Search Results for: manas

“Manas” Onstage: Ongoing Moves to Sinicize China’s Three Great Oral Epics

A large-scale, colourful rendition of the Kyrgyz epic Manas (玛纳斯史诗) was staged March 22-23 in Beijing’s ultra-modern Poly Theater. This performance came just two days after the newly anointed President Xi Jinping, speaking at the People’s Congress, cited two of the three great oral epics of non-Han peoples, Manas and the Tibetan-language King Gesar. While he mangled the title of the latter (Xi Jinpingian Sager), their mere mention shows their importance in the Party’s current multiethnic-is-good narrative.

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 — primarily the Oirat Mongols and the Khitan —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.

Experts don’t agree on the epic’s history, but it has undoubtedly been around in oral form for at least several centuries. Composed in Kyrgyz, a language spoken by the Kyrgyz people in northwest Xinjiang and neighboring Kyrgyzstan, it was not available in full in Kyrgyz script until the mid-90s, and only then translated into Chinese. For details on the tribulations of the master manaschi, Jusup Mamay (居素普·玛玛依), who recited his 232,500-line version for prosperity (and was sentenced to a long stint of “reform through labor” during the Cultural Revolution for his efforts), see A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.

For some time now, scholars at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the state media have been busy “re-packaging” these three epics in a way that emphasizes their Chineseness, while playing down their non-Han origins. The trio, which includes the Mongolian epic Jangar, are now frequently referred to as “China’s three great oral epics” (我国三大史诗), despite the fact that all three were composed in languages other than Chinese by peoples (Kyrgyz, Mongols and Tibetans) in territories that were not then firmly within the Chinese empire.

Media coverage of the Poly Theater production of Manas arguably takes this repurposing one step further.  Entitled Manas Epic Reenacted on the Opera Stage (史诗《玛纳斯》再现歌剧舞台), in the first two-thirds of the widely shared article, there are no mentions whatsoever of the word “Kyrgyz,” or references to the Kyrgyz people or language, or their homelands in Xinjiang or Kyrgyzstan. The opera, it reports, “recreates the magnificent, relentless struggle of the Chinese people [中国人民] for freedom and progress . . .”

Granted, “Kyrgyz” (柯尔克孜) does appear three times in the remaining third of the article, but it appears at the bottom in what is essentially a sidebar that describes the storyline of the opera; far from the eye-catching photos of the opera characters in exotic garb and the opening text that follows those colorful vignettes. Nowhere in the article is it noted that the epic was composed in a Turkic language (Kyrgyz) or that it is still considered by Kyrgyz speakers — on both sides of the border — to be the very incarnation of their identity as a nation.

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…]

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Culture as “backroom bric-à-brac”

 . . . of course, the Chinese government enforcing Chinese as the language of the whole empire is based on the premise that if these unruly people can be acculturated, they can become part of the larger whole. When they check in at the door, their culture (like the Kyrgyz Epic of Manas) is denatured and assigned to one of China’s many back rooms as part of the general bric-à-brac. The Mongols, the Manchus, and others brought their own culture into China, but once they lost control their culture was also assigned to the bric-à-brac and the old Han culture was put back in pride of place, purified as much as possible to maintain the idea that the civilisation is still grounded in those ancient ancestors.

(From a correspondent who wishes to maintain anonymity)

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2017.5)

A few years back I read a longish, semi-autobiographical novel by Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), who was raised in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (科尔沁草原) and is a native speaker of Mongolian. Entitled 《蒙古里亚》— an attempt to replicate the sound of “Mongolia” in Chinese, I assume — it comprises three distinct narratives that are intricately intertwined as the novel progresses: A spiritual journey, in which the narrator/author seeks his Shaman roots; various “scenes” from the journey of a real-life, early 20th-century Scandinavian explorer among the Mongols; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu (特勒约苏), a modern-day Mongolian herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a greedy coal mining company. I just finished my draft translation of an excerpt from the novel (The Mongol Would-be Self-immolator), in which Teelee is jailed for threatening to self-immolate (自焚). The excerpt all takes place in jail, as a bevy of reporters, Banner honchos and a mysterious security official alternately congratulate, chide and interrogate him, the latter out of fear that — heaven forbid! — he has been inspired by Tibet’s self-immolating Buddhist monks.

I’ve just started reading Manas Resurrected, a short story by Xi’an’s Hong Ke (《复活的玛纳斯》红柯 著). As far as I know, it has not been translated yet. I’m intrigued for two reasons: The reference to the ancient Kyrgyz epic Manas, and the fact that it is set in the early 60s when the Soviet Union’s Kazakhstan did its best to lure Xinjiang residents (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) across the border. Apparently as many as 60,000+ did actually leave China. I don’t know much about this mass movement or the politics behind it, but it has not been forgotten in the PRC. The exodus came up in a short story (Sidik Golden MobOff) and again in a novel (Zuilian) by the Xinjiang-based Uyghur author Alat Asem, both of which I translated. He repeatedly refers to the attraction a new life in Kazakhstan exercised on many Uyghurs during that period, and at times his protagonists speak of the émigrés with great disdain.

Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

Updated: April 23, 2018

Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary 

Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

I’m often too busy to immediately write a well-researched post about contemporary “ethnic-themed” fiction that has been 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 peoples such as the Bai, Evenki, Hui, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Lahu, Lisu, Oirat, Seediq, Tibetan, Tujia, Uyghur, Xiongnu and Yi. Unless noted, the original is in Chinese and the translation is in English. But I’ve also included a handful of renditions into French, German, Spanish and Japanese, as well as a few factual articles about oral epics whose English versions are not widely available.

I welcome your updates and corrections.

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

General

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.

Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and  Popular Culture

  • This collection presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China’s recognized ethnic groups — including the Han, Yi, Miao, Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazakh — and the selections include a variety of genres such as epics, folktales, folk songs and quyi. Edited by Victor Mair and Mark Bender.

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.

 

Evenki (鄂温克族)

Balajieyi (芭拉杰依)

  • 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns): Translated into Swedish (Ett brokigt band om renens horn) by Anna Gustafsson Chen, it features an Evenki narrator telling an Evenki love story that spans the 1900-1950 period. The author is a 74-year-old Evenki woman whose mother was Aoluguya’s last practicing shaman. She explains her motivation for writing the book:  “Since mother departed, no one has donned that Shaman Spirit Robe made of metal and leather, or struck the Spirit drum to pray for the Evenki . . . There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki. This is our people’s collective memory . . . I want to leave this for the children who love the forest.”

Chi Zijian (迟子建)

Gerelchimig Blackcrane (格日勒其木格・黒鶴)

  • The Nightjar at Dusk: Read an extract from this short story, set in the Greater Khingan Mountains of northeast China, here

Hui (回族)

Huo Da (霍达)

  • Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼): 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.

Li Jinxiang and Shi Shuqing (李进祥、石舒清 )

La rivière des femmes: Nouvelles huiStories set among the Muslim Hui along the banks of Qingshui River in Ningxia.

Shi Shuqing (石舒清)

  • 西海固の人々  (西海固的事情): Collection of short stories set in Ningxia’s Xihaigu Prefecture.

[Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Roundup for end January 2016

Multilingual CASS scholar Adili Zhumaturdu (阿地力·朱玛吐尔地) reports that his 4-volume Chinese translation of the Kyrgyz epic, Manas (玛纳斯史诗), has made it onto the list of 86 books for “popularizing multi-ethnic traditional culture” (全国推荐中华优秀传统文化普及图书名单) recommended by China’s very official State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. An ethnic Kyrgyz, he worked closely with Jusup Mamay, China’s last great Xinjiang-based manaschi capable of reciting the classic that counts over 200,000 lines of verse. Zhumaturdu is also the author of a detailed Chinese-language biography of the much-revered storyteller (居素普·玛玛依评传) that I discuss in Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.

* * *

A typeface that fuses the Tibetan script with Latin letters — referred to as the “China Daily Tibet Font” (see headline China Daily Tibetan Fontat right) – was featured in a report celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It was created as a collaboration between China Daily and Beijing Founder. Details are scant, but no Tibetan names figure among the designers. Interest in things Tibetan among mainstream Chinese and foreigners alike has fueled literary output over the last few years, including the wildly popular Tibet Code (藏地密码) and the controversial Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver.

* * *

Behemoth (悲兮魔兽), a harrowing documentary by Zhao Liang about coal mining in Inner Mongolia, was recently screened in Beijing. Well received at international venues such as the Venice Film Festival, it has been shown to small audiences just three times in China and has reportedly been banned. Watch the trailer here. As I’ve reported before, ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of rapacious mining and logging projects, and inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue. For more information, see Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up.

* * *

Tujia folklorist Sun Jiaxiang (孙家香), who documented more than 500 Tujia folk tales and authored 孙家香故事集 (lit, Sun Jiaxiang’s Collected Tales), passed away in January 2016, aged 97. Chinanews.com (土家族首位女性故事家) reports that her collection was officially designated for publication under the Ninth Five-year Plan (1996-2000), and it does appear to have been published (here). Sadly – like so many state-bankrolled publications about China’s ethnicities – I cannot find where it can be purchased online. However, Lin Jifu’s 孙家香故事讲述研究 is available, and it profiles her as a folklorist and a storyteller in her own right.

About Me (关于我)

Welcome to Altaic Storytelling. My name is Bruce Humes (徐穆实), and this is the latest reincarnation of the blog I launched back in 2009 and have hosted since.Bruce Humes Jan 1 2015

Previous titles were Ethnic ChinaLit: Writing by & about non-Han Peoples of China and 非漂 [Fēi Piāo].

Regardless of whatever my current theme is, some 300+ Ethnic ChinaLit and 非漂 [Fēi Piāo] posts will remain accessible from my Home Page. You can also find some of my own Chinese-to-English literary translations here.

Keen to experience socialism with Chinese characteristics back in the ’80s, I first took a detour to Taipei and Hong Kong but went on to reside in Shanghai, Kunming and Shenzhen. At the moment, I’m commuting between Malaysia and Taiwan, and studying Turkish on my own.

Every few years I try to travel to another country, arrange a home-stay, and attend immersion classes in the national language. I’ve done so in Paris, St. Petersburg, Kyoto and most recently, Istanbul. Fascinating cities, all of them — if only I’d learned enough Turkish to hold a decent conversation!

For well over two decades I’ve made a living as a China publishing consultant, export management trainer, market researcher, writer, editor and Chinese-to-English translator. You can find more detailed background on my published literary translations here.

I’ve been interviewed about my blog and literary translations in The BTS Interview 迟子建:从额尔古纳河右岸到大洋彼岸,  and Bruce Humes and his Shanghai Baby.

Among the current posts, my personal favorites include:

Contact/联系

One Belt, One Road: China’s Soft Power Campaign Quietly Inches its Way to Middle East and North Africa

A children’s literature exhibition and copyright exchange for countries along the Silk Road were two of the major focuses of the just-ended Beijing Int’l Book Fair, reports the Global Times (Book Fair):

Children’s book publishers from 15 Arab countries and 18 domestic publishers signed deals that will see the best of children’s literature from China and the Middle East be shared between the two regions.

Given the increasing number of culture exchanges between China and Arabian countries, the China
Publishing Group, China’s largest publishing company, has worked on expanding cooperation with over 20 countries in the Middle East. At the fair, the publisher announced it closed a deal with Middle Eastern publishers to bring Maodun Literature Prize winner Zhou Daxin’s
Requiem [安魂] to the region. The publishing house’s Mottos of Modern Chinese previously sold more than 10,000 copies in One Road, One Beltthe region — a record for Chinese books sold in the Middle East. 

This will come as no surprise to you, assuming you’ve been following the developments about China’s far-reaching One Belt, One Road campaign (一带一路), a development strategy and framework that seeks to foster connectivity and cooperation between China and the countries along the ancient Silk Road.

At the moment, the Silk Road Economic Belt is getting a lot of press coverage for its grandiose proposed infrastructure projects, and the fact that it is making Moscow and Washington rather jittery. But there’s a more subtle side to it. The “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程) is effectively the cultural component of the campaign. Given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, it 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.

Turkish version of Tie Ning's "The Bathing Women" (大浴女)

Turkish version of Tie Ning’s “The Bathing Women” (大浴女)

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.

As I reported in Slice of the Pie, the Silk Road Fragrant Books Project already claims a number of achievements. Agreements were inked in 2014 to set up “mechanisms” to facilitate mutual silk road translation projects with countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社) has reportedly undertaken to publish 17 books in Kazakh, including Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems (唐诗三百首) and the contemporary classic The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) by none other than President Xi Jinping. [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…]