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 Kyrgyz 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:






Xinjiang-based “West” Magazine Announces 2012-13 Awards

西部 magazine (lit, “West”) recently held an award ceremony in Tekes County (located in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture). Ten authors received awards for texts published in the magazine during 2012-13 (西部文学奖). They are:

Winning poet Maimaitimin Abolizi: Writes in Uyghur and Mandarin

Winning poet Maimaitimin Abolizi: Writes in Uyghur and Mandarin


《龋齿》by 弋舟 (Yi Zhou), and《小说二题》by 流瓶儿 (Liu Ping’er)

Short Stories

《小叙事》by 汗漫 (Han Man);《母亲》by 辛生 (Xin Sheng); and《禾木纪事》by 康剑 (Kang Jian)


《冉冉的诗》by 冉冉 (Ran Ran), and《石头里的天空》by 麦麦提敏·阿卜力孜 (Maimaitimin Abolizi)

Literary Criticism

《诗之思》by 泉子 (Quan Zi), and《巴扎里的时间》by 王敏 (Wang Min)


《英美自然诗文》translated by 松风 (Song Feng)

Wang Lixiong on Xinjiang: “My Western Realm, Your Eastern Homeland”


Book Review:



My Western Realm,

Your Eastern Homeland

By Wang Lixiong

The 2009 Ürümqi riots damaged the reputation of Xinjiang’s Uyghur in the eyes of many Chinese, but the “2014 Kunming Attack” in March this year has surely left a more blood-curdling and indelible image of the “Uyghur-as-Terrorist” imprinted upon the national psyche. Officially, with 197 killed (including both Han and Uyghur), the earlier inter-ethnic violence in Ürümqi events was more deadly. But the lightning attack by assailants wielding long-bladed knives who randomly stabbed and slashed passengers in Kunming Railway Station, leaving 29 travellers dead and well over one hundred injured, was a decidedly one-sided, cold-blooded affair.

 A Han author's voyage into Uyghurdom: Even the title is taboo

A Han author’s voyage into Uyghurdom: Even the title is taboo

Xinhua News Agency quickly announced that the slaughter was carried out by Uyhgurs with a separatist agenda. Whether that claim is based on hard facts is irrelevant; within China, it is widely assumed to be true.

What “ethnic” policies does the central government pursue in Xinjiang, and how have they evolved since 1949? Why have Han-Uyghur relations become so volatile? Can a “Middle Way” be found, and what would it look like?

Openly posing these basic questions in today’s China — much less debating them — is fraught with danger, especially if you are Uyghur. The recent arrest of Beijing Minzu University economics professor Ilham Tohti, an outspoken but moderate Uyghur intellectual since charged with “inciting separatism,” shows where discussing issues relating to ethnic minorities can lead.

Several years back when it was a tad less sensitive — for a Han, at least — to address these topics, writer and rights activist Wang Lixiong published his 473-page My Western Realm, Your Eastern Homeland ( 我的西域,你的东土) (1). “Western Realm” conjures up images of the Silk Road, the Taklamakan Desert and Turkic tribes, all part of the Chinese empire. “Eastern Homeland,” however, is a taboo term in today’s PRC, a homophone for the abbreviation of the short-lived, pre-1949 East Turkestan Republic, whose legacy still gives Beijing splittist migraines. Both of these terms refer, of course, to what is known in the PRC as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

Though first published in Taiwan in 2007, the Chinese authorities have banned the work, which both confers it with a certain legitimacy, and suggests that it is not yet out of date.

The author originally intended to pen a book on Xinjiang that would serve as a sister volume to his controversial Sky Burial: The Fate of Tibet (天葬). No expert in this field, he set out for Xinjiang to do onsite research, and to get his hands on background material and statistics that he believed were key to understanding the Xinjiang question. Unwisely, he employed his guanxi to obtain reports from government archives and for this, he was arrested, jailed and intensely interrogated; he won freedom only by promising he would work as an informant for China’s intelligence services. [Read more...]

Siberia: 21st Century Greater China Territory?

In Why China Will Reclaim Siberia, Frank Jacobs explains how vulnerable Russia’s northeastern territory is to eventual annexation by the awakened dragon to the south. What if China were to—à la Putin in Crimea—”hand out passports to sympathizers in contested areas, then move in militarily to ‘protect its citizens’ “? Certainly, that scenario is still far off, but large numbers of (rather successful) Chinese businesspeople have already emigrated there. An excerpt from Jacobs’ essay:

Siberia – the Asian part of Russia, east of the Ural Mountains – is immense. It takes up three-quarters of Russia’s land mass, the equivalent of the entire U.S. and India put together. It’s hard to imagine such a vast area changing hands. But like love, a border is real only if both sides believe in it. And on both sides of the Sino-Russian border, that belief is wavering.

The border, all 2,738 miles of it, is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860 and other unequal pacts between a strong, expanding Russia and a weakened China after the Second Opium War. (Other European powers similarly encroached upon China, but from the south. Hence the former British foothold in Hong Kong, for example.)

July 2014: Update on Uyghur Writers and Writing as Crackdown Gains Traction

In the wake of two high-profile and deadly attacks reportedly carried out by Uyghurs outside of their traditional

Open Letter by Uyghur Intellectuals Denouncing Terrorism

Open Letter by Uyghur Intellectuals Denouncing Terrorism

homeland, the Chinese authorities have launched a multi-faceted campaign to crush what they see as a terrorist movement that aims at founding an independent state in the Xinjiang autonomous region that represents one-sixth of Chinese territory.

I am referring here to the Beijing “2013 Tian’anmen Square Attack” in which a 4 x 4 crashed into a crowd and burst into flames near Mao’s famous portrait, killing the passengers and two tourists, while injuring 38. On March 1 this year, eight knife-wielding attackers appeared at the Kunming train station in Yunnan Province, and slashed 29 people to death and injured 140 others.

As we enter Ramadan (June 28-July 27), when Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset, Radio Free Asia (Anti-Terrorism Measures) reports that the authorities in Ürümqi are taking the strictest measures ever to ensure that there are no “incidents” during this, the most important month in the Muslim calendar. They include: newly installed surveillance cameras in mosques; preparation for “sudden-strike” searches of Uyghur households to break up unauthorized gatherings; requiring Halal restaurants to remain open during the hours of the fast; and Muslim students at university will attend “patriotic study” classes and eat in the school canteen during the day so that they cannot practice fasting. It should be noted that some of RFA’s information about the crackdown came from a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, an organization of exiled Uyghur groups that is based outside China.

Meanwhile, how is the crackdown impacting the “official” literary scene? Here are a few May-June factoids for your reference: [Read more...]

Chan Koonchung Debunks Tibetan Stereotypes

Chan Koonchung, author of Champa the Driver, a new novel about a Tibetan chauffeur who plays lover-on-demand to his Han boss, says he wanted to “cut across five kinds of stereotypes when it comes to Tibet and Tibetans,” including:

The victim stereotype – Tibetan culture is under threat, all because of the Chinese rule: non-Tibetan migrants, ‘Han-ification’, assimilation policies, bureaucratic nepotism and state violence. But traditional culture is also changing inside Tibet because many Tibetans want modernisation and welcome economic growth. Many Tibetan families urge their children to learn Chinese and young Tibetans love hybridised popular culture.

For the full piece, see The Five Stereotypes of Tibet at English Pen.

Or check out this review of the novel, Tibetan Dreamer in an Alien Land.