssey:

Q. [In Yellow River Odyssey] You also talk a lot about the non-Chinese people — the non-Han.

A. The reason I wanted to focus on the Yellow River is that’s where Chinese civilization began. By going up the river I’d get to its source and the source of Chinese culture. But what you see is that Chinese culture is a great mixture of peoples. Five thousand years ago, north China was not controlled by the Han Chinese. That sort of started with the Yellow Emperor defeating the Miao people at the Battle of Zhuolu. Until then, north China was up for grabs. I felt that traveling there. Even today a lot of north China isn’t entirely Chinese. There are Mongolians, Hui and others. It becomes obvious when you travel the length of the Yellow River that it was a series of accidents that led to the ascendency of the Han.

Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Chatting with Guóbǎo

Murong Xuecun, author of Leave Me Alone Tonight, Chengdu, was in Australia when several intellectuals and activistsMurong Xuecun got together in Beijing this year to commemorate the anniversary of the 1989 “June 4th Incident.” Several of those who were there have since been arrested, such as civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and in order to call attention to their plight, he turned himself in to the police and admitted that while not present at the gathering, he had contributed an essay for their discussion. Here is his description of the ensuing questioning session with the 国保, or Guóbǎo (Inside a Beijing Interrogation Room): 

Then we discussed the Tiananmen Square incident itself. I argued that under no circumstances should the government have ordered the army to shoot at unarmed civilians, let alone dispatch tanks to roll onto the streets of Beijing. The officers did not agree or disagree with me; they just kept asking questions: Do you know what the overall situation was? Do you know what was happening in international affairs at the time? Do you know how many soldiers were beaten or burned to death?

The conversation turned to whether I had broken the law. I told them that I assumed they thought I did because they arrested my friends who were at the Tiananmen commemoration. The officers didn’t like that I made the law sound capricious. The law is not about what they “think,” one of them said. The police, the officer said, had arrested my friends because they broke the law.

Next we discussed whether citizens “must obey the law.” I said good laws should be obeyed but evil laws must be challenged. They strongly disagreed, insisting that the law must be obeyed whether it’s good or evil.

“And you’re a graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law, eh?” the younger one asked mockingly.

I began to talk about Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, but quickly felt like a ridiculous pedant. What’s the point of talking about the virtues of civil disobedience in a Beijing police station?

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Shortage of Human Translators

While the works of prominent authors easily jump linguistic and national boundaries – like those of 2012 Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan – that’s not necessarily so in other cases. Many authors and publishers who aspire to sell their books internationally face hard-to-solve cultural differences and a lack of qualified human translators.

(From European Publishers Eye China Lit, in

56-year-old “Manas” Libretto Surfaces

Wumir Maoliduo (吾米尔·毛力多), a 76-year-old retired cadre in Xinjiang, has donated his hand-copied Manas (玛纳斯) manuscript to the Writer’s Association of Ulugqat, Kizilsu (手抄本).  It is the epic poem of the Kyrgyz people, a trilogy which “tells the story of Manas, his descendants and his followers. Battles against Khitan and Oirat enemies form a central theme in the epic.”(Wikipedia)

According to the report, he first encountered the original manuscript in 1958 while visiting the Kyrgyz historian 艾尼瓦尔·白吐尔 , but upon realizing that this was the actual libretto — 570,000 lines long — used by the famed manaschi 艾什玛特·玛木别朱素普 when he performed the classic, Wumir Maoliduo decided to copy it by hand.

During the Cultural Revolution, the original and several other copies of Manas manuscripts were destroyed. But Wumir Maoliduo wrapped his hand-copied manuscript in three layers of kraft paper, and hid it in his courtyard until recently.

There are several noteworthy things about this brief report:

  • The word “Kyrgyz” is not used to describe the cadre, the epic poem or the language used in the manuscript;
  • No explanation is offered as to why — almost four decades after the Cultural Revolution — the cadre continued hiding the text;
  • China successfully registered the Epic of Manas as an Intangible Cultural Heritage with Unesco back in 2009. This has since been vigorously contested by Kyrgyzstan officials — who maintain they were not informed about China’s application for recognition — since they consider it “an artifact of Kyrgyz nationhood.” (see Kyrgyzstan Protests)

For more information on Manas, see also:

Interview with Director of Xinjiang Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center

Master Manaschi Jusup Mamay Passes from the Scene

Manas Epic Singger Jusup Mamay on “Dream-Teaching”

3 New Books Document Manchu-Tungusic Languages, Feature Multilingual Glossaries

A conference was recently held in Beijing by China Social Sciences Press to celebrate the publication earlier this year of three scholarly works of interest to researchers of Manchu-Tungus languages (研讨会). They are all authored by Dulor Osor Chog (aka Chao Ke, 朝克) an Evenki who holds a Ph D. in Japanese Culture and Language that was earned in Japan. All three are mainly in Chinese but have indexes in various languages including English (English titles below are publisher’s, not mine):

满通古斯语族语言词源研究 (Etymological Research of Manchu-Tungusic Language)

  • Includes references to vocabulary with Mongolian, Altaic and Mandarin roots.

满通古斯语族语言研究史论 (Research History of Manchu-Tungusic Language)

  • Lists and assesses various reference works.

满通古斯语族语言词汇比较 (Comparison of Manchu-Tungusic Basic Vocabulary)

  • Includes 5-language glossary of vocabulary in Manchu, Xibe, Evenki, Oroqen and Hezhen, as well as a limited number of Jurchen words. Indexed in Chinese and English.

Hong Kong Book Fair (Jul 16-22): Seminar Topics Push the Envelope

A glance at the topics for seminars starring Chinese writers seem a tad provocative: “KMT Party Member Mao Zedong”; “Hong Kong and Taiwan Literature in the Era of Resistance”; “Mainland Writers — Luxury and Dilemma”.

Glad I don’t have to sell those topics to my Mainland Minder!

At any rate, the schedule for the book fair’s Famous Chinese Writer Seminar Series (名作家讲座系列) is online now here. It is in Chinese, and these seminars will be in Cantonese/Mandarin.

Here are a few of the writers who will be there:

Wu Ming-yi (吴明益); Yan Lianke (阎连科); Li Ao (李敖); Yan Geling (严歌苓); Chen Xue (陈雪); Jiang Fangzhou (蒋方舟)

徐穆实受访:人民日报海外版转载 “建立驻地翻译基金” 的建议

Humes Proposes Translation-in-Residence Fund莫言获诺贝尔文学奖、麦家小说在海外畅销,外国翻译家功不可没。他们以优美的本国语言、适合西方人阅读的视角进行翻译,将中文图书接引到彼岸并焕发出神秘光彩。

最近,美国中文翻译家徐穆实(Bruce Humes)在个人网站上刊出公开信,就中国有关机构近年来推动的文学外译提出若干具体建议,将中国文学“走出去”的战略落到实处: