Fiction Collections from Daur, Evenki and Oroqen Writers Launched

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 8.56.19 PMThree separate volumes of fiction in Chinese have just been published featuring the works of writers of three ethnic groups that have traditionally inhabited northeastern China and even further north in Siberia: the Daur, Evenki and Oroqen (Elunchun).

This is of interest because unlike ethnic groups like the Tibetans, Uyhgurs or Mongolians, none of the former languages has its own script and many of their speakers hardly spoke Chinese — much less wrote it — so until recently their tales were hardly available in print at all. The Daur speak a Mongolic tongue, while Evenki and Oroqen are Tungusic languages, the same family as Manchu.

Judging by the recent past, we can expect that some of these works — now that they are available in China’s national language — will gradually begin to appear in magazines specializing in Chinese literature in English translation, such as Pathlight. Up until now, English renditions of non-Han writers tended to focus on Tibetan, Uyghur and Mongolian originals.

The three volumes are part of a series available currently available only in Chinese, entitled 新时期中国少数民族文学作品选集, published by the Writers Publishing House (作家出版社). All three offer a retrospective of pieces published during 1976-2011, and at 400-plus pages, are pretty hefty tomes.

  • The Evenki volume (鄂温克族卷) contains 50 short stories and extracts from novels by 22 writers, including well-known authors 乌热尔图 (Ureltu, acknowledged pioneer of Evenki tales back in the 70s),涂志勇, 涂克冬·庆胜, 德纯燕, 德柯丽 and 娜仁托雅.
  • The Oroqen volume (鄂伦春族卷) contains 76 pieces, with short stories, extracts from novels and quite a bit of poetry by 敖长福, 孟代红, 刘晓春 and 刘晓红 and many other Oroqen writers. 
  • The Daur volume (达斡尔族卷) contains 50 pieces by 阿凤, 苏华, 苏莉, 晶达, 傲蕾伊敏, 赵国安 and安晓霞, and many other Daur writers. As the Daur often live in mixed ethnic environments, some pieces were written in Mongolian or other languages and translated into Chinese for this collection.

If you are interested in Chinese translations of fiction by Uyghur, Kazakh and Tibetan writers, see here.

Excerpt of the Week: The Nightjar at Dusk (黄昏夜莺)

So now the escapee nightjar and I were conspirators. I had to stay patient and play my part in its plot.

We stood a while longer, though of course the urgent call did not sound.

But the boy stood there motionless, gazing up at the spot where the bird had once perched. He already had what a hunter needs most, patience.

My feet were growing numb and I, at least, knew there was no point in waiting further.

“Maybe it’s gone,” I said, gently breaking the silence.

He murmured assent and lowered his head, then when I said nothing went back to watching. It’s a battle of endurance sometimes, to see who can be most patient. I was happy to lose.

“I didn’t see it fly off,” he said, unwilling to give up.

“Maybe it was too quick. It’s too dark to see.” I had to put it like that, or risk insulting him.

“Can’t have.” He wasn’t happy about it, but knew there was no hope.

“What kind of bird was it, anyway?”

“A jokjok.”

I could tell he had never heard this Evenki word before. He had so little of our traditional knowledge, our language. He spoke even less than I did.

Much of our old ways will be lost forever with the passing away of our old folk.

 

Extract from The Nightjar at Dusk, Pathlight Spring 2015 (p 28), by Gerelchimig Blackcrane (格日勒其木格・黒鶴)

 

Profile: Xinjiang-based Uyghur Writer Perhat Tursun

In Meet China’s Salman Rushdie, Foreign Policy’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian profiles Xinjiang’s controversial Uyghur writer Perhat Tursun (پەرھات  تۇرسۇن, 帕尔哈提·吐尔逊):

Perhat is the author of The Art of Suicide [自杀的艺术], a novel decried as anti-Islamic that in 1999 set off a religious firestorm among Uighurs, the largely Muslim, Turkic minority concentrated in the nominally autonomous Chinese region of Xinjiang. What followed — years of threats, a de facto ban on Perhat’s works, and at least one book burning — belied the officially atheist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, which tightly controls the region. But tidal forces of history and competing civilizations have clashed over Xinjiang in recent decades, pitting the party against a local ethnic reawakening, resurgent Islam, and the latest entrant to the region, liberal Western thought. And Perhat, with the publication of his bold philosophical novel, found himself wedged between hardening ideological fronts — a fault line that would put his life in danger.

A few links to his writing:

  • Poetry: Two poems, Elegy and Morning Feeling, in English here,  and a poem in Chinese, here.
  • An older interview with him in Chinese, 一位维吾尔族作家的穿越生活
  • A bilingual synopsis of his PhD thesis on HamsaNizamiddin Alshir Nawayi’s monumental five-part poem (尼扎木丁·艾利狮尔·纳瓦依的巨著《五卷长诗集》)

Meanwhile, Darren Byler — who translates from the Uyghur — reports that his translation of Perhat Tursun’s short story, Plato’s Shovel, is set for publication in a collection of translated writing by non-Han writers.  He is also working on the first part of a trilogy by the author, entitled The Big City: Backstreets. When I know the publication details, I’ll post them.

Mongolian Shaman Songs of Praise Rendered in Chinese

Two poets have collaborated to publish a book containing 29 renditions of songs of praise traditionally chanted by shaman. The original odes in Mongolian were first translated into Mandarin by Mongolian scholar Ni Ma (尼玛), and then polished by Xi Murong (席慕蓉), who also knows Mongolian but was educated in Taiwan. The book is published by the Ethnic Publishing House (北京民族出版社), according to a report in Chinawriter (萨满神歌).

Entitled 萨满神歌 (lit., sacred songs of the shaman), they offer praise mainly to mothers, and the spirits of mountains and rivers. Such songs are passed on orally and rarely written down.

Shaman and their lyrics do occasionally appear in 21st-century Chinese fiction, however. For example, here are three novels with key roles for shaman, the first below being Evenki (and a woman), while the latter two are Mongolian:

  • Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)
  • Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事, 冉平著)
  • Mongolia by Guo Xuebo (蒙古里亚, 郭雪波著). This is a powerful new semi-autobiographical work by an author who is the descendent of a line of shaman. I’m working now on an excerpt and hope to post in September.

Profile of Octogenarian Orochen: Folk Song Singer, Folk Tale and Dictionary Compiler

Among one of the first batches of young Orochen (鄂伦春) chosen to receive a formal Chinese-language education in Zhalantun in 1948, E’erdenggua (额尔登挂) was just 17 at the time. She had never been outside her village on the banks of Chuo’er River (绰尔河畔) in Inner Mongolia, and didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Now 84, she was recently profiled in Zhongguo Minzu Bao (老人的鄂伦春文化情缘).

Orochen songstress E'erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Orochen songstress E’erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Although she later held various jobs with the Bureau of Commerce in China’s first Orochen Autonomous Banner until retirement, she never lost interest in her native language or culture.  A brief list of her achievements as noted in the article:

Orochen dress: Personally handicrafted folk costumes and Shaman ritual attire that are now part of collections at the Beijing History Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum (Hohhot), Hulunbuir Ethnography Museum, Oroqen Museum (Hulunbuir) and Evenki Museum (Hulunbuir).

Folk songs: She compiled and sang Orochen folk songs. Designated as an expert regarding traditional hunting songs known as Zàndárén (赞达仁). Her collection includes love songs, narratives and shamanic chants.

Orochen dictionary: Spent 3 years compiling an Orochen dictionary using IPA. Unfortunately never published for lack of funding. [Read more…]

Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins
[Read more…]

Interrupted Traditions of “Altishahr,” Oasis Towns Ringing the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang

In Wall Street Journal’s interview with Rian Thum, author of The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, we learn that a century ago Uyghur in the Altishahr region (lit. “six cities”) traditionally visited shrines where the history of a local Islamic saint was read out loud to visitors.

Question posed by Wall Street Journal is bolded, while Thum’s answer is italicized:

How has this tradition changed?

A lot was lost primarily through Communist policies implemented after the advent of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Prominent in that category are the closure of shrines and the stoppage of local pilgrimages, which is a process that seems to have been pretty complete during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, opened back up in the 1980s, and is now returning to an almost complete closure of pilgrimage networks.

Another element that’s really gone is the manuscript tradition. The written version of all these stories took the form of handwritten books. Printing did not take off in Altishahr until the arrival of the People’s Republic of China. Those manuscripts that preserve these tales in physical form were largely collected, perhaps confiscated — we don’t really know what happened to them — by the Chinese government, probably in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. What used to be a form that was really widely available is now almost completely unavailable.

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì

I grew up in places with names like “Winnetka” and “Sewickley,” spellings no doubt based on mangled transliterations

1,800+ Evenki place names: many inspired by Russian, Mongolian and Manchu

1,800+ Evenki place names: many inspired by Russian, Mongolian and Manchu

of old, even ancient Native American words. I vaguely recall that Sewickley meant “sweet water,” but no one seemed sure.

How many cities, mountains and rivers in China, I wondered, hide their non-Han origins? [Read more…]

“Hegemonic Mindset” Hampering Recognition of Manchu Contribution to China’s Literature

Once in a blue moon I come across a well-argued scholarly essay which openly criticizes mainstream thinking about

Nalan Xingde, Manchu poet and official: Inspiration for "Dream of the Red Chamber"?

Yu Zhiding’s portrait of Nalan Xingde, Manchu poet and military official: Inspiration for “Dream of the Red Chamber”?

ethnic literature in New China. 不在场的在场:中国少数民族文学的处境 (Presence of Absence: Situation of China’s Ethnic Minority Language Literature) by Li Xiaofeng (李晓峰) is an outstanding example. He cites the words of author He Qifang (何其芳), and adds that precious little has changed since:

Right up to today [1961], all Chinese literary history is actually the history of literature written in hànyǔ — the history of literature by the Han plus literature written in hànyǔ by some ethnic minority writers.  

Li Xiaofeng’s article appeared in 2011.

In December 2014, another article was published that suggests that the concept of “Chinese literary history” continues to be contested (gasp!). Entitled 满族文学在中国文学史上的地位 (The Position of Manchu Literature in Chinese Literary History), it appears to be a summary of a December 2014 presentation made by Dr. Zhang Juling (张菊玲), former professor, now retired, of Beijing’s Central University for Nationalities (Chinese Language and Literature).

She is the author of 清代满族作家文学概论 (Introduction to Manchu Authors’ Writing during the Qing), 纳兰词新解 (New Interpretations of Nara Xingde’s Ci Poetry),产生《红楼梦》的满族文化氛围 (The Manchu Cultural Ambience that Generated ‘The Dream of the Red Chamber’ ), and 阅读老舍, 记住曾被遮掩的民族历史文化 (Reading Lao She and Keeping in Mind Once-obscured Ethnic History and Culture). Nothing in the article or elsewhere on the web that I found mentions fluency in Manchu, so I assume that her research has been done in Mandarin.

Because I read and enjoyed the published text of her presentation, I’ve translated it below, albeit with a light edit. I found it a bit difficult to translate and welcome your comments and corrections. Note that the use of Manchu below never means writing in the Manchu language; it refers to the Manchu people and their culture. Or you can download the audio file — truly a pleasure to listen to her crystal-clear Chinese! — of her presentation here. (Note: Never mind the estimated download time. I downloaded in less than 5 minutes)

How Should One Write Chinese Literary History?

The manner in which Chinese literary history should be written is a very big question. At present, I believe that there exist remnants of a hegemonic mindset [霸权思想] among academics concerning the writing of Chinese literary history, and research into ethnic literature [民族文学] is still very deficient. Therefore, ethnic literature researchers have the responsibility to continue working on this question.

The Chinese people have never consisted of a sole ethnicity. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing for instance, Mongols, Han and Manchu ruled China, respectively. Each made its own contribution to the development of Chinese civilization and to the formation of a heterogeneous culture of China [多元的中华文化]. [Read more…]

Qing Dynasty Translations of Han Classics into Various Languages of China

The four classics of Chinese vernacular literature during the Ming and Qing Dynasties — Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber — were all more or less fully translated into Manchu under the Qing, writes Yiming Abula (伊明·阿布拉) in Minority Translators Journal (民族翻译).

Translations into Manchu actually began before the Manchu breached the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass and established the Qing Dynasty in 1644. According to Abula’s article, Jurchen chieftain Nurhachi (reigned 1616-26) commissioned the translation of Sun Zi’s Art of War (孙子兵法) and Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义).

Other interesting factoids in Abula’s piece:

Translations from the Chinese included historical, philosophical, religious and military subjects, as well as literature. Besides the four vernacular classics noted above, literary works that were translated into Manchu and Mongolian included the very ancient Book of Songs (诗经), Strange Tales from Liaozhai (聊斋志异) and the erotic classic, The Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅).

Mongolian renditions were sometimes retranslations based on Manchu or Tibetan translations direct from the Chinese.

Later during the Qing, popular Chinese literary works were also rendered in indigenous languages further south in places such as Hunan and Yunnan:

  • Dehong Dai (德宏傣语): Journey to the West, Water MarginRomance of the Three Kingdoms and Wu Jingzi’s The Scholars (儒林外史)
  • Yi language (彝语): Journey to the West and Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯于祝英台)
  • Miao (Hmong): Hunan’s Shi Bantang (石板塘, 1863-1928) composed songs in Miao based on short extracts from works such as Journey to the West, Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Thirteen Confucian Classics (十三经).