September 2016: Altaic Storytelling Newsbriefs

Journalists in prison: Turkey "on track to surpass China" in 2016 says Financial Times

Journalists in prison: Turkey “on track to surpass China” in 2016 says Financial Times

Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, was arrested in late 2015 for publicizing the discovery of a covert arms shipment by the Turkish secret service to radical Islamist organisations fighting government forces in Syria. He was charged with espionage, aiding a terrorist organization, trying to topple the government and revealing state secrets. The newly launched We Are Arrested is Dündar’s account of the discovery, the weighing up of the pros and cons of publishing the news, and the events that unfolded after the decision.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Let’s simply say I’m ‘from Turkey’

In a polished English accent, she began, “In my country,” but she paused, trying to reframe her sentence more academically. “You’re right,” she said instead. After giving this sign of acquiescence, sacred to all sane Oxfordites, she continued, “In my country, they grant the highest importance to the law that the height of minarets can’t exceed that of the government’s secular monuments. For this reason, in fact, they’ve built unbelievably ugly monuments to Atatürk all over Istanbul in recent years, just so they’ll overshadow the minarets of mosques that are hundreds of years old.”

Stevenson waited for the main course to arrive before emitting a short, quiet, acceptable chuckle.

Then he asked, “You’re Turkish, correct?”

“Let’s not say I’m Turkish,” Deniz said, smiling. “Let’s simply say I’m from Turkey.”

With glazed eyes, Stevenson combed the knowledge he had in his Turkey database. “Oh yes,” he said. “I believe Turkey, like Germany, is dealing with a national identity conflict. Am I mistaken?”

Deniz had discussed this with foreigners so many times that she’d memorized an overly simplified speech on the matter, which she’d titled “The Turkish Intellectual’s Problematization of Nationalism.” She recited it in a single breath, “You’re right. As a way of rejecting the nationalist strategies that appeared when the country was founded, and in reaction to the country’s destructive policies toward its various ethnic groups, Turkish intellectuals prefer to say they’re from Turkey rather than Turkish.”

(Excerpted from Banana Sounds, a translation of Ece Temelkuran’s Turkish novel, Muz Sesleri. The translation is by Deniz Perin.)

July-August 2016: Altaic Storytelling Newsbriefs

As the Red Carnation FadesCoup d’état Fiction: A Curiously Turkish Genre offers suggested reading for books that capture the Zeitgeist during the years that followed modern Turkey’s not infrequent periods of dictatorship.

The winners of the Junma Literary Awards for Ethnic Minority Writers (骏马奖) — handed out every three years since 1981 — were announced in early August. The competition is designed to promote writing by authors who belong to one of China’s non-Han peoples. A roundtable of five literary figures including Liu Daxian (刘大先), the editor of the quarterly民族文学研究 , discuss the winning titles in聚焦时代生活 彰显民族特色.  One trend: Emerging female writers such as Jin Malian (Hui), Xiao Mei (Naxi) and Tao Liqun (Zhuang). Tao wrote 母亲的岛 (陶丽群著) about the escape of a trafficked village woman.

《保安语汉语词典》, a Bonan-Chinese dictionary, has just been published by the authorities in Gansu’s Linxia City. The Bonan people (aka, Bao’an 保安族), now numbering around just 20,000, “are believed to be descended from Muslim Mongol soldiers stationed in Qinghai during the Yuan or Ming dynasties,” according to Wikipedia, and speak a Mongolic tongue. Since the language does not have its own script, the dictionary represents the sounds of Bonan in IPA and a proposed set of letters (保安语使用记音符号字母表 (方案)). In 2001, the city also published 《东乡语汉语词典》, a Dongxiang-Chinese dictionary. The Dongxiang speak a Mongolic language and number over 600,000, and are concentrated in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, but also live in Ningxia, Qinghai and Xinjiang.

 

Chinese version of The Time Regulation InstituteAt long last, what is arguably Turkey’s most classic novel of the 20th century, Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü, known in English as The Time Regulation Institute, has been published in Chinese. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s satirical look at the effects of a social engineering project gone awry — as the Turkish authorities desperately instructed the public to ape the West while jettisoning its Ottoman culture — has been rendered by a German-based Chinese translator, Tan Lin, as 时间调校研究所 (谭琳译). Regrettably, the Chinese is based upon the German translation of Tanpınar’s original; indeed, there is a dearth of well trained Turkish-Chinese literary translators, though several of Orhan Pamuk’s novels have been translated from the Turkish for Horizon Books by the likes of Shen Zhixing (我的名字叫红,沈志兴译) and Chen Zhubing (我脑袋里的怪东西, 陈竹冰译).  时间调校研究所 joins a series of five Chinese renditions of contemporary Turkish novels (土耳其当代文学丛书) already published by Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing. They include novels by some of Turkey’s best known living writers, such as  Oya Baydar and Mario Levi (whose  Istanbul Was a Fairy Tale was also translated direct from the Turkish as 伊斯坦布尔是一个童话). And more good news: An additional four Chinese translations of Turkish novels will join the series in late 2016 or early 2017, according to a spokesperson for the publishing house. They are: The Dervish Gate by Ahmet Ümit; Hakan Günday’s The Few; Hakan Bıçakçı’s Dark Room, and Secrets Dreamed in Istanbul by Nermin Yıldırım. [Read more…]

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Wei Hui’s “Shanghai Baby,” Zhang Chengzhi’s “History of the Soul” and the end of an era

这个时代,正好就是我生活着并将继续生活着的时代,这个时代曾经以 《上海宝贝》的方式戏剧性地与我调情,而现在,通过《心灵史》,我将我自己治愈。尼采曾经说过瓦格纳是他的疾病,对我来说,以《上海宝贝》为代表的那种 “小资想家”就是我的疾病,我曾经如此并入高膏  —- 万幸的是,我遇到了《心灵史》这一味时代的良药。

杨庆祥 (Yang Qingxiang) writing “通向真实的世界” for 三联生活周刊 (2016.7.11) about the two books that initiated and terminated the 90s for him.

Elif Şafak on Writing in Today’s Turkey

[Hürriyet Daily News] Would it have been difficult for you to write this book if you were living permanently in Turkey?

[Elif Şafak] Words are heavy in Turkey. Every journalist, every writer, every poet, every academic knows this. Because of words we can be sued overnight, put on trial, demonized in newspapers, attacked on social media. It’s becoming more and more difficult to write and speak critically in Turkey. There is a climate of intimidation and paranoia. Whoever says anything critical is instantly labelled a “betrayer” or “a pawn of Western powers.” There is also widespread self-censorship, which is a difficult subject. How many people among the literati would acknowledge self-censorship? But of course it exists. 

Turkey’s Elif Şafak speaking about her new novel, Haava’nın Üç Kızı. See Elif Şafak takes a swing at Turkish bourgeoisie for the full interview.

April 2016: Altaic Storytelling Newsbriefs

As of May 1, 2016, the controversial, so-called Biànmín Liánxì Kǎ (便民联系卡) will cease to be in use in Xinjiang, according to the authorities (不再使用).  The card (pictured here), which lists contact info for the card-holder’s hometown authorities, was supposedly intended to facilitate a variety of services when the Xinjiang resident was away from his or her official domicile, e.g., as a reliable ID when checking into a hotel. In practice, it took on the functions of something closer to an internal passport; without it, non-Han citizens in particular found it increasingly difficult to travel between cities (there are now frequent checkpoints), and there is anecdotal evidence that businesspeople could not obtain small loans without it. The news item states that the card — issued only with the approval of local authorities, and mocked by some Uyghur as “Good Citizen ID” (良民证) — came into circulation in May 2014.

An Evenki love story that spans the 1900-1950 period will launch at the end of April, according to an item on the China Writers Association web site that I’ve summarized in Reclaiming Evenki Narrative. Entitled 驯鹿角上的色带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), the novel is written by a 74-year-old woman named Balajieyi (芭拉杰依) whose mother was the Aoluguya Evenki’s last practicing shaman. [Read more…]

Reclaiming the Evenki Narrative: Last Shaman’s Daughter Tells her People’s 20th-century Tale

There are only 30,000 or so Evenki (鄂温克族) on the Chinese side of the Sino-Russian border. But this Tungusic-speaking, reindeer-herding people — particularly the group known as the Aoluguya Evenki — has been the subject of several award-winning documentaries and even a novel that won the Mao Dun Literature Prize in 2008. According to an article on the China Writer’s Association web site (最后一位萨满之女), a new novel featuring the Evenki will launch end April.

During 2007-14, Gu Tao (顾桃) shot five films documenting the twilight of the Evenki way of life, including Yuguo and his Mother (雨果的假期) and The Last Moose of Aoluguya (犴达罕). (For an excellent backgrounder on his works in French, click here) Chi Zijian’s novel, The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), is based loosely on the same tribe’s often reluctant interactions with outsiders, first with the Japanese invaders under “Manchukuo,” and then the rapacious Han loggers and Marxist cadres of post-1949 “New China,” and has been translated into English (my version), Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, and will soon be available in French.

驯鹿角上的色带But take note: Neither Gu Tao and Chi Zijian are Evenki, though the former’s mother is Manchu (according to BBC’s web site). As far I know, their works have largely been well received in China, but they are not without potential controversy. I have watched several of Gu Tao’s documentaries on a set of CDs (not sure if these are final versions shown at film festivals abroad), and at times they are disturbing, the raw footage of some hard-drinking Evenki in particular. Chi Zijian’s novel is a bold experiment in its own right, as she, a monolingual Han writer, puts herself inside the head of the female Evenki narrator and recounts the entire tale in the first person.

In both cases, I can’t help wondering how these works of art would be viewed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada or the US, where “reclaiming the narrative” back from one’s colonizers is nowadays considered absolutely imperative. [Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Excerpt of the Week: Zha Jianying on Ji Xianlin’s “The Cowshed”

Nearly 20 years after the appearance in China of one of the most shocking first-person narratives of the Cultural Revolution, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (牛棚杂忆, 季羡林著), The New York Review of Books has published the book in English. Written by Ji Xianlin, the account appears with a new introduction by Zha Jianying (查建英), a writer and media critic based in New York. The following is excerpted by from NYT’s interview with Zha Jianying (Remembering the Cultural Revolution):

Q. When “The Cowshed” was published in China in 1998, it is supposed to have been widely read. Was that really the case? These days in Beijing, the Cultural Revolution is a rare topic. People shrug their shoulders and barely recall Ji or what he went through. How do you account for this?

A. Time is obviously a factor. A less obvious but more important factor is censorship. The forgetfulness hasn’t happened naturally; there is something insidious behind the phenomenon. The human desire to turn away from past trauma is perhaps universal, but the amnesia many Chinese display these days is highly selective. If you ask them about the Opium War or the Japanese invasion, for instance, they won’t shrug their shoulders; they are likely to treat you with a lecture. Those events occurred much earlier, yet are well remembered because the state constantly reminds people about China’s humiliation at foreign hands. Every Chinese kid is schooled in those history lessons. But an internal mess? That’s a totally different matter. The Cultural Revolution was instigated by Mao, supported by the entire party leadership, with millions of Chinese participating in the violence and persecution. It’s a thoroughly homemade nightmare. And the same party continues to rule today. So is it surprising that the topic has been quietly muzzled? Do you wonder why the government would like people to forget about it and why many Chinese happily obliged?

“This is our Auschwitz”: Introduction to the “The Cowshed”

China: Surviving the Camps, adapted from Zha Jianying’s introduction to The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, just launched in 2016:

Cowshed "struggle session" from Harbin in 1966: The book is by Ji Xianlin, translated by Chenxin Jiang. (Photo: Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images)

Cowshed “struggle session” from Harbin in 1966: The book is by Ji Xianlin, translated by Chenxin Jiang. (Photo: Li Zhensheng/Contact Press Images)

At the center of the book is the cowshed [牛棚], the popular term for makeshift detention centers that had sprung up in many Chinese cities at the time [of the Cultural Revolution]. This one was set up at the heart of the Peking University campus, where the author was locked up for nine months with throngs of other fallen professors and school officials, doing manual labor and reciting tracts of Mao’s writing. The inferno atmosphere of the place, the chilling variety of physical and psychological violence the guards daily inflicted on the convicts with sadistic pleasure, the starvation and human degeneration — all are vividly described. Indeed, of all the memoirs of the Cultural Revolution, I cannot think of another one that offers such a devastatingly direct and detailed testimony on the physical and mental abuse an entire imprisoned intellectual community suffered. After reading the book, a Chinese intellectual friend summed it up to me: “This is our Auschwitz.”

The Cowshed: Memories of the Cultural Revolution was translated from the Chinese original 牛棚杂忆.

Booming Sales of Alexievich’s Works: State Media Attributes them to China’s “Nobel Complex”

Voices from Chernobyl -- The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster: Is such reportage a foreign art that cannot be allowed to take root in China?

Voices from Chernobyl — The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster: Is such reportage a foreign art that cannot be allowed to take root in China?

Amazon China’s sales of new Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s works in soared from nowhere to occupy the Number 20 ranking in less than 24 hours after she was awarded the prestigious prize, reports the Xi’an Evening News at Chinanews.com (作品销量). Nothing like this jump occurred when China’s own Mo Yan was honored with the same award, and analysts are scratching their heads to figure out why.

They note that winning China’s Mao Dun Literature Prize also kick-starts sales. For instance, sales of Ge Fei’s Jiangnan Trilogy (江南三部曲) increased 50 times in the month after he was honored, and Su Tong’s Yellowbird Story (黄雀记) 30 times. But Alexievich’s sales increased more than one-hundred fold, and her China publisher is rushing to get her Время секонд хэнд (二手时间, Second-hand Time) to bookstores within January 2016.

Interviewees for the article attribute her soaring sales to two factors: China’s “Nobel complex,” and the fact that her oral histories inspire readers to “contemplate reality.”

As in all of the articles on Alexievich I’ve read so far in the Chinese media, there is no attempt whatsoever to explore China’s own tradition of oral history reportage, or its current downgraded status. No published works or authors are mentioned; it as if the critics were discussing a form of art that exists exclusively outside China. For a look at some of those opinions, see Initial Reactions.

The article ends with an anonymous quote that appears to use a foreign commentator to sum up the state media’s take on Alexievich’s sudden popularity:

As one foreign media has commented, the huge disparity in the sales of Alexievich’s works in China before and after [winning the Nobel] reveals the Chinese reader’s ingrained worship of and yearning for the Nobel Prize. But this is irrational. Some people who don’t even know what Alexievich does for a living rushed to place an order for her books. “This is probably not what Alexievich nor the Nobel Prize [Committee] would wish to see.”