Manchu Ulabun: A Hot Research Topic in China

Apparently known as ulabun in Manchu and Shuō bù (说部) in Chinese, this is a storytelling tradition—involving song and recital—among the Manchu of northeast China. These tales naturally center around folk heroes, indigenous religious beliefs and history of the Manchu, but some Chinese experts argue that it has long been influenced by the Han tradition of storytelling, or Shuōshū (说书). For a brief description of the tradition in English, see Biographic Singing and Talking at the web site of the Institute of Ethnic Literature. [Read more…]

Chutzpah!: Latest Issue Devoted to Writers of non-Han Descent

Good news from the bimonthly Chinese literary magazine Chutzpah! (天南): the latest edition (Issue 14) is devoted entirely to writing by authors of non-Han descent. Several languages are involved here—most are published in Chinese, but some were written in other tongues and then translated into Chinese, while one has been rendered in English.

The latter deserves a special mention because . . . I translated it. It’s a marvelous short story by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), entitled Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》). If you want to read it in full, you’ll have to purchase the magazine in hard copy form, but here’s an excerpt. But for more information on the author, see China’s Bilingual Writers: Narrative with a Difference.  And if you can read Chinese, check out this very informative interview with the author, 地域化、全球化和双语写作. [Read more…]

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

150 (includes 60 “historical novels”)







(no figure)





Short stories & novellas

(no figure)





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

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.

“Pamir Kyrgyz Traditional Song Conference” Held in Xinjiang’s Akto County

Just a few weeks after 40 Uyghur masters of the rhymed epic tales known as dastan gathered in Hami to stage and talk about their threatened art form (Dastan Training Session), some 60-plus performers of traditional Kyrgyz songs have gathered for a similar get-together in Xinjiang’s Akto County (阿克陶县) bordering on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

According to the article (约隆歌) re-published on the China Ethnic Literature Network, there are a large variety of these songs known as 约隆歌 (Yuēlóng gē in Chinese, and 约隆歌, I think), including those reserved just for a man or a woman, satirical ones, or to welcome a guest. Similar renditions can also be found among other nomadic peoples of Central Asia such as the Kazakh, Altai, Tuvan and Khakas.

This traditional Kyrgyz musical form was designated an Intangible Cultural Heritage by China in 2008, and more than 800 songs have reportedly been collected in the Pamir region to date.

Throat Singing: UNESCO Deems Mongolian Art Form to be Made-in-China

In A Showdown over Traditional Throat Singing, the Washington Post reports:

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia — For nearly two decades, Odsuren Baatar [pictured], a master of Mongolian throat singing, has been visiting China to teach his craft — making the human voice soar, quiver and drone, its pitches in eerie unison like a bagpipe.When he first started going there, his students were all beginners, because nobody in China knewOdsuren Baatar much about throat singing [呼麦]. But they were eager to
learn, and, after years of sharing his techniques, Odsuren took pride in having helped promote an art form prized here in Mongolia as a singular national treasure. 
His pride, however, turned to dismay and then anger when he saw a copy of a video that China had quietly submitted to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: It featured one of his former students pitching a bid by Beijing to have throat singing registered by the United Nations as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity,” with China getting the credit.Visit here to listen to a bit of Tuvan throat singing.

Synopsis: Ran Ping’s “Legend of Mongolia”

Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事) is a fictionalized biography of Genghis Khan, the leader who united the fiercely independent tribes known today as the Mongols, thanks to his iron resolve, military savvy, shrewd alliances, and willingness to shed blood.

Written mainly in Chinese prose, the book is peppered with original poems by the author, Mongolian words, and citations from an enigmatic 14th-century work, Secret History of the Mongols (蒙古秘史). What emerges is a stark and personal view of Temüjin, the man who became the Khan of Khans, as envisaged by writer Ran Ping (冉平).

A Han Chinese who neither speaks nor reads Mongolian, the author has arguably molded the very image of Genghis Khan among contemporary Chinese through a TV series based on his screenplays (“Genghis Khan,” 26 episodes, 1991), the script for an award-winning movie (“Genghis Khan and his Mother,” 1997), and more recently this popular novel, Legend of Mongolia, short-listed for the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2008.

For my complete synopsis, click here. If you are interested in the author’s use of Mongolian terminology in the Chinese novel, see also 《蒙古往事》及其汉化的蒙古语.

Fine-tuning the Spin: Xinjiang’s Awkward Not-so-Chinese Mummies

Uh-oh. Looks like those suspiciously Caucasian mummies from Xinjiang are making trouble again. Or so says an AP report in early January 2011:

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A museum just days away from opening a long-awaited exhibit including two mummies and other historical artifacts from China is gutting the display of all objects at the request of Chinese officials, the museum announced Wednesday.

The artifacts were part of “Secrets of the Silk Road,” which is scheduled to open Saturday at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. The exhibit has already traveled to museums in California and Texas without issue. Visitors to the Philadelphia museum will see a pared-down exhibit.

But China’s sensitivities about mummies with Caucasian features unearthed in Xinjiang are long-standing. Here’s a piece I wrote last year showing how foreign news reports about these mummies are translated into Chinese and then edited to ensure political correctness:


Imagine you work for the China Unity Department: It’s your 24/7 mission to convey that, more or less since Day One, the Middle Kingdom has ruled all the land claimed by the PRC, including Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. [Read more…]



我在琢磨:作者会蒙古语吗?“拼法” 标准吗?科学吗?哪些是音译?如果蒙古语为母语的人看到了,认得出来吗?

无论如何,这些说法增加了《蒙古往事》的色彩和可读性,也值得去欣赏和研究。在这里先做点笔记,然后慢慢地加上一些想法和链接。下面的页数以新星出版社的 2010 版为参考。

长生天 (5)

蒙古人将腾格里称为 “Mongke Tengri”,意为 “长生天”,作为最高信仰 。(维基百科)


《蒙古往事》编辑注释:“巴特,也称把阿秃,即蒙古语中勇士、英雄之意”。其实,好像 “巴特尔” 更正确,因为网上许多地方指 bataar 为蒙古语 “英雄” 之意。“乌兰巴托” (Ulan Bator)的意思是 “红色的英雄”。


苏鲁锭的蒙语意思是“长矛”,也就是战旗。安答(20)《蒙古往事》编辑注释:“安答,即结拜的盟兄弟,生死之交”。 [Read more…]