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》

19

Rechristening a High-rise

In the midst of his hectic days as minor-character-cum-

Uyghur mafiosi: Alat Asem takes us into the colorful world of Xinjiang’s Uyghur jade traders

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 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 a gift of gab that can entice buyer and seller to the negotiating table, who does 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 hand-held, mutton remains meat all the same.

Heroes of the world, you have all come today!

The magnificent Monkey King is present today,

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 so is the buyer, who 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. [Translated by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. For more information about Alat Asem, click here.]

Excerpt: Hong Ke’s Xinjiang novel, “Urho”

Hong Ke’s novel, Urho (乌尔禾, 红柯著), is set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. A Han soldier back from the Korean front — dubbed “Hailibu” by the乌尔禾封面 locals after the legendary Mongolian hero graced with the gift of understanding animal speech — runs a sheep ranch for the Xinjiang Construction Corps.

** Excerpt **

It was the tail-end of summer, and Hailibu hadn’t imagined that the boy would grow so intimate with the lambs. This was Hailibu’s error. He had forgotten that Weijiang’s affinity with the animal world was rapidly deepening.

Before the traditional time for setting sheep free — late autumn — had arrived, Weijiang set free a pair on his own.

This caused Hailibu considerable consternation. It was one thing for an old man to perform such a ritual, but perhaps this act of charity was best not performed by a child. Alone deep in the wilderness, Hailibu pounded his head.

Hailibu spoke with Weijiang’s father, suggesting the boy leave the sheep ranch. The man imagined his son must have stirred up some trouble. Yet when Hailibu explained about the boy’s releasing sheep into the wild, Weijiang’s father just laughed.

Freein’ a sheep, is that such a big thing?” said the father. “When that boy’s momma had him in her belly, she let hares go. At our place, they used to come and go whenever they pleased. I don’t know how many hares we freed, me ’n her. Hedgehogs too. Like fresh meat delivered to our door, but we saw ’em off in fine health.”

So somebody let a pair of your sheep go, and you feel bad, right?” he queried Hailibu. “I’ll give you ’nother two to make up for it.”

The hell you will! Let’s have a drink.”

The pair sat down on the kang and finished off a bottle of liquor. Hailibu felt relieved.

* * *

Time passed, but Hailibu remained uneasy. Having made arrangements for the ranch, he mounted his horse and began roaming the steppe. He rode to Toli and Hoboksar in North Xinjiang. He listened wistfully to urtyn duu, the famed Long-Song of the Mongolians, and to folk songs sung by Aken, Kazakh minstrels who play the stringed dongbula.

Hailibu visited the most respected Elder on the steppe. A virtual encyclopedia of the grasslands, the old man could narrate ancient legends for months on end. Among these tales, however, few mentioned a child setting sheep free.

This weighty matter on Hailibu’s conscience didn’t escape notice. “Guest from afar,” said the Elder, “Speak what is on your heart. Otherwise it will freeze over.”

Hailibu explained that a boy at his ranch had freed a pair of sheep on his own.

The old man was unfazed. “How far can they go, sheep released by a youngster?” Before the old man could utter another word, Hailibu began to tremble and prepared to kneel.

They were released by one child, so they shall be taken in by another,” announced the Elder, matter of factly. At which point, Hailibu prostrated himself with a thud.

Fathers are like that,” chuckled the Elder. Two young Kazakhs lifted the visitor off the ground. Hailibu clambered into his saddle like a drunkard.

Can he ride that way?” asked one of the young men as Hailibu’s horse departed. “He’s falling asleep. Better bring him back!”

A horseman doesn’t sleep in a tent or on a prairie,” said the Elder. “For him, the steadiest bed is a saddle.”

Hong Ke wrote "Urho" in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)

Hong Ke wrote “Urho” in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)

Hailibu was indeed exhausted. On the steppe, there is a custom: When a man reaches the limits of his fatigue, in his stupor he climbs into his saddle, releases the reins and lets his steed take charge. Dreams know no boundaries, nor does sleep. This carefree, directionless rambling is a gift from the Heavens, when a Spirit takes brief possession of the body.

Like a bird, a gazelle, a deer or a wild stallion,” said the Elder to the young men. “That’s a life worthy of envy.” [end]

Like to read the full Chapter 3 from Hong Ke’s Xinjiang-based novel? Contact Ms. Wang Ting (wangting904@163.com) at Beijing October Arts & Literature Publishing House.

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Evenki Odyssey Captured in Chinese Novel Set in the Greater Khingan Mountains

My translation of Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸) can be ordered — e-book, hard cover and paperback — online at various places, including Amazon. Read the opening for free here (click on the cover), or the author’s Afterword.

For information on other editions, see: Dutch (Het laatste kwartier van de maan), French,  Italian (Ultimo quarto di Luna), Japanese (アルグン川の右岸), Spanish (A la orilla derecha del Río Argún ), and Turkish. 

If you’d like to peruse a book review, choose your language: ChineseEnglish, French, or Spanish. There’s also an in-depth interview with me about the novel in Chinese (中文采访).

Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Right Bank of the Argun—as it is dubbed in Chinese — is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains that border on Russia.

At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.

For an academic study of the ideologies behind the government’s official policy of resettling the Evenki—and an in-depth look at the psychological impact of divorcing them from their “reindeer lifeworld”— see Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer Evenki of Inner Mongolia.

Visit Northern Hunting Culture for marvelous pictures of the Aoluguya Evenki, their lifestyle and handicrafts.

For a fascinating look at the etymology of names for rivers, mountains and forests in their homeland on either side of the Sino-Russian border, see Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì.

“Shanghai Baby” and “Candy”: Back When Young Female Chinese Writers “Wrote with their Bodies”

Controversial new kiss 'n tell novel by forty-something Jiu Dan, who shocked with her "Crows" at the turn of the century

Controversial new kiss ‘n tell novel by forty-something Jiu Dan, who shocked with her “Crows” at the turn of the century

Just finished translating a new semi-autobiographical novella (extract), The Embassy’s China Bride (大使先生), by Jiu Dan of Crows fame (乌鸦, 九丹著). This reminded me that at the turn of 21st century, three young Chinese female writers were busy boldly writing about their sexuality, orgasms and all, and being lambasted for it by the critics and Chinese society at large. The trio were Jiu Dan, who chronicled the exploits of “Little Dragon Girls” from China in Singapore; Mian Mian, author of Candy (糖, 棉棉著); and arguably the best known, Wei Hui, who authored the infamous Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝).  They were denigrated as “pretty chick-lit authors” (美女作家) who “write with the lower half of their bodies” (下半身写作), as some engagingly put it.  This designation conveniently allowed the critics to focus on the writers’ lifestyles rather than the content of their writing.

But that wasn’t the case with Zha Jianying, who holds a Ph D. in Comparative Lit from Columbia. Happily, I have just located my translation of her Analyzing Wei Hui and Mian Mian: Hollywood Ice Cream and Shanghai Lollipop. I don’t recall exactly when it was published, but I think I translated it in 2000.

Given that Jiu Dan — now a forty-something — has just launched The Embassy’s China Bride in Taiwan (potentially controversial in its own right), I thought it might be fun to put my translation of Zha Jianying’s critique up on this blog in order to give readers a taste of how these daring female writers were viewed when they first appeared on China’s literary scene. I should mention that Zha Jianying wrote me and roundly criticized me for a host of errors in my rendition. But since she wasn’t specific, I publish it below, warts and all. For a bilingual version with her original, see 卫慧棉棉. [Read more…]

“Funeral of a Muslim”: Korean and Serbian Rights Purchased

Funeral of a Muslim by Huo DaWith sales of some 2.5 million copies, Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼,霍达著), Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing, is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.

I was commissioned by Eric Abrahamsen at Paper Republic to translate an English excerpt from this best seller. So I am happy to learn from Beijing October Art and Literature Publishing House that rights have been sold for two foreign-language editions: Wisdomhouse Publishing Co. Ltd has acquired the Korean rights, while Albatros Plus has done so for a Serbian edition.

For an English extract from Funeral of a Muslim and information on overseas rights, contact Mr. Han Jingqun, Chief Editor at Beijing October Art and Literature Publishing House, at daisyh@vip.sina.com

Here is a backgrounder on the novel: [Read more…]

Extract: “Back Quarters at Number 7” by Manchu Writer Ye Guangqin

Pathlight 2014 SpringIn Back Quarters at Number 7, Ye Guangqin recreates what it was like growing up Manchu in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China. Once part of a prince’s stately residence, the Big Courtyard now belongs to the masses and serves as a venue for collective activities such as neighborhood meetings, or rehearsals for the Rice-Planting Dance performed on National Day.

Traditionally, at the very rear of a Qing Dynasty prince’s mansion one finds a two-floor structure that functioned to “enshroud and anchor the entire quadrangular compound.” These “back quarters” — “Number 7” in the cold military parlance of post-liberation Beijing in this tale — housed females. They were private and not easily accessible to men, even those of noble lineage, residing within the compound.

Herself a member of a Manchu family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, Ye Guangqin peppers this semi-autobiographical story with references to Manchu culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu that expressed itself during the Qing Dynasty both orally and through literature (Manchu Novelists).

Ironically, the fascination of two children with Grandpa Zhao’s tall tales ends in tragedy when the Cultural Revolution arrives, and Red Guards target class enemies — including remnants of the Qing ruling class.

The full text of the extract below has been published in Spring 2014 Pathlight, a quarterly featuring Chinese literature in translation. The original short story is entitled 后罩楼 and was written by Ye Guangqin (叶广芩).

* * * * *

Back Quarters at Number 7

(Original by Ye Guangqin, translated by Bruce Humes)

 

Grandpa Zhao was a Manchu Bannerman in one of just three elite Banners – there were eight total – personally commanded by the Emperor.

He said one of his ancestors had served in the Emperor’s personal guard at the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City. This relative had seen His Imperial Majesty as He wrote by a window, and watched Him strolling along palace verandas, so he must have been one of His bodyguards. How else could he have witnessed these details in the life of the True Dragon Emperor? [Read more…]

“The Creation Story”: An Excerpt from “Canticle to the Land,” the Third Novel in Fan Wen’s Yunnan-Tibet Trilogy

The Story of Creation

Long, long ago

Sky and earth not yet distinct

Water and soil not yet formed

Darkness shrouding all.

No sun, ho! No moon,

Neither flower nor beast, ho!

And no love.

No Tashi Gyatso, Tibetan minstrel,

For his wings of passion had yet to unfurl.

— Tashi Gyatso’s Creation Ballad

大地雅歌The audience erupted in laughter in Chieftain Khampu Dzongsar’s spacious salon.“You sang that wrong,” uttered someone to Tashi Gyatso, the troubadour. “Those last two lines were added on by you!”

“Twang” sounded the string, dexterously plucked by the fellow in the middle of the salon who was fondling his zither and performing the Creation Ballad, like a savvy horseman lightly reining in an errant steed.  He affected a mischievous smile that evoked knowing chuckles.

Only one who enjoyed the chieftain’s good graces dared behave so nonchalantly at a gathering of nobility. [Read more…]

“Funeral of a Muslim”: Tale of Three Generations of a 20th Century Hui Family

With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Funeral of a Muslim, Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing, is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.

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.

Beijing October Arts & Literature Publishing House has commissioned an English excerpt from me, and what follows is taken from it. Inquiries regarding overseas rights should be directed to Mr. Han Jingqun (韩敬群总编辑) at daisyh@vip.sina.com

Like many of his fellow Hui over the centuries, the novel’s protagonist, Han Tzu-ch’i, makes a living in the jade industry. He is a lapidary.

Funeral of a Muslim

(Excerpted from Chapter 1)

When Jade opened the storefront door, two strangers entered, one aged and one young. The old one was past sixty, tall and portly, with a bronze complexion, wide forehead and high nose, deep-set, spirited eyes, long white beard under his chin, head wrapped in a white prayer cap, wearing a full-length ch’angshan that was neither blue nor grey, and feet in a pair of straw sandals. [Read more…]

Author’s Afterword: “Last Quarter of the Moon”

 Afterword:

From the Mountains

 to the Sea

 

Birch trees in Greater Khingan MountainsThe birth of a literary work resembles the growth of a tree. It requires favorable circumstances.

Firstly, there must be a seed, the Mother of All Things. Secondly, it cannot lack for soil, nor can it make do without the sunlight’s warmth, the rain’s moisture or the wind’s caress.

In the case of The Last Quarter of the Moon, however, first there was soil, and only then was there a seed. For this land that turns muddy as the ice thaws in the spring, shaded by green trees in the summer and covered by motley leaves in the autumn and endless snow-white in the winter, is very familiar to me.

After all, I was born and raised on this land.  As a child entering the mountains to fetch firewood, more than once I discovered an odd head-shape on a thick tree trunk.  Father told me that was the image of the Mountain Spirit Bainacha, carved by the Oroqen.

I knew the Oroqen were an ethnic minority who lived on the outskirts of our mountain town. They resided in their open-top cuoluozi (teepees) where they could spy the stars at night.  In the summer they fished in their birch-bark canoes, and in the winter they hunted in the mountains wearing their parka and roe-deerskin boots. They liked to go horse riding, drink liquor and sing songs. In that vast and frigid land, their small tribe was like a pristine spring trickling deep in the mountains. Full of vitality, yet solitary.

I once believed that the masses of forestry workers, those loggers, were the genuine masters of the land, while the Oroqen in their animal hides were aliens from another galaxy.  Only later did I learn that before the Han came to the Greater Khingan Range, the Oroqen had long lived and multiplied on that frozen land.

Dubbed the “green treasure house,” the forest grew thick and animals abounded before it was exploited. There were very few roads and no railroad. Most paths in the wooded mountains were trodden by the nomadic hunting peoples, the Oroqen and the Evenki.

After large-scale exploitation of the forest began in the sixties, bevies of loggers were stationed in the forest and one road after another—for timber transport—appeared, along with railroad tracks.  Whizzing along those roads and tracks each day were trucks and trains laden with logs bound for destinations beyond the mountains. The sound of trees falling displaced birdcalls, and chimney smoke displaced clouds.

In reality, the exploitation of nature is not wrong; when God left man to fend for himself in the mortal world, wasn’t it to force him to find the answer to survival within Nature? The problem is, God wished us to seek a harmonious form of survival, not a rapacious, destructive one.

One, two, three decades passed, and the sound of tree felling quieted but didn’t cease. Continuous exploitation and certain irresponsible, reckless actions made the virgin forest begin to display signs of aging and decline. Like an apparition, dust storms suddenly appeared at the dawn of the new century.  At last, the sparse tree coverage and decimated animal population alerted us: we have exacted too much from Mother Nature! [Read more…]

Excerpt: Uyghur Writer Alat Asem’s “Sidik Golden MobOff”

Here’s an excerpt from my translation of Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》) by the bilingual Uyghur author, Alat Asem (阿拉提 · 阿斯木), that is published in full in Issue 14 of Chutzpah!:

IN A WORLD of snow and ice, buses began to budge and Muslims began to discuss Sidik Golden MobOff in hushed tones.

20130612160730_2447

One comment reached my ears from a bus seat behind me. “In summary, this deceased mate of ours was a rather odd fellow, and the words at my disposal are insufficient to dissect his temperament.”

An old gentleman seated in front of me, sporting a modest, not fully white beard with intermingled deposits of grey (like the striped skin of a Xinjiang cantaloupe), had an amiable look about him. He sighed at length, and pronounced: “Folk good and bad both die, but the bad all die in wintertime.”

I didn’t speak out immediately, because the people in this place live according to long- standing custom. If someone has a beard, you bite your tongue and offer up a smile, even if you are the one endowed with heavenly wisdom.

I once remarked to Sidik Golden MobOff that this is the kind of place where bearded men aren’t friendly, and friendly men don’t wear beards. He said that beards represent time, and friendliness is greed, and it’s all one and the same.

But at the time I couldn’t help myself. “Esteemed Elder Brother,” I said, “pardon me, for I’m young and unbearded. But hearing what was just said, the heart itches and the mouth is hot, and I also want to say a word or two.

“As young as I am, I count not a few friends among Elder Brothers, and know truckfuls of knowledgeable Gentlemen and lesser types, and I’ve chewed on my share of ancient books and works by current authors, but I’ve yet to hear this adage: ‘The bad all die in the wintertime.’ Pray tell, Elder Brother, are you a university genius, or an Immortal from a seat of learning in the Heavens?”

Elder Brother turned around and looked me straight in the eye. “Whom do you take yourself for?”

“A person complete with a nose, ears and eyes.”

“You’re still young,” said Elder Brother. “When you’ve lived to my age, come look for me again.” [Read more…]