Nuosuo Poet Aku Wuwu: Striving for a New Language Born of Cultural Fusion

Aku Wuwu (阿库乌雾), a bilingual poet who writes and performs in both Mandarin and Nuoso (a language of the Yi people), advocates a new-fangled form of Chinese that more fully expresses his people’s non-Han culture. This reminds me of the attitude of Uyghur author Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木) and the Turkic-flavor of his Confessions of a Jade Lord (《时间悄悄的嘴脸》). As Aku recently said in an interview at ThePaper.cn:

。。。针对多民族作家,我提出过从“文化混血”到“文学混血”的趋势,这是不可抗拒的时代历史潮流。我还提出“第二汉语”的主张,即不再是原来意义上的汉语,或者说不再是汉文化意义上的汉语,而是一种经过了彝族汉语诗人们全面变构后用以表述和承载彝民族文化发展体系的新的汉语,对建构多民族一体多元的富有中国特色的中国文学理论做出贡献。

For the full interview in Chinese, click here.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Ferociously Monolingual America

There is a fluidity to the South Asian language-scape that is wholly lacking in the United States, which is, despite the diverse population, ferociously monolingual. Code-switching, the practice of sliding effortlessly from one language to the next, or mixed idioms, like Hinglish, are practically non-existent in the US, outside of immigrant communities. I find it very hard to switch back and forth mid-stream between Hindi and English.

(Literary translator Daisy Rockwell in interview, Meet the American who translates some of India’s finest Hindi writers into English)

African Literature: On China’s Cultural Radar Yet?

Can Literary Imports Change Chinese Perceptions of Africa?, my piece on AfroLit in Chinese is up now at Sixth Tone:

Since the founding of the modern Chinese state in 1949, there have been three waves of African literary imports. The first, which emerged in the 1980s, was ideologically driven. Empowered by

Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie is hot in China: Her “Dear Ijeawele” (亲爱的安吉维拉), is due out in 3Q 2018 — her sixth book to appear in Chinese.

Beijing’s policy of promoting solidarity with the Third World and newly independent nations, state-run imprints like the Foreign Literature Publishing House translated and published a substantial number of African works such as those by the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Senegalese poet (and former president) Léopold Sédar Senghor, and the Algerian writer Mouloud Mammeri. Anthologies of translated African folktales for children even appeared.

To learn about the 2ndand now the 3rd— most recent wave — click here.

For more about African writing in China, read Feminist: A Dirty Word in Xi Jinping’s China?, or check out my bilingual database of African prose in Chinese translation (非洲文学:中文译本).

The New Xinjiang: Traveling when Uyghur

In Navigating Xinjiang’s Security Checkpoints, Darren Byler, anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Washington, relates his recent experiences in northwest China:

Over the course of a week in cities across Xinjiang, I went through dozens and dozens of checkpoints. I saw young Uighur officers berate elderly Uighurs for not showing their IDs. I saw numerous checkpoints at the sides of roads, where officers appeared to target young Uighur men and women. During my entire trip, I did not see a Han individual produce his or her ID, or even pause for a moment to wonder if they should.

At some checkpoints, officers also asked young Uighurs to give them the passwords to open their smartphones. At these checkpoints, the officers looked at the spyware app Clean Net Guard (Jingwang Weishi) that all Uighurs are now required to install on their phones. The officers matched the registration of the phone to the ID of the person, and they also checked if any alerts had been issued by the app. The app scans the content on the phone and content sent from the phone for any material deemed “extremist” or “separatist.” These types of checkpoints are particularly harrowing for young Uighurs. Evidence from these scans can be used to detain them indefinitely in the reeducation camps.

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)

English Excerpt from “Prayers in the Wind” (祭语风中) by Tibetan Author Tsering Norbu

 

Excerpt from Prayers in the Wind

A novel by Tsering Norbu

节选:《祭语风中》(次仁罗布 著)

Translated from the Chinese by Joshua Dyer

 

Zhyiö Rinpoche’s body sat upright on a wooden bed wrapped in his frayed and faded robe. Peering through the thick veil of incense smoke, I could almost will myself to believe Rinpoche was still alive and well. His beard extended down to his chest, and his eyelids stood slightly apart, giving the impression he was observing something carefully. A clay lamp flickered on a wooden table to his right. Heartbroken, I fell to my knees, kowtowed, and then finally laid myself prostrate on the ground before him, shedding tears all the while.

“Rinpoche,” I called to him.

“Don’t cry,” someone urged.

I was pulled to my feet and escorted outside again. The sunlight stabbed at my eyes. The courtyard was filled with white light. Next door I heard the sound of sutras being recited to the urgent beats of the tamaru drum and bell. As my vision adjusted to the light I realized it was Tendzin Drakpa and his brother at my side.

“Rinpoche’s passage to Nirvana reminds us all how cruel this world can be. You must not hold him back with your tears. Let him pass on. We’ve already done the calculations. The day after tomorrow is a very auspicious day. We have begun preparations for his cremation,” Tendzin Drakpa said, tugging on my arm.

I didn’t know how to thank him properly so I merely nodded.

He led me out behind the monastery to see the crematorium the villagers had built. From the distance it looked like an offering burner, but larger and wider at the top. An even coat of mud had been applied to the outside. Inside there were crisscrossing beams of green wood to hold the body. Three holes lined the outer walls at ground level for feeding wood and oxygen to the fire. As I stood by the crematorium, the gratitude I felt for the villagers took some of the sting out of my heartache.

Tendzin Drakpa had more grey in his hair now, and his back was a little more stooped. At the same time, there was a look of philosophical detachment in his eyes that had not been there before. Time was working at him, slowly molding him into the form he would assume as an old man. I faced the crematorium and recited the Sutra of the Heavenly Gathering, and prayed that Zhyiö Rinpoche would attain a speedy rebirth.

A villager hurried towards us shouting, “Tendzin Drakpa, come quickly! There’s blood dripping from Rinpoche’s nose!” [Read more…]

“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.

“The Devils’ Dance”: Review of Uzbek author Hamid Ismailov’s Novel

From childhood, it was drilled into our minds together with our mother tongue: if you start an idea, take it to the finish line ! This is because the Uzbek language’s structure is such that until you get to the end of a verbal phrase, in order not to miss the meaning of the verb, whether the sentence is a question, a supposition or an exclamation, or a sizeable exposition, you won’t know what it means.

(Excerpted from the Literary Saloon’s review of Hamid Ismailov’s The Devil’s Dance)

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Chinafication of Our Country’s Islam

. . . the Chinese Islamic Association advocates the following: 1) That education about the Socialist Core Values must enter the mosque; 2) That the outstanding traditional culture of China [中华优秀传统文化] enter the mosque; 3) That the “Lessons on Muslim Patriotism” enter the mosque; 4) That religious rituals, culture, and architecture must embody Chinese characteristics, Chinese styles, and Chinese manners; 5) That the Islamic community will make the refutation of and resistance to religious extremism the focus of all scriptural [Koranic] education, purge themselves of heterodoxy while holding fast to orthodoxy, and effect a thorough reform to recover the original. 

(Rooted in the Fertile Soil of Chinese Civilization: Chinafication of Our Country’s Islam. Speech to the March 10, 2018 session of the CPPCC by Yang Faming, Chair of the Chinese Islamic Association. Translated by Max Oidtmann. Original Chinese speech has since been deleted from Xinhuanet.com)

Extract: Alat Asem’s Novel “Confessions of a Jade Lord” (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

An excerpt from the soon-to-be-published novel by Alat Asem,

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》

Chapter 19

Rechristening a High-rise

In the midst of his hectic days as minor-character-cum-stagehand, Exet the Mouse’s magnificent new sobriquet — “Suet Exet” — fails to resonate. Those two sheep were indeed sacrificed in vain. Afterwards, he didn’t bother to keep his promise to invite the jade lords out to drink either; he embraced his bad luck. “There’s a history to your nickname,” says Eysa ASAP to console him, “and history cannot be rewritten.”

Eysa sets to work quickly seeking a middle-man to lobby for talks to buy all twelve stories of the high-rise that belongs to Big Stick Obul, who dug his first bucket of gold in a coal mine. In the end, it’s Silver-tongue Salam, endowed with the gift of gab that can entice buyer and seller to the negotiating table, who turns the trick.

Salam’s deal-closing skills were first practiced at the Saturday second-hand bike market. As dust danced in the square, he honed his persona and honeyed trap. With help from splendiferous Time, the money in his pocket prospered year after year, and nourished his heart.

After dining on handheld mutton at a scenic riverside venue, Eysa, Mouse, Obul and Salam address the thorny issue of price.

“Ahem,” coughs Salam before he begins.

Deal or no deal, mutual trust shall prevail.

Roasted, stewed or handheld, mutton remains meat all the same.

Heroes of the world, you have all come today!

The magnificent Monkey King is present,

And so is our Uyghur Wise Man, Ependim.

It is cool cash that drives human life.

Today’s chop suey is better than tomorrow’s fresh meat;

promises are no good until they are cooked in the pot.

Today’s victory is today’s Paradise!

The big item on today’s agenda is a high-rise built to last. The seller is a person, not a lord, and the buyer is no one’s servant. My mouth is neither friend nor enemy. It speaks for your mutual interests. Had I ever harbored selfish intentions or betrayed bias toward either party, my tongue could not have secured me this bowl of arbitrator’s rice over the last two decades. The truth behind this, I’m sure you all understand.

The building is new, constructed just five years ago. Buyer and seller both have things itching at their hearts. Each of you knows this. My mouth is a hand that can scratch that itch for you. I do not know the depth of the water, but my sincere hope is that both duck and goose may cross safely. I care not wherefrom my camel guests hail, but obtaining some of the peppercorns, black pepper and ginger root is my goal. ‘Feed your master’s donkeys well and receive a good tip’ is my motto.

Blessed is Eysa Xojayin, and so is our Big Stick Obul, a hero who wrestled his way out of a dark coal pit. Coal Mine Mogul, please quote a price.

The mine owner states his asking price, and the figure is fairly close to the one that Eysa has guessed beforehand. This gives him confidence in the eventual outcome.

Obul is keen to offload his high-rise. It’s a matter of money-laundering, actually. The proceeds from the mines don’t have eyes but they have lips, and he worries that sooner or later that lucre will land him in hot water. Once the building is sold, his mind would be at peace, his tongue confident, and henceforth he could hang out at his leisure.

In the six hours that ensue, Salam’s silver tongue binds the two wicked hearts ever tighter. Eventually the high-rise’s surname changes, and a sizable lot of moolah finds its way into Big Stick Obul’s bank account — an eight-digit sum, in fact. On the ATM card, the dancing digits sigh long and hard; in the freezing underground vault, the bills reminisce over their tainted but exhilarating past. [终]

[Translated by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. For more information about Alat Asem, click here.]