“The Sultan Has No Clothes”: Press Freedom on Trial in Turkey

We all know the story of the small child who piped up “the emperor has no clothes” while everybody was pretending to admire the despot parading through the streets. This child is analogous to those who, in the same spirit of honesty, have come out to tell the truth in today’s Turkey. The truth-tellers are in fact the real patriots, and they succeeded in becoming the conscience of a country by dispelling the fog clouding our perceptions to show us reality.

My father, Murat Sabuncu, is a truth-teller. He is the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily newspaper, which is one of the very few remaining critical but respected voices in the Turkish media. He and 11 of his colleagues from Cumhuriyet have been detained for the past nine months. Their trial will start in Istanbul on Monday. 

For the full essay in The Guardian, click here.

Event: Bayburt Turkey July 14-16, Dede Korkut Festival

Event:              23rd International Bayburt Dede Korkut Culture and Art Festival

Date:               July 14-16, 2017

Venue:             Bayburt, Bayburt Province, Turkey (various sites)

Notes:             The Book of Dede Korkut (Dede Korkut Hikâyeleri) is the most famous among the epic stories — dastan — of the Oghuz Turks. The character Dede Korkut, i.e. “Grandfather Korkut”, was a widely renowned soothsayer and bard. The stories carry morals and values significant to the social lifestyle of the nomadic Turkic peoples and their pre-Islamic beliefs. The book’s mythic narrative is part of the cultural heritage of Turkic countries, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

The latest version of Dede Kurkut in World Languages, compiled by Dr. Metin Yurtbaşı, now includes an excerpt in Chinese translated by Professor Liang Zhenhui of Xi’an International Studies University.

Turkey’s Purge: Kurdish Suffer along with Suspected Gülenists

In Amid Turkey’s Purge, a Renewed Attack on Kurdish Culture, Patrick Kingsley reports from Diyarbakir:

Across southeast Turkey, where most people are Kurdish, Mr. Erdogan’s government fired over 80 elected mayors and replaced them with state-appointed trustees. Here in Diyarbakir, the spiritual capital of Turkish Kurdistan, the trustee not only fired most of the city’s municipally employed actors, but also 80 percent of the staff of the municipal department that promoted the teaching of Kurdish and other minority languages.

In towns across the region, trustees have changed the names of streets previously named for prominent Kurdish figures, or removed statues of Kurdish heroes. More than a dozen lawmakers from the main pro-Kurdish party have been arrested in recent months. A Kurdish artist was jailed for doing a painting of the ruins of Nusaybin, one of several Kurdish towns partly destroyed in 2015 during fighting between the Turkish army and Kurdish militants.

Kurdish or pro-Kurdish journalists are some of the principal victims of the post-coup crackdown on free speech. According to the Free Journalist Society, a now-banned, pro-Kurdish news media watchdog, 173 journalists are now in Turkish prisons; of those, 50 worked for Kurdish or pro-Kurdish news outlets.

June 30-July 2 London Event: Africa Writes Festival

Event: Africa Writes Festival

Date: June 30-July 2

Venue: British Museum, London

Highlights: Alain Mabanckou in Conversation . . . Translation Roundtable: Translating into and between African Languages . . . The Chibok Girls: Ascent of Boko Haram in Nigeria, Stories of Survivors and Bereaved in northern Nigeria . . . Dreams & Deceptions: A Night of Storytelling

Feminist: A Dirty Word in Xi Jinping’s China?

Chimamanda Adichie is hot. Not just in her homeland Nigeria, and the US where she spends much of her time nowadays, but in China too.

Witness the fact that four of her works have been translated into Chinese, including her moving portrayal of the Biafran war,  Half of a Yellow Sun  (半轮黄日), The Thing Around Your Neck (绕颈之物), and two just this year, Purple Hibiscus  (紫木槿), and We Should All Be Feminists (女性的权利). African literature is notoriously little translated into Chinese, and four books puts her in the illustrious company of just a handful of oft-translated black African writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, also Nigerians (see my mini-database of African lit in Chinese).

We Should All Be Feminists, just out this month (June 2017) in Chinese, is a personal essay adapted from the writer’s TEDx talk of the same name. Writes Shelley Diaz (School Library Journal), as cited in the Amazon.com blurb for the English version of the essay:

Drawing on anecdotes from her adolescence and adult life, Adichie attempts to strike down stereotypes and unpack the baggage usually associated with the term [feminism]. She argues that an emphasis on feminism is necessary because to focus only on the general ‘human rights’ is ‘to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded’.

I wonder if Ms. Adichie knows what has become of her essay in the Chinese? I have not read it, but I do know this: The very word “feminist”— and the bold call for all of us, irregardless of our gender — to be “feminists,” have been removed from the title.  The Chinese title,  女性的权利 (nǚxìng de quánlì), is a rather flat “Women’s Rights.” No feminist (女权主义者) or feminism (女权主义), no call to take action, just five words, which lack even a verb.

Word has it that the sticking point was the “ism” (the Chinese term for “feminist” is literally “feminism” + “person”). Apparently there’s only one “ism” around today that is considered politically correct; it has “Chinese characteristics,” and it ain’t “feminism.” I don’t know if the decision to tone down the title was made by the higher-ups at People’s Literature Publishing House or someone in the Ministry of Truth, but this is arguably yet another telltale sign of the sensitivity regarding feminist activism that has become increasingly evident since the mid-2015 arrest of “China’s Feminist Five.”

According to The Guardian, the women – Wei Tingting, Li Tingting (Li Maizi), Wu Rongrong, Wang Man and Zheng Churan (Datu) – were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” (寻衅滋事罪) after planning a multi-city protest aimed at bringing an end to sexual harassment on public transport.

It’s obvious that the marketeers over at People’s Literature Publishing House, censorship or no, fully understand that the original We Should All Be Feminists is much more likely to drive sales. Just look at the cover (top of article): The lame Chinese title definitely didn’t get top billing.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Musa Anter

“If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land.”

(Musa Anter, Kurdish writer, assassinated in 1992)

The Xinjiang Gold Rush, Uyghur Scavengers and a Kind of Freedom

In a discussion of Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World — about Southeast Asian refugee immigrants and white Vietnam War vets picking mushrooms in Oregon — Darren Byler is struck by the way the mushroom pickers speak of freedom. He writes:

In a corner of China, several thousand kilometers from the Yunnan forests Tsing writes about in the second half of her book, I have lived with another group of pickers. They are Uyghurs who scavenge the dry river valleys near Yaken and Hotan on the border with Afghanistan for jade. Armed with hoes, these young Muslim men sort through rocks for months, avoiding the thousands of Han settlers and state-owned corporations that have come in the Jade Rush that has overtaken their homeland. After filling a fanny pack with stones they go to the city, dodging the many police checkpoints that stand between them and the regional capital Ürümchi. If they are seen by the police, they will be sent back or arrested. They will be caught up in the so-called People’s War on Terror, which targets young Uyghur men and thrives on indefinite detention and labor camps. Yet if these young men do manage to arrive in the city, they too, like the mushroom pickers, speak of a kind of freedom.

Read Byler’s full essay, Salvage Freedomhere.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Elif Şafak on Bilingual Road Signs

The next day I am on my way to the Hay Festival. This year I am prepared for the rain – boots, scarves and raincoats. I remember the first time I went to Hay as a young novelist. I stopped by a road sign just because it was written in Welsh and English. I had never seen anything similar in Turkey. It was unthinkable: a simple road sign written in Turkish and Kurdish.

(From the online diary of Elif Şafak, Turkey’s best-known novelist)

Swedish Readers to Get First Glance into World of China’s Marginalized Reindeer Herders

With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic

“There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki.”

marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.

Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.

The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them.  See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.

Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.

But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.

In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.

Trilogy Set on Yunnan-Tibetan Border

All three of the novels in Fan Wen’s trilogy set on the Yunnan-Tibetan border in the 19-20th centuries are now available — in one form or another:

My favorite so far was the first novel in the trilogy, Shuǐ rǔ dàdì, which I described thusly in my interview with the author (A Century of Cultural Collisions in Shangri-la):

[Shuǐ rǔ dàdì] . . . tells the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon — Gateway to Tibet — beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.

But the newest of the novels to be published (translated by Shelly Bryant), is Land of Mercy. Marcia Johnson in Shanghai has written to mention that she bought the Kindle version, is enjoying it, and notes that several of the chapters include “Field Notes” by the author about how he — a devout Catholic convert raised in Sichuan — came to “learn about some of the seemingly magical elements he weaves into his tale.”

See here for an interview in French with the translator of Terre de lait et de miel.