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 China 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