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

Updated: Feb 18, 2017

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.

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.

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.

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): To be translated into Swedish by Anna Gustafsson Chen and published within 2017. 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)

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.

Korean (朝鲜族)

Jin Renshun (金仁顺)

  • Monk Dance (僧舞): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series

Manchu (满族)

Hu Donglin (胡东林)

  • Fox Grin (狐狸的微笑): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series

Na Ye (睡前书,娜夜 著)

  • Writing Before Sleep (娜夜): Poetry collection.  To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series

Ye Guangqin (叶广芩)

  • Back Quarters at Number 7  (后罩楼): Member of a family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, author Ye Guangqin peppers her story about growing up in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China with references to her culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu.

Zhao Mei (叙述者说, 赵玫 著)

  • Thus Speaks the Narrator (叙述者说): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017.  Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series

Miao (苗族)

Butterfly Mother (Translated by Mark Bender)

  • A collection of epic songs from the rich oral tradition of the Miao (Hmong) people of southwest China. These poetic narratives, traditionally performed by two groups of singers, relate the creation of a world in which everything is alive, and listeners find that besides mountains, rivers, trees, and creatures, inanimate objects are also ‘born’ and have spirits.

Mongolian (蒙古族)

Ayonga (阿云噶)

  • Mamba Rasang (满巴扎仓): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series

The Epic of Jangar (江格尔传奇, 何德修编撰 )

Guo Xuebo  (郭雪波)

  • For a backgrounder — en français — to this China-born Mongolian author who has published several novels and short story collections that draw deeply on Mongolian culture, click here. They include two novels translated into French, La Renarde du désert et Les Loups du désert, and The Desert Wolf, a collection of shorter pieces in English.

Jiang Rong (姜戎)

  • Wolf Totem (狼图腾): A young Han intellectual from the city, “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution, learns lessons about life and the environment from a Mongol elder.

Taiwan (台湾)

Badai

  • Sorceress Diguwan (笛鸛): Reportedly the first roman-fleuve ever produced by a Puyuma writer. It was inspired by a history of a conflict between his tribal people and the Bunun as recounted in documents compiled under the Japanese. Badai interviewed his tribal elders about this history in 2002, and discovered major differences in the two accounts.

Chang Ying-Tai (張瀛太)

  • The Bear Whispers to Me by Chang Ying-Tai (熊兒悄聲對我說): A poignant forest fable seen through the eyes of a Taiwanese aboriginal boy about the vivid beauty of the natural world, childhood, loss and the transient nature of time.

Indigenous Writers of Taiwan (edited by John Balcom and Yingtish Balcom)

  • Stories, essays, and poems in this anthology include pieces from nine indigenous tribes. The writers explore such themes as the decline of traditional ways of life in Taiwan’s aboriginal communities, residual belief in ancestral spirits, assimilation into a society dominated by Han Chinese, and the psychological and economic encroachment of the outside world.

Liglave A-wu (利格拉乐.阿乌)

  • Dreaming of My Father (梦中的父亲): Liglave A-wu, born 1969, is a prominent indigenous Taiwanese activist and author of the Paiwan tribe. Her Han father retreated with the Kuomintang to Taiwan and married her mother, a Paiwan.  As a result of the stigmas and discrimination she suffered in her early years, it was only well into her adulthood that A-wu came to identify with her aboriginal heritage and went on to advocate for her community.
  • La vie de Maman dans le village de garnison (Jentayu (hors-série n°1) : Taïwan)

Walis Nokan (瓦歷斯.諾幹)

Wu He (舞鹤)

  • Les Survivants by Wu He (余生 ): Story of the the 1930 “Wushe Incident” (雾社事件) and the ill-fated anti-Japanese uprising of the Seediq aborigines (赛德克族) in the mountains of central Taiwan.

Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益)

Tibetan (西藏)

Alai (阿来)

  • Hollow Mountain (空山, 第一部): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series.
  • Red Poppies (尘埃落定): Focuses on the extravagant and brutal reign of a clan of Tibetan warlords during the rise of the Communists. It is narrated by the chieftain’s son, a self-professed “idiot” who reveals the bloody feuds, seductions, secrets, and scheming behind his family’s struggles for power. When the chieftain agrees to grow opium poppies with seeds supplied by the Nationalists in exchange for modern weapons, he draws Tibet into the opium trade — and unwittingly plants the seeds for a downfall.
  • The Song of King Gesar  (格萨尔王): Visit The Shepherd’s Dream for an extract from the translation by Howard Goldblatt.

A Blighted Flower and Other Stories (short story collection)

  • Döndrub Gyel’s A Blighted FlowerA Shameless Bride by Döndrub Gyel and Tshering Dondrub; A Girl with Her Face Concealed by a Scarf by Tenpa Yargye, and The Yellow Leaves of Summer by Tashi Palden.

Dan Zeng (丹增)

  • The Little Novice (小沙弥): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series.

Flügelschlag des Schmetterlings: Tibeter erzählen

  • A collection of Tibetan short stories in German

Jangbu (ལྗང་བུ།)

Stephen Koonchung (陈冠中)

  • The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by (裸命): What’s a young Tibetan stud to do for a living nowadays in a tourist hotspot like Lhasa? And what happens when his childhood dream — to hang out in the capital of a country called China — comes true?

Naktsang Nulo

  • My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered StoneNaktsang Nulo recalls his upbringing as a nomad on Tibet’s eastern plateau. He depicts pilgrimages to monasteries, including a 1500-mile horseback expedition his family made to and from Lhasa. Naktsang’s father was killed in the 1958 Amdo rebellion against the PLA. During the next year, the author and his brother were imprisoned in a camp where, after the onset of famine, very few children survived.

Neighbor of the Paradise  (anthology)

  • Collection of 15 short stories about Tibet by writers Tashi Dawa, Ma Yuan and others.

Pema Tseden (པད་མ་ཚེ་བརྟན།, 万玛才旦)

  • La couleur de la mort (死亡的颜色): À cause de son étrange frère jumeau, le beau Nyima se disputait parfois avec sa petite amie Drolma. Elle voulait se marier. Mais il lui répondait toujours : « Attends un peu que Dawa aille mieux, alors on se mariera. » Jusqu’à ce que la mort s’en mêle.
  • Neige : A collection of short stories translated into French from the Tibetan and Chinese.
  • The Doctor: A (very) short story. Has an air of Waiting for Godot to it, and includes a detailed introduction to the author by translator Françoise Robin. The original was in Tibetan.
  • The Dream of a Wandering Minstrel: Translated from Tibetan by Tenzin Dickie.
  • The Ninth Man: Yongcuo’s first man was a Buddhist monk and a virgin. Now she’s on her ninth lover.

Poetry Translations (various Tibetan poets)

Snow Lion: New Writing from Tibet

  • A special edition of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing (2002): Essays (4), fiction (11), poetry (11) and reviews (4), all free to download in PDF and HTML formats.

Tales of Tibet: Sky Burials, Prayer Wheels, and Wind Horses (anthology)

  • Pieces by: Tsering Shakya (foreword), Alai, Herbert Batt, Feng Liang, Ge Fei, Geyang, Ma Jian, Ma Yuan, Sebo, Tashi Dawa, Yan Geling, Yangdon

Tsering Döndrub

  • La vallée des renards noirs (p. 99-120): Possibly the first Tibetan short story that takes as its core topic the settlement of Tibetan herders in newly built housing, and the gradual disappointment that ensues.
  • The Red Wind Scream (p 84)

Tsering Norbu (次仁罗布)

  • Amerika (啊米日嘎): A short story in English.
  • A Sheep Released to Life (放生羊): Narrates an old Tibetan’s efforts to help his dead wife achieve rebirth.
  • L’assassin (杀手): Une histoire relativement courte écrite à la première personne : une histoire de meurtre et de rédemption ou plutôt de rédemption sans meurtre : rédemption à la fois de celui qui était parti pour tuer et de celui qu’il voulait tuer, pour venger son père. Il s’agit d’une rédemption spirituelle, au-delà des schémas usuels de vengeance rituelle.
  • Présentation: Backgrounder on the author in French

Words Without Borders (August 2015)

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

Yangtsokyi (གཡང་འཙོ་སྐྱིད།)

Tujia (土家族)

Ye Mei (叶梅)

  • Song Rod (歌棒): Collection of short stories.  To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series.
  • The Last Chieftain (最后的土司): To launch in English on Amazon.com within 1Q 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series.

Xinjiang (新疆)

Alat Asem (غەيرەت ئاسىم , 阿拉提·阿斯木)

  • The Mute Visage of Time (时间悄悄的嘴脸): Novel about Xinjiang’s jade mafioso, revenge and salvation. Translation underway by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series)
  • Sidik Golden MobOff : Like much of Alat Asem’s writing, this tale immerses us in a Uyghur world where Han just don’t figure; his hallmarks are womanizers, insulting monikers and a hybrid Chinese with an odd but appealing Turkic flavor.

Tamir Hamut

Hong Ke (红柯)

  • Urho by Hong Ke (乌尔禾): A novel set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. Click here to read an excerpt in English.

Yerkex Hurmanbek  (叶尔克西·胡尔曼别克 著, aka Yerkesy Hulmanbiek)

  • An Eternal Lamb (永生羊) . To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017, part of the Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series.
  • Painless (无痛)

Legend of Manas (玛纳斯故事, 贺继宏、纯懿编撰 )

  • The great Kyrgyz oral epic retold as a novel and published in Chinese, Kyrgyz and English. See here for various short items about the epic and the revered (and recently deceased) manaschi, Jusup Mamay (居素普·玛玛依), who could recite the entire tale totaling over 200,000 lines of verse.
  • Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic

Li Juan (李娟)

Memtimin Hoshur (مەمتىمىن ھوشۇر, 买买提明·吾守尔 )

  • Festival for the Pigs: Soon a rumor spread through the city that a pig was riding on another pig, circling through the streets, commanding the riot.
  • The Boy Who Was Taken to the City: A series of short dialogues between a son and his father, who is taking him from his mother and the traditional rural Uyghur lifestyle to live with a new mother in the strange world of the big city.
  • The Mustache DisputeI was surprised to hear that they started registering people with mustaches. I’ve heard about the registration of households, the illiterate, and people who don’t pay their garbage fees. But up until now, I’ve never heard of a registration for people who grow mustaches. 
  • The Test: Penned in 1961 and arguably a propaganda piece.
  • This Is Not A Dream (بۇ چۈش ئەمەس): A “romantic tragedy,” is one of his longer short stories.

Exmetjan Osman

  • Three poems from the founder of the gungga (“hazy”) movement in Uyghur poetry: Sadir in Search of His Five Orphaned Children (ﺳﺎﺩﯨﺮ ﻳﯧﺘﯩﻢ ﻗﺎﻟﻐﺎﻥ ﺑﻪﺵ ﺑﺎﻟﯩﺴﯩﻨﻰ ﺋﯩﺰﺩﻩﭖ); Uyghur Impressions (ئۇيغۇرچە تۇيغۇلار), and My Love 

Perhat Tursun

Nurmuhemmet Yasin  (نۇرمۇھەمەت ياسىن , 努尔莫哈提·亚辛)

  • Wild Pigeon  (ياۋا كەپتەر): In this fable, which is also a political allegory, a princely bird is captured by humans and caged. He longs for freedom and, in the end, prefers to die rather than live in captivity.

Wang Gang (英格力士, 王刚 著)

Uyghur Modernist Poetry (Joshua L. Freeman)

  • Introduction to Uyghur poetry + poems of three poets: Tamir Hamut, Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed and Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an

Xiongnu (匈奴)

Gao Jianqun (高建群)

  • Tongwan City by Gao Jianqun (统万城): The reign of Helian Bobo, founder of Xiongnu state of Xia (407-431), the building of his heavily fortified capital, and the spread of Mahayana Buddhism via Kumarajiva (344-413).

Yi (彝族)

Aku Wuwu (罗庆春, aka  阿库乌雾)

  • Tiger Traces: Contains Aku’s Chinese language and Nuosu language poems in translations by Mark Bender, Aku Wuwu, and Jjiepa Ayi. For each, the Chinese or Nuosu script is included as well. Most interesting is the accompanying audio CD, on which Aku reads his poems in both languages, with English versions read by Bender and Kate Polak.
  • Coyote Traces: Aku Wuwu’s Poetic Sojourn in AmericaPoems written during his trips to the US, through which he has tried to capture “tangible and intangible heritages of Native Americans” as he sees them. Presented in Chinese and English.

Jidi Majia (吉狄马加)

  • Identity (身份): Poetry collection. To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series)
  • Jidi Majia: Five Poems: Poetry in bilingual (Chinese and English) layout appears in Chinese Literature Today. Jidi Majia belongs to the Yi-Nusuo ethnicity in southern Sichuan.
  • Rhapsody in Black: Poems: The poetry of Jidi Majia is deeply grounded in the myths and oral traditions of the Nuosu minority. In their ethnic richness, they also resonate with the voices of the indigenous and the dispossessed, from Native American and South American Indian poets to the African American and aboriginal Australian writers preserving and reshaping cultural identity.

Yunnan  (云南)

Chinese Ethnic Minority Oral Traditions: A Recovered Text of Bai Folk Songs in a Sinoxenic Script (Jingqi Fu and Zhao Min with Xu Lin and Duan Ling)

  • 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.

Cun Wenxue (存文学)

Fan Wen (范稳)

  • A Century of Cultural Collisions in TibetInterview with author Fan Wen.
  • The Creation Story (大地雅歌): An excerpt from the romantic escapades of Tibetan balladeer Tashi Gyatso.
  • Une terre de lait et de miel (水乳大地): Rendered in French, this is the first novel of the trilogy. It is the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon — Gateway to Tibet — beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.  
  • Land of Mercy (悲悯大地) The second novel in Fan Wen’s trilogy, and the first to appear in full in English. Translated by Shelly Bryant and published by Singapore’s Rinchen Books.

Ye Duo Duo (叶多多)

Comments

  1. Thanks Bruce,

    You are doing a great work.

  2. Wenyuan Shao says:

    Thank you Bruce! This list is quite useful for me.
    For Yi literature, you might want to include Jidi Majia’s newly translated “Rhapsody in Black:”
    http://www.amazon.com/Rhapsody-Black-Chinese-Literature-Series/dp/0806144491
    https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3591945871/rhapsody-in-black
    “Tiger Traces, Selected Nuosu and Chinese Poetry of Aku Wuwu” is also a book-length translation in English, but might be too old for this list:
    https://flpubs.osu.edu/store/tiger-traces-selected-nuosu-and-chinese-poetry-aku-wuwu
    http://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_all&q=tiger+traces+aku

  3. Adriana Martínez González says:

    Hi, Bruce:
    I translated Ye Duo Duo (Yunnan) into Spanish. La vida cotidiana de las mujeres Lāhù de Láncāng, China Intercontinental Press, 2015. I´d love it if you added it to the list. Ye Duo Duo is not as well known as her husband, but we are working on that.

    Keep up the amazing work!

    Adriana Martínez González

  4. Thank you Bruce, this list is incredibly useful. I have one to add to your Taiwan section, a short story called “Dreaming of My Father” by Liglave A-wu, translated by Kristen Pie. (In Chinese:
    利格拉乐.阿乌: 《梦中的父亲》). The story is free-to-view online and is number 26 in the Read Paper Republic short story series: https://paper-republic.org/pubs/read/dreaming-of-my-father/.

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