“Turkish Culture Year in China”: Bringing Orhan Pamuk to . . . Tibetan Speakers?

Tibet specialist Françoise Robin has kindly alerted me to the fact that the February 2013 Tibetan edition of National

A dose of hüzün for Tibetan readers?

A dose of hüzün for Tibetan readers?

Literature Magazine (民族文学杂志,藏文版) features two pieces by Turkey’s Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. If your Tibetan is up to par, read about them here: མི་རིགས་ཀྱི་རྩོམ་རིག.

One is apparently a speech by Pamuk that translates as “Eastern and Western cultures and the Literary Imagination” in English, and the other is a Tibetan version of The Ship on the Golden Horn, the penultimate chapter of his Istanbul: Memories of the City (Istanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir).

Is this part of China’s government-endorsed 2013 “Turkish Culture Year” campaign? Can’t say for sure, though I wouldn’t be surprised. National Literature Magazine (民族文学) is a state-run publication now available in Han Chinese, Uyghur, Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian and Tibetan.

But it would be interesting to know how Tibetan renders that peculiarly Turkish concept—hüzün or (something akin to) melancholy—that runs throughout Pamuk’s work.

“Empresses in the Palace”: Wrong Message for Guileless Western Audience?

Empresses in the PalaceVarious media including The China Daily (Bring Asian Magic to US) have reported the rumor—as yet unconfirmed—that China’s crowd-pleasing 76-part TV series Empresses in the Palace (甄嬛传) may soon be recut and dubbed in English for re-broadcast by a US firm.

The TV adaptation of the historical novel of the same name depicts the intrigue between empresses and consorts during the reign of  the Yongzheng Emperor in the 1720s.  When the concubine Zhen Huan (see photo) first enters the palace, she is innocent and gullible, but she learns to fend for herself and through cunning and deception eventually becomes empress.

Perhaps piqued by the thought of the series giving a less than flattering image of China to overseas audiences, Hou Jianyu (侯健羽) penned a sharply worded critique that has been widely circulated on the Chinese internet, including as a Letter to the Editor at The Financial Times Chinese site (价值观).  Entitled What Sort of Values Will be Exported via “Empresses of the Palace”? , the essay not only disses this low-brow entertainment, it also predicts most Americans won’t be won over:

The popularity of the broadcast of “Empresses in the Palace” is a mere gust of wind in today’s China, and its artistic value falls far short of the classics that have been passed down over the centuries. It cannot represent mainstream Chinese culture.

I predict that, at best, “Empresses” will gain the attention of a generation of Asian immigrants in the US; but as for Americans who are deeply influenced by Western values, they will not be willing to accept the import of this set of backward values. Those values will have no cultural resonance for such viewers, and they have no motivation to master the scheming portrayed in the series.

If China wishes to export its own culture and set of values, then it must first improve its own social system. Chinese must first believe that we can achieve success via hard work, perseverance and integrity, without employing our “art of deceit” [厚黑哲学].

P.S. By this standard, shouldn’t the export—i.e., translation—of Machiavelli’s The Prince have been banned?

Uyghur Authors in China

In 2013, it’s not easy to locate what I’d consider a good overview of Uyghur writing on the Chinese Internet.

Home to perhaps 10 million Uyghurs, the 1.6 million square kilometer Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region accounts for almost one-sixth of China’s territory and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.  The Chinese government is hyper-sensitive about most anything “Uyghur,” particularly their religion (Islam), and the language, which has Turkic roots unrelated to Han Chinese.

Even so, I’ve found two articles in Chinese which are fairly informative. One by 祖姆拉提 · 克尤木 that focuses strictly on Uyghur literature in Xinjiang during 1949-2005 (新疆维吾尔文学),   and another by 阿扎提·蘇勒坦 that looks at a broader topic, ethnic literature in Xijiang (新疆民族文学五十年) since the founding of the autonomous region in 1955.

Here are some factoids cited from the latter essay—all based on the 1955-2005 period—that offer a glimpse of published literary “output” of the various non-Han peoples in Xinjiang:

 

Uyghur Kazakh Kyrgyz Mongol Xibe
Novels

150 (includes 60 “historical novels”)

60

7

6

4

Poetry

Collections

(no figure)

300

85

80

12

Short stories & novellas

(no figure)

200

40

35

18

See below for my table listing a selection of Uyghur authors and their works. [Read more…]

Translator of Best Sellers “Kite Runner” and “Conversations with God” Incenses Fellow English-to-Chinese Decoders

So much for the invisible translator.  With the launch of his Chinese renditions of classics whose copyrights had expired (新译本), such as The Old Man and the Sea (老人遇害) and The Great Gatsby (了不起的的盖茨比), Li Jihong (李继宏) has managed to infuriate a host of fellow translators, hommes de lettres and even would-be readers.

Partly due to the aggressive advertising campaign accompanying the launch that claims these are “the finest translations to date,” and partly by bringing up the very vulgar, very touchy subject of $ earned for literary translation work.

And the numbers are rather telling: many English-to-Chinese literary translators are paid around 1 US cent per word, while Li Jihong claims to be earning something like 20 US cents per word for his latest much-advertised works. The Shenzhen Shangbao report (报酬标准十几年没变) doesn’t fully explain the discrepancy, but it appears that Li’s figures are based on a fairly generous upfront payment of royalties, while most publishers are not only not offering royalties, they are exploiting translators by paying per official rates set by the copyright authorities . . . back in 1999.

《额尔古纳河右岸》的英文译者: “因为书里的故事感动了我”

伦敦出版商 Harvill Secker 一月 17 日推出了东北作家迟子建的第一本译成英文的小说,Last Quarter of the Moon。为了《中华读书报》,慷慨先生找到我,进行了有关我翻译这本小说的采访:

《读书报》:为什么使用现在这个英译书名,而不是原书名《额尔古纳河右岸》的直译?

徐穆实 [Bruce Humes]:首先要明白一个事实:书名一般由出版方来定,译者甚至原作家的想法只是建议罢了。要知道,外文版权是外国出版社拥有的,当然是他们说了算。

我的建议本来是直译:The Right Bank of the Argun。这书名不仅忠实原作,也方便引起西方读者的好奇心。因为用“右岸”表达河流的方位有点莫名其妙,西方读者习惯用东南西北来表达。就算西方读者 不知道这条河是几百年以来中俄边境的界线,单凭这种奇特的表达方式,也会引起他们的好奇心。

但英格兰的出版人被早些出版的《额尔古纳河右岸》意大利译文的书名 Ultimo quarto di luna 所吸引,就把它译成英文的 The Last Quarter of the Moon

全文可以在此下载 PDF 版

Teaching Mongolian in the PRC: Written Trumps Spoken & Befuddles the Foreign Learner

The khanbaliqist has written an informative and witty post, Spelling Pronunciations as a Method of Teaching, based on his own experiences learning Mongolian on the ground . . . in Inner Mongolia, I believe.

His description of how written Mongolian is emphasized—almost to the point of banning spoken Mongolian from the classroom—reminds me of my mother’s unhappy schooling in Taiwan many years ago.  Her teacher, whom I referred to as a “Beiping antique” (北平古董), was born in pre-1949 Beijing and taught strictly “proper” Mandarin.  The vocabulary she insisted on was so passé that my mother, whose Chinese was actually not bad, often found that the locals hadn’t a clue what she meant.

She eventually quit school out of frustration.  “The only people who speak Beijing hua here in Taipei,” she said at the “farewell” lunch to which she kindly invited her living-fossil teacher and me, “are you and my son.”

But back to the way Mongolian is taught in China. Writes the khanbaliqist:

After discussions with Inner Mongolians I know, I’ve discovered that this approach to teaching [in my class] mirrors the normal method for teaching to children to read in Inner Mongolia. Mongolian-speaking children start out learning to read words exactly as they are spelt. This means that, even though they speak Mongolian at home and already have a basic proficiency in the language, children are initially taught to read texts using spelling pronunciations, not the normal everyday pronunciations. It is only in the third year that pupils are quite explicitly told to switch over to the spoken pronunciation. The objective of this method of teaching is clear. In a language like Mongolian, where the spelling of the traditional script is in many ways far removed from the spoken language, this is a way of ensuring that correct spelling habits are put firmly in place.

The implications of this approach for the perceptions of language are interesting to contemplate. While speakers of Mongolian in Inner Mongolia and Mongolia can communicate with each other quite freely (allowing for differences in pronunciation and vocabulary), perceptions of writing and spelling appear to differ markedly between the two. Despite the primacy that linguists give to speech, it stands to reason that the habits acquired when learning the script as a child last a lifetime and cannot help but mould the way that words and their ‘canonical forms’ (including acceptable variation) are perceived. My impression from admittedly limited experience with native speakers is that the different writing systems have a subtle impact on the way that language is perceived and handled. This is a topic that appears to have received virtually no study.

For non-native speakers learning the language, the consequences are less subtle. With ordinary spoken language banished from the classroom, an important aspect of language acquisition is blocked out until a much later stage in the learning process. This effectively postpones acquisition of the spoken language for several years and makes it difficult for teachers to develop even simple verbal strategies at an early stage to help students acquire the language, for instance by using spoken Mongolian for certain aspects of communication in the classroom.

Echoes of Samarkand: Salar Literary Conference Held in Qinghai

A conference highlighting writing by Salar authors  (撒拉族文学) was held in January 2013 in Xunhua County (循

The Registan in Samarkand

The Registan in Samarkand

化), Qinghai Province, home to most of the 100,000 Salar  (撒拉族) who consider themselves descendants of Muslims who migrated in the 13th century from Samarkand (present-day Uzbekhistan, and once home to Omar Khayyam) in search of religious freedom.

Subsequent contacts and intermarriage with Han Chinese, Tibetans and Hui have created a unique culture and strongly impacted the Salar language. Wikipedia notes that there are two large dialect groups: one branch influenced by Tibetan and Chinese, and another by Uyghur and Kazakh vocabulary. [Read more…]

Eight Peoples of Northeast China Featured in Ethnography Series

The first 8 of 55 volumes—one for each officially recognized ethnic minority in the PRC—have been jointly launched by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Liaoning Publishing Group (辽宁出版集团). The series is titled <走进中国少数民族丛书> (Inside China’s Ethnic Minorities).

Each book focuses on the culture and history of one ethnic group located in the northeast: Manchu (满族), Chaoxian (朝鲜), Mongol (蒙古), Xibe (锡伯), Daur (达斡尔), Oroqen (鄂伦春), Evenki (鄂温克) and Hezhen (赫折).

A quick look at the contents page for the Evenki volume (鄂温克族) indicates a fairly formulaic approach, with chapters on their origins, history of interaction with the Chinese empire, culture and customs, animism and folk tales and art. News reports stress that each book has been written by members of the featured ethnic group, a major break with the past where Han ethnologists were usually the authors.

The section names in the second chapter on warring periods and the “outlook for a brighter tomorrow” are an indicator of the “positioning” of the Evenki vis-à-vis Chinese dynasties across the centuries and up to our day:

  • Establishment of the Banner System under the Qing
  • Battle Over the Evenki Mink Tribute to the Qing Court
  • Defending the Chinese Homeland
  • Struggle Against the Japanese Imperialists
  • New Society, New Life

It’s unlikely that you will find much here on the impact of post-1949 PRC ethnic policies such as those documented by Richard Noll and Kun Shi in their The Last Shaman of the Oroqen of Northeast China in 2004, or Richard Fraser in his 2010 study, Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia.

By the Numbers: Endangered Tongues in the People’s Republic

In <四成少数民族语言临危,> Wang Bo at Chinanews.com reports that up to four of ten languages native to minorities in China are threatened with extinction.

Here are a few numbers that appear in the report:

  • Non-han languages: 55 officially designated “peoples” (民族) speak an estimated 130 languages
  • Scripts in use: 40, including Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Korean, Yi, Dai, Lahu, Jingpo and Xibe
  • Populations: one-half of non-Han languages are spoken by groups that number under 10,000 members, of which 20+ have 1,000 speakers or less
  • Endangered languages: Manchu, Tatar, She, Hezhen can no longer be used for conversation; another 20 percent, such as Nu, Yilao, Pumi and Jinuo are approaching that state; and a total of 40 percent are in danger of extinction in the mid-term.
  • Manchu: 11 million ethnic Manchus, but only 100 or so can speak fluently and less than a dozen read and write well.
  • Jing (京族): with a population of 20,000 in Guangxi, one-half can still speak their mother tongue.

Wang Bo notes that fluency in seven non-Han languages continues to be passed on to the next generation fairly well: Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Korean, Zhuang and Yi. He attributes this partly to the fact that they have a written script, and interpreting services are often offered at official meetings.

What he doesn’t note—like many PRC-centric writers—is the fact that except for Zhuang and Yi, these other languages are spoken and written by large numbers of native speakers outside China.

Translator Shortage and Tired Tales of Chinese Exceptionalism

Writes Dong Fangyu at China Daily in Translators Leave China Lost for Words:

Lenin's Kisses“. . . many Chinese novels that have won top prizes and been well received in China face delays in getting published abroad due to a lack of good translators.

Take the example of the novel Shou Huo (The Joy of Living,[受活]) by Yan Lianke [阎连科]. Although copyright contracts for it were signed with publishers from Japan, France, Italy and the United Kingdom in late 2004, to date none of the four translated novels have been published, as no competent translators are available.”

This is a claim rich in implications:

  • The Chinese language is too subtle and complex to be understood by outsiders
  • The Chinese-to-foreign-language translation task might best be left to us here in China
  •  There would be more than one Chinese Nobel Laureate if our works had been adequately translated.

[Read more…]