“Le Dernier Quartier de Lune”: French version of Chi Zijian’s ode to the Evenki to launch in September

In September 2016, the French rendition of Chi Zijian’s 《额尔古纳河右岸》will join several previously published foreign language editions including Dutch (Het laatste kwartier van de maan); English (Last Quarter of the Moon); Italian (Ultimo quarto di Luna); Japanese (アルグン川の右岸) , and Spanish (A la orilla derecha del Río Argún).

Le dernier quartier de luneLe Dernier Quartier de Lune is co-translated by Stéphane Lévêque and Yvonne André, and published by Editions Philippe Picquier.

Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸) is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains that border on Russia.

Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia to the southern bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruited them into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who felled the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlawed hunting, and eventually coerced the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.

For an extract from the French novel, click here.

For a list of multilingual links to the various versions of the novel, book reviews in Chinese, English, French and Spanish and more, click here.

Vladivostok, Ancestral Manchu Territory: Home to Russia’s Pacific Fleet — For Now

In Vladivostok Lures Chinese Tourists (Many Think It’s Theirs), the NYT’s Andrew Higgins reminds us that the city was ceded by the Qing Dynasty to Russia in 1860 in one of those infamous “unequal treaties”:

Cui Rongwei, a businessman from northeastern China, could not afford a trip to Paris, so he settled for an exotic taste of Europe right on China’s doorstep. He liked Vladivostok so much that he has made three trips there to savor a city so strikingly different from his own hometown just a few score miles away.

Yet, like nearly all Chinese who visit a city whose Russian name means “master of the East,” Mr. Cui is absolutely certain about one thing: The place should really be called Haishenwai [海參崴], the name it had back when China was master in these parts.

A native of the Chinese province of Jilin in Manchuria, Mr. Cui said it was a “historical fact” that the home of Russia’s Pacific Fleet and the showcase of President Vladimir V. Putin’s ambitions to project his country as an Asian power is in reality Chinese territory.

Or at least it was, until the Treaty of Beijing, signed in 1860 after China’s defeat by Britain in the Second Opium War, placed Vladivostok and other territory to the northeast of what is now North Korea firmly in Russian hands.

Sakharov Prize for Uyghur Intellectual Ilham Tohti?

In an open letter entitled Donnons le prix Sakharov à un intellectuel ouïghour published in the French newspaper Libération on July 14, 2016, three prominent French citizens propose awarding the Sakharov Prize to Ilham Tohti:

Il est temps que l’opinion publique francophone s’empare de son cas : à force d’évoquer les méfaits de Daech, d’Isis ou de Boko Haram, on en vient à oublier que certains citoyens de religion musulmane pourraient faire la différence et ramener la paix dans un monde déchiré par la haine et le rejet de l’autre. Ilham Tohti fait certainement partie de ceux-là. Sa place n’est pas dans le Centre de détention numéro 1 d’Urumqi au Xinjiang, et le prix Sakharov serait à la fois un hommage et un message d’espoir envoyé à une victime innocente de la dictature implacable du président chinois Xi Jinping. Aux députés européens de se mobiliser en sa faveur ! 

Full text in English: Give the Sakharov Prize to an Uighur Intellectual.

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.

Chi Zijian’s “Last Quarter of the Moon”: Guide to Related Links

Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon


A Multilingual List of Translations, Book Reviews,
Academic Papers & Related Info

《额尔古纳河右岸》: Translations of the Novel

Excerpt from the Novel

Academic Papers

[Read more…]

May 2016: Altaic Storytelling Newsbriefs

走进中国少数民族丛书·蒙古族  (lit., Up Close with the Mongols) the latest volume in a series of 走进中国少数民族丛书·蒙古族Chinese-language books that will eventually profile each of China’s 55 officially designated minority ethnicities, has been launched. It is published by Liaoning Ethnic Publishing House. To date, 8 books featuring peoples of northeast China are out: Daur, Evenki, Hezhen, Korean (Chaoxian), Manchu, Mongols, Oroqen, and Xibe.

An exhibition showcasing the lifestyle of the Oroqen (鄂伦春) has opened at the new Huma Museum (呼玛博物馆) in Heilongjiang’s Greater Khingan Mountains (大兴安岭). The Oroqen are a Tungusic-speaking people closely related to the reindeer-herding Evenki (鄂温克) who figure in Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon. Displays feature the Oroqen’s mobile housing, known to the Han as 撮罗子 (similar to teepee of native North Americans), hunting, dancing and Shamanism.

1944, a ballad sung by Jamala evoking the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Josef Stalin, has won the 2016 Eurovision song contest for Ukraine (Politically Charged). Inevitably, the song’s lyrics are interpreted as a criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 via Putin’s “Little Green Men.” The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation at the time of the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal state, during the 15th to 18th centuries. Tatar is a Turkic language, classified as a member of the West Kipchak branch.

Madonna in a Fur Coat (Kürk Mantolu Madonna) by the 20th-century Turkish author Sabahattin Ali has just been published in English by Penguin. Translated by Maureen Freely, the novel centers on a post-World War I love affair between Turkish student Raif Efendi and a German singer, Maria Screen Shot 2016-05-07 at 10.35.02Puder, in Berlin. The Turkish edition has sold 750,000 copies “in the last three years alone,” according to one article (Glorious Comeback). It appears that the Chinese edition (I think this is the same novel) appeared way before Penguin got around to it, however, as 穿皮大衣的玛利亚 was out back in 1984. At any rate, the Turkish have a curious way of showing appreciation for their authors — the article also notes that the “left-wing poet, writer and journalist was a fierce critic of the government during the early years of the Turkish Republic. He was imprisoned at least twice and was killed in 1948 by an unknown assailant in a murder widely attributed to Turkey’s secret service.”

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…]

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2016.4.12)

Following Xinjiang's Kazakh herders during their winter migration

Following Xinjiang’s Kazakh herders during their winter migration

Just started 冬牧场 (lit, winter pasture) by Li Juan. In 2010, she was commissioned to live with a Kazakh family as they herded their camels, sheep and horses deep into the desert of southern Altay where they traditionally graze during the bitterly cold winter. Her job: To document the little known, semi-nomadic lifestyle of Xinjiang’s Kazakh that features seasonal migrations.

Li Juan (李娟) is a young female Han writer born in Xinjiang. She spent most of her childhood in Sichuan before returning, and by her own admission, speaks only a smattering of Kazakh. See here for an introduction to her writing — all of which revolves around Xinjiang — including links to translations of some of her shorter pieces. To date, within China her best known titles are probably two collections of essays entitled 我的阿勒泰 (lit, my Altay) and 阿勒泰的角落 (lit, corners of Altay).

Promotional copy on douban reads as follows:

2010年冬天,李娟跟随一家哈萨克牧民深入阿勒泰南部的冬季牧场、沙漠,度过了一段鲜为人知的荒野生活。作为第一位描写哈萨克民族冬牧生活的汉族作家,她以饱含深情、灵气飞扬又不失节制的文字,呈现出阿尔泰最后一批 “荒野主人” 冬季转场时的独特生存景观,令人叹为观止。