Nuosuo Poet Aku Wuwu: Striving for a New Language Born of Cultural Fusion

Aku Wuwu (阿库乌雾), a bilingual poet who writes and performs in both Mandarin and Nuoso (a language of the Yi people), advocates a new-fangled form of Chinese that more fully expresses his people’s non-Han culture. This reminds me of the attitude of Uyghur author Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木) and the Turkic-flavor of his Confessions of a Jade Lord (《时间悄悄的嘴脸》). As Aku recently said in an interview at ThePaper.cn:

。。。针对多民族作家,我提出过从“文化混血”到“文学混血”的趋势,这是不可抗拒的时代历史潮流。我还提出“第二汉语”的主张,即不再是原来意义上的汉语,或者说不再是汉文化意义上的汉语,而是一种经过了彝族汉语诗人们全面变构后用以表述和承载彝民族文化发展体系的新的汉语,对建构多民族一体多元的富有中国特色的中国文学理论做出贡献。

For the full interview in Chinese, click here.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Ferociously Monolingual America

There is a fluidity to the South Asian language-scape that is wholly lacking in the United States, which is, despite the diverse population, ferociously monolingual. Code-switching, the practice of sliding effortlessly from one language to the next, or mixed idioms, like Hinglish, are practically non-existent in the US, outside of immigrant communities. I find it very hard to switch back and forth mid-stream between Hindi and English.

(Literary translator Daisy Rockwell in interview, Meet the American who translates some of India’s finest Hindi writers into English)

The New Xinjiang: Traveling when Uyghur

In Navigating Xinjiang’s Security Checkpoints, Darren Byler, anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Washington, relates his recent experiences in northwest China:

Over the course of a week in cities across Xinjiang, I went through dozens and dozens of checkpoints. I saw young Uighur officers berate elderly Uighurs for not showing their IDs. I saw numerous checkpoints at the sides of roads, where officers appeared to target young Uighur men and women. During my entire trip, I did not see a Han individual produce his or her ID, or even pause for a moment to wonder if they should.

At some checkpoints, officers also asked young Uighurs to give them the passwords to open their smartphones. At these checkpoints, the officers looked at the spyware app Clean Net Guard (Jingwang Weishi) that all Uighurs are now required to install on their phones. The officers matched the registration of the phone to the ID of the person, and they also checked if any alerts had been issued by the app. The app scans the content on the phone and content sent from the phone for any material deemed “extremist” or “separatist.” These types of checkpoints are particularly harrowing for young Uighurs. Evidence from these scans can be used to detain them indefinitely in the reeducation camps.

English Excerpt from “Prayers in the Wind” (祭语风中) by Tibetan Author Tsering Norbu

 

Excerpt from Prayers in the Wind

A novel by Tsering Norbu

节选:《祭语风中》(次仁罗布 著)

Translated from the Chinese by Joshua Dyer

 

Zhyiö Rinpoche’s body sat upright on a wooden bed wrapped in his frayed and faded robe. Peering through the thick veil of incense smoke, I could almost will myself to believe Rinpoche was still alive and well. His beard extended down to his chest, and his eyelids stood slightly apart, giving the impression he was observing something carefully. A clay lamp flickered on a wooden table to his right. Heartbroken, I fell to my knees, kowtowed, and then finally laid myself prostrate on the ground before him, shedding tears all the while.

“Rinpoche,” I called to him.

“Don’t cry,” someone urged.

I was pulled to my feet and escorted outside again. The sunlight stabbed at my eyes. The courtyard was filled with white light. Next door I heard the sound of sutras being recited to the urgent beats of the tamaru drum and bell. As my vision adjusted to the light I realized it was Tendzin Drakpa and his brother at my side.

“Rinpoche’s passage to Nirvana reminds us all how cruel this world can be. You must not hold him back with your tears. Let him pass on. We’ve already done the calculations. The day after tomorrow is a very auspicious day. We have begun preparations for his cremation,” Tendzin Drakpa said, tugging on my arm.

I didn’t know how to thank him properly so I merely nodded.

He led me out behind the monastery to see the crematorium the villagers had built. From the distance it looked like an offering burner, but larger and wider at the top. An even coat of mud had been applied to the outside. Inside there were crisscrossing beams of green wood to hold the body. Three holes lined the outer walls at ground level for feeding wood and oxygen to the fire. As I stood by the crematorium, the gratitude I felt for the villagers took some of the sting out of my heartache.

Tendzin Drakpa had more grey in his hair now, and his back was a little more stooped. At the same time, there was a look of philosophical detachment in his eyes that had not been there before. Time was working at him, slowly molding him into the form he would assume as an old man. I faced the crematorium and recited the Sutra of the Heavenly Gathering, and prayed that Zhyiö Rinpoche would attain a speedy rebirth.

A villager hurried towards us shouting, “Tendzin Drakpa, come quickly! There’s blood dripping from Rinpoche’s nose!” [Read more…]

“Manas” Onstage: Ongoing Moves to Sinicize China’s Three Great Oral Epics

A large-scale, colourful rendition of the Kyrgyz epic Manas (玛纳斯史诗) was staged March 22-23 in Beijing’s ultra-modern Poly Theater. This performance came just two days after the newly anointed President Xi Jinping, speaking at the People’s Congress, cited two of the three great oral epics of non-Han peoples, Manas and the Tibetan-language King Gesar. While he mangled the title of the latter (Xi Jinpingian Sager), their mere mention shows their importance in the Party’s current multiethnic-is-good narrative.

This centuries-old trilogy in verse recounts the exploits of the legendary hero Manas and his son and grandson in their struggle to resist external enemies — primarily the Oirat Mongols and the Khitan —and unite the Kyrgyz people. Along with heroic tales such as Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu, Manas  is considered one of the great Turkic epic poems.

Experts don’t agree on the epic’s history, but it has undoubtedly been around in oral form for at least several centuries. Composed in Kyrgyz, a language spoken by the Kyrgyz people in northwest Xinjiang and neighboring Kyrgyzstan, it was not available in full in Kyrgyz script until the mid-90s, and only then translated into Chinese. For details on the tribulations of the master manaschi, Jusup Mamay (居素普·玛玛依), who recited his 232,500-line version for prosperity (and was sentenced to a long stint of “reform through labor” during the Cultural Revolution for his efforts), see A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.

For some time now, scholars at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the state media have been busy “re-packaging” these three epics in a way that emphasizes their Chineseness, while playing down their non-Han origins. The trio, which includes the Mongolian epic Jangar, are now frequently referred to as “China’s three great oral epics” (我国三大史诗), despite the fact that all three were composed in languages other than Chinese by peoples (Kyrgyz, Mongols and Tibetans) in territories that were not then firmly within the Chinese empire.

Media coverage of the Poly Theater production of Manas arguably takes this repurposing one step further.  Entitled Manas Epic Reenacted on the Opera Stage (史诗《玛纳斯》再现歌剧舞台), in the first two-thirds of the widely shared article, there are no mentions whatsoever of the word “Kyrgyz,” or references to the Kyrgyz people or language, or their homelands in Xinjiang or Kyrgyzstan. The opera, it reports, “recreates the magnificent, relentless struggle of the Chinese people [中国人民] for freedom and progress . . .”

Granted, “Kyrgyz” (柯尔克孜) does appear three times in the remaining third of the article, but it appears at the bottom in what is essentially a sidebar that describes the storyline of the opera; far from the eye-catching photos of the opera characters in exotic garb and the opening text that follows those colorful vignettes. Nowhere in the article is it noted that the epic was composed in a Turkic language (Kyrgyz) or that it is still considered by Kyrgyz speakers — on both sides of the border — to be the very incarnation of their identity as a nation.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Chinafication of Our Country’s Islam

. . . the Chinese Islamic Association advocates the following: 1) That education about the Socialist Core Values must enter the mosque; 2) That the outstanding traditional culture of China [中华优秀传统文化] enter the mosque; 3) That the “Lessons on Muslim Patriotism” enter the mosque; 4) That religious rituals, culture, and architecture must embody Chinese characteristics, Chinese styles, and Chinese manners; 5) That the Islamic community will make the refutation of and resistance to religious extremism the focus of all scriptural [Koranic] education, purge themselves of heterodoxy while holding fast to orthodoxy, and effect a thorough reform to recover the original. 

(Rooted in the Fertile Soil of Chinese Civilization: Chinafication of Our Country’s Islam. Speech to the March 10, 2018 session of the CPPCC by Yang Faming, Chair of the Chinese Islamic Association. Translated by Max Oidtmann. Original Chinese speech has since been deleted from Xinhuanet.com)

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Translation and the Looking Glass

It [translating] teaches the writer how to write in a way that nothing else can because you are inside of something. You’re not outside of it anymore. One can read something so closely that it’s only by translating it that you really do feel you’ve gone through the looking glass, that you are on the other side and you’re in that other world. I would wish that pleasure and education and marveling — that sense of amazement — for any writer.

(Excerpted from Why Jhumpa Lahiri loves translating Italy’s ‘finest living writer’)

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Patrice Nganang on African Writers’ Focus on Life Overseas

Ngum Ngafor: As an artist, you follow in the footsteps of writers like Bate Besong and Mongo Beti to critique political and social issues. How urgent is it for today’s Cameroonian creative to be society’s conscience?

Patrice Nganang: It is more than urgent, particularly because Africa has had a very long disconnect between its younger writers and the countries of their birth. The culture of [focusing on] US or Europe-based African writers who are trained in creative writing has effectively curtailed the politicisation of writers. And this at a moment, when battles are so urgent on the continent. Just look at the landscape of homophobia, tyranny and poverty! People are sold as slaves in front of our very eyes – in Africa! It is amazing to see how the continent has sunk to a level of sheer public criminality, while writers are most of the time busy writing about the plight of their lives in Western capitals and how cool they are. It is truly amazing to see the number of voices that are silenced on the continent, as writers talk about their travails in Western metropolises that were built by people who showed courage in adversity and sometimes even in wars. Some soul searching is necessary for African writers, particularly the younger ones.

(Excerpted from interview, Out of the Chamber of Death: Conversation with Patrice Nganang)

Xinjiang: Big Data, Wifi Sniffers & Big Brother

In China: Big Data Fuels Crackdown in Minority Region, Human Rights Watch reports on how hi-tech is being used to systematically monitor citizens’ behavior in Xinjiang, one of the PRC’s most multiethnic regions:

Since August 2016, the Xinjiang Bureau of Public Security has posted procurement notices confirming the establishment of the “Integrated Joint Operations Platform” (IJOP, 一体化联合作战平台), a system that receives data on individuals from many different sources. Kashgar Prefecture appears to be one of the first areas where the system is complete and in regular use.

These notices reveal that the IJOP gathers information from multiple sources or “sensors.” One source is CCTV cameras, some of which have facial recognition or infrared capabilities (giving them “night vision”). Some cameras are positioned in locations police consider sensitive: entertainment venues, supermarkets, schools, and homes of religious figures. Another source is “wifi sniffers,” which collect the unique identifying addresses of computers, smartphones, and other networked devices. The IJOP also receives information such as license plate numbers and citizen ID card numbers from some of the region’s countless security checkpoints and from “visitors’ management systems” in access-controlled communities. The vehicle checkpoints transmit information to IJOP, and “receive, in real time, predictive warnings pushed by the IJOP” so they can “identify targets… for checks and control.”

The IJOP also draws on existing information, such as one’s vehicle ownership, health, family planning, banking, and legal records, according to official reports. Police and local officials are also required to submit to IJOP information on any activity they deem “unusual” and anything “related to stability” they have spotted during home visits and policing. One interviewee said that possession of many books, for example, would be reported to IJOP, if there is no ready explanation, such as having teaching as one’s profession.

“Old Demons, New Deities”: Review of Collection of 21 Contemporary Tibetan Short Stories

In Off the Plateau, Lowell Cook reviews a new collection of 21 short stories penned in Tibetan, Chinese and English by Tibetan writers inside and outside the inauspiciously dubbed “TAR” — the Tibetan Administrative Region in the PRC.

Some of the stories “evoke how Tibet is not bound by a single language or region, and also exists abroad in exile,” notes Cook. “In Pema Bhum’s story ‘Tips,’ three Tibetan friends who have resettled in the United States reflect on their lives and on Tibetan issues over a smoke one sunny afternoon”:

We lost our country to the Chinese. Even here, even in America, we work our asses off for the Chinese. And the wages that we get for that, we spend on Chinese ass. We just can’t get away from the Chinese, can we?