Borderland Fiction: “The Mongol Would-be Self-Immolator,” Excerpted from Guo Xuebo’s “Moŋgoliya”

Author Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), a Mongol who grew up speaking the language of his people in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia where the novel is set.

Asia-Pacific Journal has published an excerpt I selected and translated from Guo Xuebo’s contemporary work, Moŋgoliya《蒙古里亚》:

Set in China’s 21st-century Inner Mongolia, the novel is a semi-autobiographical tale by Guo Xuebo, a Mongol who grew up speaking the language of his people. It comprises three distinct but intertwined narratives: a spiritual journey, in which the author — ostensibly the narrator — seeks his Shamanic roots, long obscured in post-1949, officially atheist China; vignettes from the Mongolian adventures of Henning Haslund-Christensen, born to a Danish missionary family in 1896, and real-life author of the anthropological masterpiece Men and Gods in Mongolia; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu, a modern-day fictional Mongol herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and coal mine truckers running roughshod over his tiny plot of land.

The excerpt that follows craftily satirizes what might be dubbed “wéiwěn paranoia,” the mania around implementing the central government’s “stability maintenance” policy (维稳), and unexpectedly manages to touch on two taboo topics: the exploitation of traditional Mongolian pasture lands by ruthless coal mining firms, and self-immolation, a horrific yet galvanizing form of protest heretofore largely limited to regions inhabited by Tibetans.

To read the introduction and full excerpt, click here. 

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Newsbriefs: January 2018

Q & A with Alain Mabanckou and why he said “Non” to Macron’s francophone project: The French language is varied, plural, diverse, and we don’t need France’s permission to create with it.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s fifth work to appear in Chinese, has been launched as 美国佬. See updated bilingual list of African Fiction in Chinese Translation/中文译本.

Collection of recent links re: China in Africa from Quartz Africa. Includes articles on Africa-based Confucian Institutes, rising number of young Africans being schooled in the PRC, and China’s role in the downfall of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.

How to Cope with the Social Pressures of a “Yoruba” Party in Lagos: You don’t want to arrive too early. By chance you actually have an invitation card (and not the ordainment of word of mouth), if it says 2 pm., arriving at 4 pm. is trying too hard. As we say in Lagos, don’t fall your own hand or, better yet, don’t stain your own white.

From the New York Times : A Wave of New Fiction From Nigeria, as Young Writers Experiment With New Genres

Sarah Ahrens reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses: “Black Moses” interestingly explores Congolese history and literature and the notion of a world literature in French. But, it falls far short of delivering on a plot level, as the female characters are underdeveloped and the novel’s conclusion plays into a contrived and predictable narrative about post-independence African nations and identity. (Mabanckou’s Demain, j’aurai vingt ans was recently launched in Chinese as 明天,我二十岁).

A Letter of Memorandum has been signed to translate Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (Volumes 1 and 2) into Swahili, according to a press release from China’s embassy in Kenya (翻译出版备忘录).

The New African Magazine has revealed its 100 Most Influential Africans of 2017. Winners in the Arts & Culture category include Imbolo Mbue (Cameroonian author-to-watch), Roye Okupe (writer of the hit graphic novel series E.X.O.), author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (author and feminist), and Bushra al-Fadil (2017 Caine Prize winner).

Baidu Baike: Bizarre Wikipediaesque Site with Beijing’s Big Brother Seal of Approval

In Fake Food, Fake News: On China’s For-Profit Version of Wikipedia, Chenxin Jiang introduces us to the wacky world of Baidu Baike (百度百科), Baidu search engine’s politically correct, Chinese-language version of Wikipedia for the masses:

But in many cases the misinformation on Baidu Baike cannot be attributed to commercial interests; much of it is bizarre or just plain wrong. For instance, Baidu Baike lists Barack Obama as a member of the “Barack family” and identifies his mother’s citizenship as “White American from Kansas.” It quotes Bill Clinton calling Obama “the worst president in American history.” It also says Obama was a “drug addict” as a teenager and inexplicably recounts an anecdote about a couple whose wedding plans were disrupted by Obama’s golf schedule. Despite having the same open-content, anyone-can-edit structure as Wikipedia’s, Baidu Baike is a virtual quagmire of arbitrary opinions and what one might call fake facts.

The existence of the fake fact gives the pleonasm “true fact” meaning. A fake fact doesn’t perform the most crucial function of a fact. If you absorb a fake fact, you might feel more informed (just as you might feel full, at least momentarily, after you consume fake food). But unlike a true fact, it doesn’t tell you anything about the world. A fake fact sits on a website just where an actual fact might be, but it can’t get you from a place where you know less about Barack Obama to a place where you know more.

Update: Investigative Journalism in China

The Global Investigative Journalism Network reports:

A recent study by Sun Yat-Sen University’s School of Communication found that the number of China’s investigative journalists has declined by more than half since 2011, and that a majority of those who remain say they intend to change careers. Researchers found that the number of investigative journalists in China plummeted by 57.5 percent over the last six years. The reasons cited: low pay and poor chances for promotion. Add to that widespread censorship and official interference with news media, and it’s not hard to understand the difficult plight of China’s investigative journalists.

Suggested reading:

The Best Investigative Stories from China — 2017

  • Includes English summary and links to Chinese originals for stories on these topics: The Death of an Autistic Teenager; Killing the Debt Collector; Pharmaceutical Financial Fraud; Nanny Arson Case; Mortgaging Housing for Pensions; The Death of Li Wenxing; Shanghai Day Care Center Child Abuse; Abuse at Gaming Addiction Center; Investigations into LeEco; Child Abuse at RYB Kindergarten; Hunan’s Mining Pollution; Secret Network of Longwei Culture and Media; The “Invisible” Ma Ruixia.

Investigative journalists cite low pay, lack of inspiration for quitting





如今,Selahattin Demirtas (萨拉丁• 德米尔塔什) 已被囚禁在牢房约一年时间,在此等待与恐怖主义有关联的审判。监禁期间,他创作的短篇故事集在土耳其大为畅销,书中有两篇还是以监狱为背景。自 2017 年九月份开售至该年底,此书已在土耳其卖出十四万本。

据伊斯坦布尔的文学代理 AnatoliaLit Agency,英国、德国、意大利和希腊四国的出版社已购买了这本书的外文版权。

这本名为《Seher》的集子由十二个短篇构成,作者将其献给 “所有被杀害的女性与暴力受害者”。定居伊斯坦布尔的 William Armstrong 在《Hürriyet Daily News》报纸的书评中写,这些故事多“围绕奋斗中女性的苦难”。例如:《纳赞,女清洁工》,讲述了一位兼职女佣偶遇一次街头游行却因误被捕,最终由于含冤蒙受牢狱之灾而产生了政治觉醒;《小美人鱼》是关于一名五岁叙利亚难民儿童,在逃离自己因战争而满目疮痍的国家时溺海而亡的悲伤故事;《致监狱信件阅读委员会的一封信》则是稍带讽刺幽默的一篇。

被土耳其政府以帮助恐怖组织搞宣传等诸多罪名起诉的德米尔塔什,并未获准参加近日展开的对自己的审判。海外分析家普遍认为,他的主要罪行是其人民民主党 (HDP) 领导人的身份。该党在土耳其 2014 年的国会选举中,赢得了 550 个席位中的 80 个。面对这支亲库尔德民族在野党的优异表现,埃尔多安总统与他所领导的正义与发展党 (AKP) 迫切想要挫伤对手形象,尤其是在库尔德和年轻选民

作者将其书献给 “所有被杀害的女性与暴力受害者”


毫无疑问,这本书中最感人的故事是《Seher》。 到最后,遵照在场父亲与叔父的要求,弟弟处死了他的姐姐。在与同事的第一次约会中,年少天真的 Seher 被那工友的朋友们压在地上,然后约她出来的同事就强奸了她。如果此事被公之于众,她的整个家族都会因此蒙羞。据传统,近亲会认为有义务对被玷污的女方实施 “名誉杀人”。如今,这一行为虽法律上被视为谋杀,但在土耳其仍时有发生,尤其在乡下。中国读者可能读过李凡纳的《伊斯坦布尔的幸福》。在小说中,一位男青年被命令处决村子里被奸污的女性,但最终他奋起反抗,取而代之对强奸犯进行报复。遗憾的是,Seher 没有如此幸运。德米尔塔什用两句诗来结束这个故事:


林中一夜,三个男人偷走了Seher 的梦想,
旷野一夜,三个男人夺走了Seher 的生命。

本周精彩语录:新疆 – – “生物医学技术武装化” 实验之地?

问:根据近期一篇报道,请简单说明一下中国目前采集维吾尔人 DNA 数据是出于什么目的。

答:当局正在采集维吾尔人生物识别数据,把它作为新身份证制度的一部分。除了DNA 采集,在建的信息登记数据库还包括指纹、血型、语音模式、人脸图像 —— 收集到的数据将会和民族、职业、性别、年龄、出境记录、户口登记、个人以及家属的犯罪记录和宗教信仰挂钩。

2014 年春 “反恐人民战争” 开展以来,南疆维吾尔人口便接二连三沦为公安部门的实验对象。称之为 “便民联系卡” 身份通行制度在新疆实行了第一代,但是大多数维族,尤其 80% 多被划入农村户口,未能获得这张 “良民” 证。因此,军事化的检查站会阻拦居民离开他们所定居的县。当局 2016 年停用了该通行证制度,接着在南疆各个城镇设置检查站。新的身份识别系统将全面跟踪维吾尔人日常生活中的流动及社交。事实上,中国政府正在把生物医学技术武装化,试图将矛头指向 1100万维吾尔民众,并把他们作为管制的对象。

(Excerpted from Mercy Guo’s interview with U of Washington anthropology Ph D candidate Darren Byler (Uyghur Biodata Collection in China), about how the PRC government is building a database on ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang. Published at The Diplomat.)

China’s “Stability Maintenance” Policy Goes Hi-tech in the Remote Far West

Over at The Diplomat, Mercy Kuo interviews Darren Byler, an anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, about how the PRC government is building a database on ethnic Muslim peoples in Xinjiang (Uyghur Biodata Collection in China):

Briefly explain why China is collecting Uyghur DNA data, according to a recent report.

The state is collecting biometric data from the Uyghur population as part of a new

                   Bianminka: Too low-tech?

identification card system. Along with DNA collection, they are creating a registry of fingerprints, blood types, voice patterns, facial imagery – all of which will be correlated to ethnicity, employment, gender, age, foreign travel history, household registration, individual and family criminal history, and religious practice.

Since the beginning of the “People’s War on Terror” in the spring of 2014, the Uyghur population in southern Xinjiang has been subject to a number of experiments in policing. The first passbook ID system that was implemented in Xinjiang was called a People’s Convenience Card (bianminka) system. The vast majority of Uyghurs, particularly the more than 80 percent that are classified as rural, were not permitted to get this “good citizen” card and thus were prevented from leaving their home counties by militarized checkpoints. The state discontinued this passbook system in 2016 and has since installed ID checkpoints throughout every town and county in southern Xinjiang. The new ID system will track the movement and communication of Uyghurs throughout every aspect of daily life. In effect, the Chinese state is weaponizing biomedicine to target and control a population of 11 million Uyghurs.

“Leaving Fear Behind” Tibetan Documentary Filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen (དོན་གྲུབ་དབང་ཆེན་) Escapes from China

In 藏族制片人逃亡美国,曾因拍摄西藏纪录片获刑, the New York Times online Chinese edition reports that Dhondup Wangchen (དོན་གྲུབ་དབང་ཆེན་), earlier imprisoned for shooting the Tibetan documentary Leaving Fear Behind, has fled China for San Francisco, where he has been reunited with his wife and child:

据支持者说,一位知名西藏电影制作人在经历了一次 “艰难且危险的逃亡”之后从中国来到美国。这位制片人曾因拍摄关于藏人在中国统治下生活的纪录片而被捕入狱,他于三年前获释,但之后仍一直处于警方监视之下。

顿珠旺青的表弟为推动让他获释而成立的组织“记录西藏”(Filming for Tibet)表示,现年43岁的顿珠旺青已于12月25日抵达旧金山与妻子和孩子团聚,他的家人已在2012年在美国获得政治庇护。

Click here for full Chinese text.

Wolof-to-Mandarin rendition: The Epic of Jolof King Alburi Njaay (excerpt)

Alburi Njaay, the Muslim ruler of Senegambia in the late 19th century, fought actively — though unsuccessfully in the end — against the French presence in West Africa’s Sénégal, and the colonial power’s efforts to extend its reach to his territory. He is the hero of an orally transmitted epic in Wolof, which has been textualized in French and entitled L’épopée d’Alburi Njaay.  

Wolof is estimated to possess some 10 million speakers in Sénégal, Gambia and Mauritania. A standardized Latin script has been in use since 1985, but earlier scripts co-exist, such as Wolofal, a traditional Arabic-based transcription.

Host of the Chinese-language blog Dayanggung (打洋工) has left Morocco, passed through Western Sahara (disputed territory occupied by Morocco) and Mauritania, and has apparently now reached Sénégal, where he is now being tutored in Wolof.

This is a brief excerpt from the epic, with the Wolof transliteration followed by his Chinese rendition (阿尔布里•恩伽依降生):  


Wal cere

Di togg yápp.

Di teertu.

Alburi Pëya Biram

Ak Biram Penda Njéeme Njote miy boroom këram,

Yàlla def ñu teggi ko,

Dem Ngënëneen.







Click here to read the full text.

Under Threat: ‘Meige’ (梅葛), Creation Epic of the Yi People of Southwest China

In Fading Tones: The Slow Demise of Yunnan’s Epic Songs, Matthew Walsh does a fine job of introducing meige (梅葛), the creation tale of Yunnan’s Yi people (彝族), via on-the-ground research in Mayou village in Yao’an (姚安马游),  interviews with master storytellers, and several short but moving audio clips of the saga as it is still sung:

Passing on the tradition: A ‘meige’ class at a Yao’an primary school. (Photo: Daniel Holmes/Sixth Tone)

YUNNAN, Southwest China — Guo Youzhen takes a deep breath and starts singing about the origins of the universe.

She sings of Gezi, the Creator, who forged the earth and the sky from nothing. She sings of Ah Fu, whose three sons clung fast to the edge of the sky and hauled it downward to meet the earth below. She sings of the pythons that encircled the earth and divided it into uplands and lowlands, the ants that nibbled at the ground’s frayed edges until they all lay straight, and the menagerie of wild animals that applied the finishing touches.

Three pairs of boars, three pairs of elephants,
dug the soil for 77 days and nights.
They made the mountains; they made the hills.
They made the flats, and the beds that water fills.

Guo reaches the end of the verse and pauses for breath. “It’s a very long song,” she smiles. “You could sing for three days and nights, and still not reach the end.”

Big sky, small world — this is right.
Heaven and earth are well-aligned.

There are only a handful of people left who can sing the creation myths of the Yi people, one of China’s 55 official ethnic minorities, from start to finish. The myths form the centerpiece of meige, a style of sung storytelling that has been passed down among Yunnan province’s Yi communities for centuries.