HK July 17 Event: Chi Zijian, Author of “Last Quarter of the Moon,” in Conversation at HK Book Fair

The event will be held in Mandarin/Cantonese:

文学的山河— 从《额尔古纳河右岸》到《群山之巅》
日期: 7 月 17 日 (星期五)
时间: 上午 11 时 30 分至下午 1 时
地点: 香港会议展览中心 会议室 S226-227
讲者: 迟子建
主持: 曾瀞漪

Documenting Folk Songs of Yunnan’s Bai People in Multilingual Format

A Recovered Text of Bai Folk Songs in a Sinoxenic ScriptChinese Ethnic Minority Oral Traditions: A Recovered Text of Bai Folk Songs, a new work in the Cambria Sinophone World Series, was published recently. A brief backgrounder on how it came into being:

In 1958 while conducting fieldwork in Yunnan, a professor came across a rice paper booklet with strange script created from Chinese characters. This turned out to be a folksong booklet in Old Bai script. She safeguarded it carefully through the tumultuous Mao years until the 1990s, when the political environment had relaxed enough for her to conduct full-scale ethnographic research. Very few such texts remain, and what makes this booklet even more valuable is that it records songs that have already disappeared, including some with sexually explicit content.

One of the features of the book is how it delves into the use of “created characters” that were used in the Chinese-character based “old Bai script” to capture vocabulary or concepts that apparently did not exist in standard written Chinese.

But from my point of view, the most noteworthy aspect of the work is how the folk songs have been transcribed and translated. “The songs are presented in a multilinear format that includes the Bai text, an IPA version of the sound, a word-for-word Chinese line, a word-for-word English line, and vernacular (Standard) Chinese line and vernacular English translation,” according to the summary at Cambria Press.

The great majority of similar works available in China are often virtually monolingual — in a fluent Chinese translation only — which leaves the reader unable to get a feeling for the imagery or rhythm of the original, and on a more subtle level it reinforces the perception that the written Chinese version is “genuine” while the (unseen and undocumented) original oral version is somehow less so.

One Belt, One Road: China Has the $, but Does it Have the Cross-cultural Expertise?

China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” campaign (一带一路, OBOR) is a development strategy and framework that seeks to foster connectivity and cooperation between China and the countries along the ancient Silk Road that passed through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It also includes the lesser-known Maritime Silk Road.One Road, One Belt

This global initiative has many governments excited, because it implies a helping hand from China in infrastructure investment for items such as transnational railways. And as I noted recently in Translators Get Piece of the Piethe cultural component in this campaign is also wide-reaching, including translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications.  The goal would be to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road.

Since 1949, however, the People’s Republic has often focused its research on the US, Europe and Japan, and badly lacks basic expertise concerning many regions worldwide. This is apparent even in the field of literary translations. See Turkish Novels, Honor Killing and China’s English-language Complex for one representative example.

No need to take my word for it though. In One Belt, One Road, One Frenzied Debate, Dingding Chen (Assistant Professor of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau, Non-Resident Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) Berlin), points out one of the “main problems with the current frenzied discussion on OBOR”:

First, there is simply a lack of academic expertise on most developing countries in China. Unlike the U.S., area studies as a discipline has never been seriously treated by the government and the result is that very few scholars in China are respectable experts in regions like South America and the Middle East. Many of China’s so-called experts on the Middle East simply don’t speak Arabic languages and cannot read Arabic texts. And many of China’s Africa experts have never traveled to Africa to do field research. How can you give sound advice to the Chinese government if the experts themselves are not knowledgeable about their respective regions? This is a huge problem in China.

At Last: An Online Cantonese-Cantonese Dictionary

Tired of being told by mainlanders that Cantonese is “just” a dialect and “can’t be written”?

Check out the (very) beta version of a new online Cantonese-Cantonese dictionary. It’s early days, but — based on my decade or so of life in Hong Kong — even these sample phrases would prove fairly useful in surviving the city:

唔出窟: 唔出街,成日都留喺屋企

屌你老母 / 你老母: 鬧人母親嘅粗口

For an interview with the man behind the project, see Preserving Cantonese.

Profile of Octogenarian Orochen: Folk Song Singer, Folk Tale and Dictionary Compiler

Among one of the first batches of young Orochen (鄂伦春) chosen to receive a formal Chinese-language education in Zhalantun in 1948, E’erdenggua (额尔登挂) was just 17 at the time. She had never been outside her village on the banks of Chuo’er River (绰尔河畔) in Inner Mongolia, and didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Now 84, she was recently profiled in Zhongguo Minzu Bao (老人的鄂伦春文化情缘).

Orochen songstress E'erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Orochen songstress E’erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Although she later held various jobs with the Bureau of Commerce in China’s first Orochen Autonomous Banner until retirement, she never lost interest in her native language or culture.  A brief list of her achievements as noted in the article:

Orochen dress: Personally handicrafted folk costumes and Shaman ritual attire that are now part of collections at the Beijing History Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum (Hohhot), Hulunbuir Ethnography Museum, Oroqen Museum (Hulunbuir) and Evenki Museum (Hulunbuir).

Folk songs: She compiled and sang Orochen folk songs. Designated as an expert regarding traditional hunting songs known as Zàndárén (赞达仁). Her collection includes love songs, narratives and shamanic chants.

Orochen dictionary: Spent 3 years compiling an Orochen dictionary using IPA. Unfortunately never published for lack of funding. [Read more…]

China’s New Intangible Cultural Heritage Encyclopedia: Celebration of Multi-ethnicity, or Aggressive Cultural Appropriation?

Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural HeritageChina unveiled its premier Encyclopedia of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage (中国非物质文化遗产, 史诗卷) on June 12, reports China Daily (Released). This is the first of three volumes, and is dedicated to three great oral epics of the Tibetans, Mongols and Kyrgyz, respectively: King Gesar, Jangar and Manas.

The cover is in Chinese and English, but I do not know if the content itself is bilingual. For a fuller press release in Chinese, see 首发式.

Compiled by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the volumes will document China’s vast treasure house of ancient culture in the fields of folklore, traditional music, dance, opera and even herbal medicine. I have not seen the book, and it is not clear from the article whether the 1,219 items to be cited will be ones that have been registered with UNESCO, or simply ones that China has unilaterally categorized as its “intangible cultural heritage.”

China has been very pro-active in winning international recognition of its intangible cultural heritage, particularly traditions of its non-Han ethnic minorities, and some of its neighbors are less than pleased about it. For instance, China initially 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 UN Recognition. 

The larger issue here, of course, is whether this flurry of registrations and publications represents China’s desire to embrace and celebrate its multi-ethnic society, or whether it intends to possess and monopolize — “appropriate,” if you like — the outstanding cultural achievements of peoples such as the Mongols, Tibetans or Kyrgyz, some of whom do not perceive of themselves as “Chinese” no matter which side of the border they live on, and who fear, rightly or wrongly, colonization or a less obvious form of cultural genocide. [Read more…]

Silk Road Economic Belt: Translators to Get their Slice of the Pie

Representatives of five of China’s northwestern provinces met June 15 in Xining to discuss how to benefit from the “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程). This is a global publishing initiative, given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, which is designed to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road. Details can be found in this Chinese news piece (西北五省).

The project plan for 2014-20 includes translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications.

The definition of “silk road” is quite broad, including both the original land-based caravan routes from Xi’an through Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as the so-called Maritime Silk Road that linked the South China Sea, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Predictably, China publishers have rushed to cash in by offering to translate and publish politically correct tomes. The Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社), for instance, has put in a bid to translate Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) into Kazakh.

Meanwhile, some titles targeted for translation leave one scratching one’s head. [Read more…]

Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins
[Read more…]

Aug 10-11 Hailar Event: 3rd Annual Tungusic Language and Culture Conference

第三届通古斯语言文化国际学术研讨会

Date: August 10-11, 2015

Venue: Hailar District, Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia

Organizer/Sponsors: CASS Institute of Ethnic Literature, Hulunbuir College, Hulunbuir Institute of History and Culture Research

Topics: History, culture, religious beliefs, literature, folk arts and socio-economic status of Tungusic peoples: within the PRC (Hezhen, Evenki, Oroqen, Manchu and Xibe); in Russia’s Far East and Siberia; in Mongolia (Tsaatan); in Japan (Ainu); and the interaction of Tungusic peoples with other peoples of northeast Asia, such as the Mongols, those of Turkic origins, Nordic Sami, Koreans and Japanese.  

Call for papers: contact hyao2013@163.com or yulan_003@163.com

One of the key personalities on the organizing committee is Dr. Chao Ke (Dulor Osor Chog), a renowned Evenki scholar who has written widely on Tungusic culture and language. See here for details on his latest published works.

Hong Kong and Cambridge Events: Spotlight on the Tungus-speaking Orochen and Evenki

Event: The Orochen – China’s Last Nomadic Hunters, a Royal Geographical Society presentation by Sih Hing Chao (founder of the Orochen Foundation)

Venue: 1/F The Hong Kong Club, 1 Jackson Road, Central, Hong Kong

Time/date: June 16, Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm

Reservations/info: events@rgshk.org.hk (HK$150 for RGS members, HK$200 for non-members)

The Orochen [鄂伦春] first entered Chinese historic annals during Emperor Kangxi’s reign as reindeer herders, but gradually gave up the reindeer for the horse. Over time, they developed a nomadic horse-breeding hunter-gatherer culture highly specialised in the hunting of various deer species prevalent in the Khingan Mountains.

During the Qing dynasty, the Orochen played a significant role in the Manchu imperial military forces, as part of the “all-conquering” Solon Eight Banners [索伦八旗], which consisted of a number of horse-based ethnic groups. The Solon Banners fought in campaigns as far-flung across Asia as Nepal, Sichuan, Korea and Vietnam, providing the finest cavalry for the imperial troops. 

 

Event: River Stars Reindeer, exhibition of photos of the Evenki and Orochen communities in the early 20th century

Venue: Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Time/date: June 23 to September 27, 2015

Previously unseen photographs capturing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will be displayed for the first time as part of  “River Stars Reindeer” at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers (photo by Sergei Shirokogoroff)

A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers (photo by Sergei Shirokogoroff)

 

The photographs record the indigenous Evenki [鄂温克] and Orochen [鄂伦春] communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.