Jan 30 Nottingham U Event: Literary Translation, Image Building and Soft Power — Exploring 21st century Sino-African dynamics

Time/date: 12:00-13:00 Friday, Jan 30 2015
Venue: Nottingham University, England
Speakers: Dr Kathryn Batchelor & Dr Catherine Gilbert
Topic: Literary Translation, Image Building and Soft Power: Exploring 21st century Sino-African dynamics

Dr. Batchelor is working on a project entitled “Exploring 21st Century Sino-African Dynamics through Cultural Exchange and Translation” which consists of two inter-related parts:

  • Firstly, it aims to carry out a global survey of literary translation, identifying all African literature translated for China since the year 2000 and all Chinese literature made available to African audiences over the same period. It will explore the types of themes that dominate, and identify any that are consistently excluded, and will examine the ways in which the reading matter is framed for its new audiences through covers, prefaces, and blurbs.
  • Secondly, the project examines the translation of other types of cultural and media products, such as films, TV programmes, performances, exhibitions and newspapers across several geographically and temporally limited spaces in both China and Africa, once again paying attention to the types of cultural products and themes that are favoured and exploring the ways in which they are ‘translated’, both literary and metaphorically, for the new audiences.

For background on translation of African literature into Chinese, see my piece Still Stuck on Things Fall Apart?

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).

2015 Update: The Xinjiang Archives Project

Initiated in 2011, the Xinjiang Archives Project (新疆文库) aims to publish 1,000 volumes by 2020. According to a古西域行纪十一种 January 2015 report that ran in 《了望》magazine (文化格局), 26 volumes have been published.

Featured among those that are now available to the public include a complete Chinese translation of the Turkic classic, Kutadgu Bilig (福乐智慧), a version of the Jangar Epic in Mongolian, and 古西域行纪是一种 (lit., The Ancient Western Regions: 11 Travelogues, at right). “Western Regions” is the term given by pre-Qing Dynasty Chinese to much of Xinjiang and Central Asia.

There is no doubt that the Xinjiang Archives Project is massive in scope, and represents the largest effort to date to capture the region’s incredible variety of ancient manuscripts. According to the report, 50,000 books in Mandarin, 24,000 volumes in other languages and more than 30,000 documents have been unearthed over the years. Most of the upcoming publications will be in Mandarin, Uyghur, Kazakh, Mongol, Kyrgyz or Xibe, but works in more than 20 scripts have been found, including Sanskrit and Kharosthi.

Curiously, the number of volumes actually published as of January 2015 — 26 — is exactly the same number as cited in April 2014 (Archiving Projects Make their Mark).

In hard copy terms, then, little progress seems to have been made, though some 210 additional volumes have reportedly been edited and await publication. So why the current renewed media focus on the project? It appears that the authorities want to make a political statement of sorts. The report quotes Liu Bin (刘宾), co-translator of Kutadgu Bilig, and Deputy Chairman of the project’s Editing and Publication Committee:

“At present, some people in and out of China derive great pleasure prattling on about the so-called ‘Xinjiang Problem.’ A few people with ulterior motives seek to exaggerate a sense of cultural estrangement and antagonism, and fabricate and abet a mentality of conflict.  And on the other hand, others have revealed their ‘ignorance’ regarding Xinjiang,” said Liu Bin.

“We believe that with the ongoing publication of ‘The Xinjiang Archives,’ the haziness these people have fabricated is bound to gradually disperse, and in its place a genuine Xinjiang, one that exists according to historical logic and progress, will be clearly revealed to the world.”

By the Numbers: Non-Han “Literary Families” during the Qing

In much the same way as modern gender studies have exploded the myth that great writers throughout human history were necessarily male, contemporary research into literary production by non-Han authors is slowly lifting the veil on their role in China’s pre-20th-century literary life.

In a recent piece on the current state of research into so-called “literary families” during the Qing Dynasty (民族文学家族研究, 多落肯著), Duo Luoken notes that most such research has focused on socially prominent Han families in the Jiangnan and Central Plains regions. The author is a professor at Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou.

Until recently, this focus on Han writers, writing in hànwén and the dominance of Han literary critics, have all resulted in a general sense among the Chinese public that the other officially recognized 55 peoples of the PRC have rarely made important contributions to the nation’s literature since ancient times.

According to Duo, to date just a dozen or so research papers have delved into the existence of Qing era non-Han literary families nationwide, each of which featured several writers whose manuscripts — printed or handwritten — are extant. Based on that research, Duo has compiled statistics on the ethnicity of the families, number of writers they produced, and numbers of known manuscripts. I’ve simplified as follows:

80 Manchu literary families (270 writers)

14 Hui families (53 writers)

11 Zhuang families (33 writers)

10 Mongol families (31 writers)

5 Bai families (18 writers)

4 Yi families (14 writers)

3 Naxi families (11 writers)

1 Buyi family (3 writers)

11th-Century Turkic Classic “Kutadgu Bilig” Recited in Chinese at the Great Hall of the People

Wish I could have been there along with former Minister of Culture Wang Meng — a Han who spent part of the Cultural Revolution in Ili laboring

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency:  What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency: What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

among Uyghurs — and central government and Xinjiang dignitaries. I was briefly in Beijing but unaware of the event: On January 18, a new Chinese rendition of the 11th-Century Turkic Classic Kutadgu Bilig (福乐智慧) was launched and an excerpt recited at the Great Hall of the People.

The symbolism of this recital should not be underestimated. It took place on Tiananmen Square, the heart of political China, at a time when Xinjiang society is the object of a harsh crackdown that at times appears more “anti-Uyghur” than “anti-terrorist”: Uyghur women wearing the hijab and long-bearded men are being banned from public transport; Uyghurs in some areas of Xinjiang can no longer travel freely with their national ID, but must apply for difficult-to-obtain additional identification such as a “Convenience Card” (便民卡); moderate Uyghur intellectual and spokesman Ilham Tohti has recently been sentenced to life in jail for operating a web site alleged to have incited separatism; and hundreds of writers and translators have reportedly signed an Open letter to our Uyghur Compatriots in which they call for Muslims to “go to mosques under the sunshine instead of illegal teaching sites hidden in underground dens.”

In this context, the re-publication — it was first published in 2003, and nothing in the news item explains if there is any major difference between the two editions — of the Chinese-language Kutadgu Bilig is intriguing. Thus the questions: What is the nature of the work, and why the high-profile relaunch?

The book was authored by Yusuf Khass Hajib (يۈسۈپ خاس ھاجىپ‎), an 11th-century Turkic poet from the city of Balasaghun, the capital of the Karakhanid Empire in modern-day Kyrgyzstan. He died in Kashgar in 1085 and a mausoleum now stands on his gravesite.

According to Wikipedia, Kutadgu Bilig was written in Uyghur-Karluk language (Middle Turkic), and employed the Arabic mutaqārib metre (couplets of two rhyming 11-syllable lines). [Read more…]

Beijing Jan 17 Event: Sheng Keyi to Launch Novel at her Premier Solo Painting Exhibition

You may recognize the name of Sheng Keyi (盛可以) as the novelist who wrote Northern Girls (北妹)Sheng Keyi and more recently Death Fugue (死亡赋格), both translated into English. But you might not know that she is a budding artist as well. She took up painting in 2013. Check out her brushwork here.

You are invited to attend the exhibition, comprising 26 tableaux, as well as the launch of her latest novel, Savage Growth (野蛮生长), which also features her own illustrations:

Date/time: 3:00-5:00 pm, January 17
Venue: New Millenium Gallery (北京千年时间画廊)
Curator: Zhang Siyong (张思永)
Academic Support: Feng Tang (冯唐)
Special Guests: Li Jingze (李敬泽), Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), Wu Hongbin (武洪滨), Li Jian (李健), Li Xiuwen (李修文) and A Yi (阿乙)

Bilingual Han Cadres: Coming Soon to Tibet Autonomous Region?

In Han Cadres Required to Learn Tibetan Language, the Global Times reports that Xi Jinping and company are getting serious about implementing the “bilingual policy” (藏、汉双语方针) that was legislated in Tibet way back in 1987:

Mastery of the Tibetan language will become a requirement for non-native cadres in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

All seven prefecture-level cities in Tibet have started organizing Tibetan language training for non-native cadres, according to the regional bureau of compilation and translation on Monday.

Qoizha, deputy director of the bureau, said they have handed out 40,000 books on basic Tibetan language for daily conversation.

In a country where statistics and quantifiable targets pepper most news reports — e.g., 90 percent of Tibet residents are Tibetan, 40,000 handbooks distributed — there are several key numbers missing from the report:

  • Percentage of Han cadres who can currently conduct their daily tasks in Tibetan
  • Percentage who must attain basic fluency within 2015
  • Date when formal testing of Han cadre fluency in Tibetan will begin

Although the new announcement regarding the implementation of the old bilingual policy is certainly a step in the right direction, it sounds like a statement of intention rather than the “requirement” being suggested in Global Times’ lead paragraph.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make bilingualism among civil servants in Tibet a reality:

1) Announce a realistic timetable and a budget for implementing the program. It will certainly take at least 5 years to get this project off the ground;

2) Gradually introduce examinations in oral and written Tibetan for would-be and current civil servants. Gradually tie promotions for cadres to ability to communicate in both Putonghua and Tibetan;

3) Offer free, intensive Tibetan language training to current and new civil servants;

4) Do not refer to ethnicity of candidates in recruitment ads. Instead, note the level of Putonghua and Tibetan required for each job;

5) Send a delegation to Hong Kong to see how 1-4 were fairly successfully implemented for Cantonese and English during British rule, and continue to be implemented in the post-1997 Hong Kong SAR.

For the Chinese-language version of the news item, see 西藏动员全区汉族干部学藏语 “接地气” .

Liao Yiwu: Charlie Hebdo and the Hijackers

Chinese dissident writer Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武), who slipped through the Sino-Vietnamese border and has taken refuge in Germany, draws parallels between the jihadists who killed Charlie Hebdo staff, and censors everywhere:

In 2012, Mo Yan, who believes in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, received the Nobel prize for literature. In front of the assembled Western media he compared censorship to airport security control. Nothing special, everybody had to go through it. He took writers who believe in freedom, and everyone who pays a price for saying their minds, for hijackers.

No, they are the hijackers! They hold countries for ransom, they take religion hostage, their ultimate goal is to hijack everyone’s freedom of speech. If you don’t hand it over, they will follow you like a nightmare to the ends of the world.

To read the entire text translated by Martin Winter, click here.

Uyghur Short Story Conference: Focus on Two Xinjiang Writers

In the closing days of 2014, a conference entitled “Modern Uyghur Short Story Writing and Research” was organized in Beijing by the Institute of Ethnic Literature (维吾尔散文).

It focused on two Uyghur writers: 拜格买提·玉苏甫 (Begmet Yusup, ﺑﻪﮔﻤﻪﺕ ﻳﯜﺳﯜﭖ ) and 艾合买提·伊明 (Exmet Imin, ئەخمەت ئىمىن).

I’d like to introduce these writers and their works to you, so that we can get an idea of why the literary establishment wishes to hold them up as a model for Uyghur mother-tongue writers. But it’s not easy, because — as is so often the case with non-Han authors — Internet searches turn up very few meaningful links.

Despite the fact that Begmet Yusup has won several recent awards, I cannot find Chinese-language links to his published works anywhere. According to my academic source who knows Uyghur (I don’t), if you google him using his Uyghur name, the search will generate 100+ links. Which begs the question: If he is so little known in the Uyghur and Han communities, why have his works been chosen for discussion and study?

Exmet Imin, on the other hand, is a famous poet who has translated several works and novels, but it is not clear from the listing on Baidu which languages — the target or source languages —were involved. It is almost as if citing the title of a Uyghur-language text, or specifying that a work was translated from or into Uyghur, is somehow not permitted when one is writing an article in Chinese.

That said, here’s what I’ve culled from online searches:

Begmet Yusup

  • According to this Uyghur-language BBS (here), he graduated from Xinjiang University with a degree in literature in 1987 and then worked for the next decade or so in a variety of schools and literature establishments in the Hami area (including as editor of the journal Kumul Literature). He is currently an editor for the journal Xinjiang Culture.
  • Winner of the 2013 Nationalities Literature Magazine Prize for his short story, 隐形人 (literally, The Invisible Man). Click here to hear it in Uyghur.
  • Winner of 2014 Junma Ethnic Literature Prize for his collection of reportage, 愚昧的人们 (literally, The Ignorant Ones)

Exmet Imin (艾合买提·伊明)

  • Poet, short story writer, dramaturge and translator born in 1944. Almost 10,000 hits come up when you search his name in Uyghur on Google. A lot of his poetry and writing is posted and reprinted on internet forums such as this poem, entitled Woman (here). His most famous prose poem is My Mother Tongue (Ana Tilim, here in Uyghur), which describes his love for the Uyghur language.

Coming to China in 2015: A Facebook Free of Unpleasantness?

Just a few weeks ago Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg showed up in China and blew people’s minds by delivering a speech in pǔtōnghuà. Well .Meng Huang arrested in Stockholm . . something like pǔtōnghuà (mouth full of marbles).

The next phase in Facebook’s Long March to appear in the Forbidden City? Ensure that account holders get with the agenda, and post only politically correct stuff. Pictures like this definitely don’t meet the social media web site’s tough standards, apparently.

Nor do real-life pictures of Tibetan Buddhists sacrificing themselves in order to show their discontent with Chinese rule. After all, it’s quite unpleasant to see that sort of thing, isn’t it?

Read about how Facebook has begun censoring the accounts of Chinese activists: Facebook Blocks Account of Liao Yiwu, Exiled Chinese Writer, and Facebook Deletes Post on Tibetan Monk’s Self-immolation.