Liuzhou Blasts: Ensuring Inconsistent News Doesn’t Distract the Public during Holidays

China Digital Times reports on a leaked internal directive issued by a (unnamed) provincial propaganda department aimed at ensuring there is just one correct version of the blasts available on the Chinese Internet (Explosions or 连环爆炸案):

Regarding the explosions in Liucheng County, Guangxi, republish only authoritative sources such as Xinhua News Agency. Do not independently gather or edit [information]. Do not compile and post information on Weibo or WeChat, do not offer special topic [coverage], do not live broadcast video. Violators must immediately redress this and delete [the offending content], no exceptions. News clients and cell phone WAP websites must also implement these directives. Interactive platforms must not hype, gather, or recommend related information.

Profile: Xinjiang-based Uyghur Writer Perhat Tursun

In Meet China’s Salman Rushdie, Foreign Policy’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian profiles Xinjiang’s controversial Uyghur writer Perhat Tursun (پەرھات  تۇرسۇن, 帕尔哈提·吐尔逊):

Perhat is the author of The Art of Suicide [自杀的艺术], a novel decried as anti-Islamic that in 1999 set off a religious firestorm among Uighurs, the largely Muslim, Turkic minority concentrated in the nominally autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang. What followed — years of threats, a de facto ban on Perhat’s works, and at least one book burning — belied the officially atheist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, which tightly controls the region. But tidal forces of history and competing civilizations have clashed over Xinjiang in recent decades, pitting the party against a local ethnic reawakening, resurgent Islam, and the latest entrant to the region, liberal Western thought. And Perhat, with the publication of his bold philosophical novel, found himself wedged between hardening ideological fronts — a fault line that would put his life in danger.

A few links to his writing:

  • Poetry: Two poems, Elegy and Morning Feeling, in English here,  and a poem in Chinese, here.
  • An older interview with him in Chinese, 一位维吾尔族作家的穿越生活
  • A bilingual synopsis of his PhD thesis on HamsaNizamiddin Alshir Nawayi’s monumental five-part poem (尼扎木丁·艾利狮尔·纳瓦依的巨著《五卷长诗集》)

Meanwhile, Darren Byler — who translates from the Uyghur — reports that his translation of Perhat Tursun’s short story, Plato’s Shovel, is set for publication in a collection of translated writing by non-Han writers.  He is also working on the first part of a trilogy by the author, entitled The Big City: Backstreets. When I know the publication details, I’ll post them.

Mr. Xi Goes to Washington: Tweaking the News for the Folks Back Home

Xi Jinping’s visit to the US is big news, and Cankao Xiaoxi (参考消息) has devoted plenty of coverage to it. The Sep 29th edition of this influential Chinese-language digest of the world press contains a short piece translated from Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper, the South China Morning Post, entitled From Cybersecurity to South China Sea Territorial Disputes: 5 Big Challenges and Outcomes in Sino-US relations.

Most of the English article has been accurately rendered in the Chinese text distributed throughout China in print and online, so I have not run the entire article below. However, Cankao’s editors have done some airbrushing on the last few paragraphs of Chinese text (从网络安全), and it’s interesting to examine this copy in detail.

As usual, for the benefit of those who cannot read the Chinese version, I cross out the English words that were deleted when the article was translated into Chinese, and indicate any additional or altered copy by putting it [in brackets].

What you see below in black and blue, therefore, is the equivalent of what the Chinese reader sees in Chinese. This way we discover which topics and opinions are considered inappropriate for Chinese eyes. Briefly: there is no hint that China’s build-up in the South China Sea is “military” in nature, and news of China’s recent arrest and detention of lawyers and activists — in the hundreds — has been “disappeared.”


South China Sea

China’s development of artificial islands and military infrastructure in the South China Sea  – an area over which it claims territorial sovereignty – has caused considerable concern from neighbouring countries and put pressure on the US to address [resolve] the conflict.

Outcomes: Xi [Jinping] promised to [support and uphold] respect [the] freedom [of all countries] for navigation [and passage] in the sea under international law but insisted the islands in the South China Sea are Chinese territory its claims were legitimate  and it had the right to uphold its sovereignty [and its legal and legitimate maritime rights]. Obama called for a peaceful resolution to the tensions in the area.

Human Rights

The US has is a  long-standing critic[ized] of  China’s human rights record and restrictions on freedom of expression. Since July, China has detained and arrested at least 286 lawyers and human rights activists, prompting global outrage.

Outcomes: Obama sharply criticised China’s crackdown on journalists, NGOs, lawyers, churches and ethnic minorities.  Xi said human rights and democracy were important pursuits [shared by mankind], but that reforms would proceed in time with China’s timetable [but at the same time, the right of the people of each country to choose by themselves their development path must be respected].

Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic

A while back I stumbled upon a short Chinese news item about a newly discovered handwritten manuscript of the Kyrgyz Epic of Manas (玛纳斯史诗). This centuries-old trilogy in verse recounts the exploits of the legendary hero Manas, and his son and grandson in their struggle to resist external enemies and unite the Kyrgyz people. Along with heroic tales such as Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu, Manas is considered one of the great Turkic epic poems. To get a feeling for how it sounds, listen here to a brief recitation by Manas scholar Elmira Köçümkulkızı.

Mural of Manas in OshAccording to the report (手抄本被发现), a retired cadre named 吾米尔·毛力多 in Xinjiang’s Wuqia County recently donated a 570,000-line, Kyrgyz-language Manas libretto to the local branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles.

Based on the notes of a famous Manas storyteller or manaschi named 艾什玛特·玛木别朱素普, the text was painstakingly hand-copied by the cadre in the 1950s. At some point during the Cultural Revolution he learned the original had been seized and burnt, so he wrapped his own copy in several layers of cowhide and buried it in his courtyard for safekeeping.

“Now,” the news report quotes him, “I figure it is time to let this hand-copied manuscript see the light of day.”

Intrigued by the gap in time between the manuscript’s burial and its “re-discovery”— after all, the Cultural Revolution ended almost 40 years ago — I wondered why the text of an ancient Turkic epic like Manas is so politically sensitive. [Read more…]

Cambridge, MA Sep 25-26 Event: Shen Congwen and Modern China

International Symposium: Shen Congwen and Modern China

Date: Friday, September 25, 2015, 10:00am to Saturday, September 26, 2015, 10:00am
Location: Room S020 | CGIS South | 1730 Cambridge Street | Cambridge, MA


  • Shen Congwen and the May Fourth: Nativism, Regional Culture, and The Polemics of Realism
  • Shen Congwen during the Revolutionary Era: Art as a Form of Resistance; Revolutionism vs. Liberalism; The Poetics of Self-Negation
  • Shen Conwen after 1949: the Politics of Esoteric Writing; Shen Congwen as an Art Historian.
  • Shen Congwen and His Legacy: Critical Lyricism in Modern China

The author was born 1902 in Fenghuang Country, Hunan, of mixed Han, Miao and Tujia heritage but reportedly hid his non-Han origins nearly until his death in the 80s.

1982-2015 Mao Dun Prize: 43 Winners — But which Ones Truly Benefited Sales-wise?

Bi Feiyu's "Massage": Major sales bump immediately after 2011 award

Bi Feiyu’s “Massage”: Got major sales bump in China immediately after 2011 award

Over the last few years, the veil has been partially lifted on what has been China’s most coveted literary prize for the novel, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, which is awarded just once every four years. You can bone up on the scandals behind this and other awards here if you like.

The Beijing Daily has just published an interesting article (茅奖销售) which details “before and after” sales figures, queries authors on how winning the award has affected their work, and concludes with a brief overview of 1982-2015 winning titles by literary critic Bai Ye (白烨).

Over the years the competition has evolved, if painfully slowly, with voting becoming more transparent, for instance. Sadly, this didn’t prevent staunch servant of the state Wang Meng from winning this year with his — in my eyes at least — virtually unreadable The Scenery Over Here, which is set in Xinjiang in the 70s.

But the standards are apparently in flux too. Reports the Beijing Daily, citing author Bi Feiyu:

“Beginning with the 8th Mao Dun Prize [2011], this national-level award has undergone a revolutionary change. Most importantly, the aesthetic standards tend to be freer and more inclusive.” In his eyes, it’s precisely because of this change in direction that his Massage [推拿] could win. “After all, in the past only writing such as epics and those with grand themes could get the prize.”

The article, though interesting, isn’t short. So here are the key factoids:

White Deer Plain by Chen Zhongshi (白鹿原, 陈忠实著)

  • Censored as part of tit-for-tat deal behind the awarding of the prize in 1997. See here for a few juicy details.

Funeral of a Muslim by Huo Da (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著)

  • Recent news conference reported total sales have topped 3m copies. Awarded in 1991.

Ordinary World by Lu Yao (平凡的世界, 路遥著)

  • Over 3m copies total, including 400,000 in 2014 alone. Awarded in 1991.

Frog by Mo Yan (蛙, 莫言著)

  • Award date: 2011
  • Pre-award sales: 160,000
  • Post-award sales: Now totals 1m+. Probably more due to his winning the Nobel . . . than the Mao Dun prize!

Massage by Bi Feiyu (推拿, 毕飞宇著)

  • Award date: 2011
  • Pre-award sales: 48,000 copies over 4 years.
  • Post-award sales: 150,000+ just in 2011 when awarded, and nearing 400,000 total within 2015.

Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)

  • Award date: 2008
  • Pre-award sales: 40,000-50,000. Post-award sales: 300,000+ to date.

“Funeral of a Muslim”: Sales Top 3m, TV Series in the Pipeline

Sales of Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著), Huo Da’s classic saga of a Hui family in Beijing that spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution, have now topped three million copies, according to a press conference held in the capital on September 11 (突破). 

This arguably makes the tale, which won the Mao Dun Literature Award in 1991, the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever written by a non-Han writer — Huo Da is a Hui, who are principally ethnic Muslims numbering around ten million.

From the synopsis at Paper Republic:

If the novel is not well known in the West, neither are the Hui, the “other” dominant Muslim people in Funeral of a Muslim, by Huo DaChina who actually number over ten million. Unlike the Turkic-speaking Uyghur of Xinjiang, the Hui are descendants of Silk Road travelers — Arab, Persian and Central Asians — who married Han Chinese and converted to Islam, itself introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Arab traders.

Apart from its power as a tale of love and history, Funeral of a Muslim has played a unique role in introducing Islam to Chinese readers, many of whom know little about the Muslim communities that have made up a part of Chinese society for centuries. Apart from descriptions of Muslim customs and rituals, the novel was instrumental in launching public discussion of the essentially multi-cultural nature of China, even stirring up controversy for its direct address of latent ethnic tensions.

It continues to be a favorite with readers for its depiction of the ways in which the strictures of history, culture, and religion influence the courses of individual loves: guiding, shaping, curbing, destroying.

Like to read an English excerpt from the novel? Click here.

Several news items reported that at the news conference, Huo Da revealed she is negotiating the rights for a TV series to be based on her novel. The promotion of her novel and the possibility of a regular TV progam come at a time when China is at pains to highlight the fair treatment of Muslims, given the negative publicity generated by the 2014 Kunming train station attack, reportedly carried out by Uyghur separatists, and the government’s fierce crackdown on Uyghur culture in Xinjiang. By comparison with Uyghur, Hui are widely regarded in China as law-abiding, “good” Muslims who are better integrated into mainstream Chinese society.

On the literary translation front that targets international audiences, both Hui and Uyghur writers are getting a helping hand from the authorities. Since 2013, the China Writers Association has subsidized an ongoing project to enable translation and publication of fiction by ethnic writers (当代少数民族文学对外翻译工程), according to Li Jingze, Secretary of the China Writers Association (Export Strategies). Some 54 “projects” were undertaken in 2013-14, and “almost half have been published.”

I requested and received a list of those titles that have been published so far — 26 out the total 54. They include 6 by Hui and 2 by Uyghur writers:

A She (Uyghur): 奔跑的骨头 into Arabic, 阿舍著

Bao Dongni (Hui): 问题非儿 into Korean, 保冬妮著

Chen Cun (Hui): 象 into Farsi, 陈村著

Li Jinxiang (Hui): 换水 into Arabic, 李进祥著

Perhat Ilyas (Uyghur): 楼兰古国奇幻之旅 into English, 帕尔哈提·伊力牙斯著

Shi Shuqing (Hui): 灰袍子 into Arabic and 西海固的事情 into Japanese, 石舒清著

Zha Shun (Hui): 风流云散 into Arabic, 查瞬著

“Wolf Totem” Author Awarded Prize by World Mongol Authors Association

Wolf Totem in MongolianJiang Rong, the Han Chinese author of Wolf Totem (狼图腾, 姜戎著), has been awarded the “Genius Writer Prize” (Bichgiin Mergen Prize) by the World Mongol Authors Association based in Mongolia, according to a news item in Mongolia’s UB Post.  The novel is a semi-autobiographical novel about the experiences of a young student from Beijing “sent down” to the Inner Mongolian countryside 1967 during the Cultural Revolution.

According to a Chinese report (文豪奖) citing D. Boldbaatar, the Mongolian translator, since his translation into the Cyrillic hit the bookshelves in 2010 (left), it has sold 60,000 copies — effectively one copy for every 50 persons residing in Mongolia. An edition printed in the traditional Mongolian script is also to be distributed soon (below).

It is interesting to see how well the novel has apparently been received in Mongolia. Book sales and this new award seem to confirm that the Mongolians outside China find the portrayal of their herding culture as genuine. The much-hyped movie shot in Inner Mongolia by French director Jean-Jacques Anneau, however, proved somewhat controversial in China. According to a report in ChinaDaily Asia (Promoting Aggression): [Read more…]

Links to China’s Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary

Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

I’m often too busy to immediately write a well-researched post about  “ethnic-themed” fiction that has been newly translated and published in a foreign tongue. This is a loose category (民族题材文学) that includes stories — regardless of the author’s ethnicity — in which non-Han culture, motifs or characters play an important role.

In my brief list below, there are entries for fiction (and a bit of poetry) touching on the Evenki, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Lisu, Oirat, Seediq, Tibetan, Uyghur, Xiongnu and Yi peoples. Unless noted, the original is in Chinese and the translation is in English. But I’ve also included a handful of renditions into French, Spanish and Japanese.

I welcome your updates and corrections.

Here is a set of links I hope you’ll find useful:


Chinese Fiction in Translation: Novels/Novellas with “Ethnic” Theme 

  • Table with info on ten works translated into English or French during 2009-14, including writing by Alai, Chan Koonchung, Chi Zijian, Fan Wen, Gao Jianqun, Jiang Rong, Li Jinxiang, Pema Tseden, Shi Shuqing, Wang Gang and Wu He.

Chutzpah! Issue 14

  • Dedicated to non-Han authors including Alat Asem, Aydos Amantay, Baoerj Yuanye, Ju Kelzang, Kanglin Gioro, Lhajam Gyel, Muhammedemin Abliz, Na Zhangyuan, Pema Tseden and Ye Fu.

Pathlight Issue Spring 2014

  • Dedicated to non-Han authors including Alat Asem,  Artai, Aydos Amantay, Ayonga, Dan Zeng, Guan Renshan, Jin Renshun, Memtimin Hoshur,  Jidi Majia, Luruodiji, Ma Huan, Nie Le, Patigul, Ye Fu, Ye Guangqin, Ye Mei and Yerkex Hurmanbek.

Words Without Borders (August 2015)

  • Short pieces in English from Tibetan writers Pema Bhum, Pema Tseden, and Kyabchen Dedrol.


Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian(额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)


Funeral of a Muslim by Huo Da (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著 )

  • With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.

La rivière des femmes: Nouvelles hui by Li Jinxiang and Shi Shuqing (李进祥、 石舒清著)

  • Stories set among the Muslim Hui along the banks of Qingshui River in Ningxia. Translated into French.

西海固の人々 by Shi Shuqing (西海固的事情, 石舒清著)

  • Collection of short stories set in Ningxia’s Xihaigu Prefecture, and translated into Japanese.

[Read more…]

HK Literary Festival: China-related Events to Attend (Oct 31, Nov 3)

October 31

Xu Zechen: Running Through Beijing

  • Xu Zechen’s Running Through Beijing introduces us to Dunhuang, a lost soul who has recently been released from prison for selling fake IDs. Xu draws on his real-life experiences to guide us through an underworld of thievery, pornography, prison, bribery and police in this heart-breaking and thrilling journey. With interpreter and moderator Sebastian Veg.

Mike Meyer In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland

  • For three years, Mike Meyer rented a home in the rice-farming community of Wasteland, hometown to his wife’s family whose personal saga mirrors the tremendous change most of rural China is undergoing. In Manchuria is a scintillating combination of memoir, travelogue, contemporary reporting, and historical research, presenting a unique profile of China’s northeast territory.

November 3

David Bandurski: Dragons in Diamond Village

  • David Bandurski spent nearly ten years reporting and researching for his latest book Dragons in Diamond Village. Packed with intimate portraits and in-depth journalism, it is a stunning and detailed work of non-fiction, which tells one of the most important stories of our time: what is actually happening on the front lines of China’s unpredictable and unprecedented journey towards urbanization?