Profile of Octogenarian Orochen: Folk Song Singer, Folk Tale and Dictionary Compiler

Among one of the first batches of young Orochen (鄂伦春) chosen to receive a formal Chinese-language education in Zhalantun in 1948, E’erdenggua (额尔登挂) was just 17 at the time. She had never been outside her village on the banks of Chuo’er River (绰尔河畔) in Inner Mongolia, and didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Now 84, she was recently profiled in Zhongguo Minzu Bao (老人的鄂伦春文化情缘).

Orochen songstress E'erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Orochen songstress E’erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Although she later held various jobs with the Bureau of Commerce in China’s first Orochen Autonomous Banner until retirement, she never lost interest in her native language or culture.  A brief list of her achievements as noted in the article:

Orochen dress: Personally handicrafted folk costumes and Shaman ritual attire that are now part of collections at the Beijing History Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum (Hohhot), Hulunbuir Ethnography Museum, Oroqen Museum (Hulunbuir) and Evenki Museum (Hulunbuir).

Folk songs: She compiled and sang Orochen folk songs. Designated as an expert regarding traditional hunting songs known as Zàndárén (赞达仁). Her collection includes love songs, narratives and shamanic chants.

Orochen dictionary: Spent 3 years compiling an Orochen dictionary using IPA. Unfortunately never published for lack of funding. [Read more…]

China’s New Intangible Cultural Heritage Encyclopedia: Celebration of Multi-ethnicity, or Aggressive Cultural Appropriation?

Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural HeritageChina unveiled its premier Encyclopedia of Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage (中国非物质文化遗产, 史诗卷) on June 12, reports China Daily (Released). This is the first of three volumes, and is dedicated to three great oral epics of the Tibetans, Mongols and Kyrgyz, respectively: King Gesar, Jangar and Manas.

The cover is in Chinese and English, but I do not know if the content itself is bilingual. For a fuller press release in Chinese, see 首发式.

Compiled by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, the volumes will document China’s vast treasure house of ancient culture in the fields of folklore, traditional music, dance, opera and even herbal medicine. I have not seen the book, and it is not clear from the article whether the 1,219 items to be cited will be ones that have been registered with UNESCO, or simply ones that China has unilaterally categorized as its “intangible cultural heritage.”

China has been very pro-active in winning international recognition of its intangible cultural heritage, particularly traditions of its non-Han ethnic minorities, and some of its neighbors are less than pleased about it. For instance, China initially registered the Epic of Manas as an Intangible Cultural Heritage with UNESCO back in 2009. This has since been vigorously contested by Kyrgyzstan officials — who maintain they were not informed about China’s application for recognition — since they consider it “an artifact of Kyrgyz nationhood.” See UN Recognition. 

The larger issue here, of course, is whether this flurry of registrations and publications represents China’s desire to embrace and celebrate its multi-ethnic society, or whether it intends to possess and monopolize — “appropriate,” if you like — the outstanding cultural achievements of peoples such as the Mongols, Tibetans or Kyrgyz, some of whom do not perceive of themselves as “Chinese” no matter which side of the border they live on, and who fear, rightly or wrongly, colonization or a less obvious form of cultural genocide. [Read more…]

Silk Road Economic Belt: Translators to Get their Slice of the Pie

Representatives of five of China’s northwestern provinces met June 15 in Xining to discuss how to benefit from the “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程). This is a global publishing initiative, given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, which is designed to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road. Details can be found in this Chinese news piece (西北五省).

The project plan for 2014-20 includes translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications.

The definition of “silk road” is quite broad, including both the original land-based caravan routes from Xi’an through Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as the so-called Maritime Silk Road that linked the South China Sea, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Predictably, China publishers have rushed to cash in by offering to translate and publish politically correct tomes. The Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社), for instance, has put in a bid to translate Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) into Kazakh.

Meanwhile, some titles targeted for translation leave one scratching one’s head. [Read more…]

Extract: “The Embassy’s China Bride” by Jiu Dan

The Embassy’s China Bride

《大使先生》九丹著

Author: Jiu Dan

Translator: Bruce Humes

Editor: Christopher Cottrell

She’s an aging Chinese female novelist of cult fame banned for her intimate portrayal of women and their men. Her lover De Niro is a wild Italian hell-bent on motorcycles. Her other lover is an ambassador to the Middle Kingdom, and this is the tale of their trysts and catkins in the heart of Beijing.

“I’m a writer, a novelist. I specialize in the study of pain,” she says.

“Enchanté, novelist,” he replies. “I’m a painter.”

Welcome to a true life inspired account of passions set largely in the luxurious and exclusive confines behind an embassy ’s steel gate in Beijing’s Sanlitun district. This is not merely the stark diary of the carnality and spirit of a blacklisted female writer in China. It also delves into the minds of the over-sexed, conflicted European men who populate the booming 21st-century capital, and the dark side of their relations with Chinese women who flock to them like moths to a white-hot light bulb.

An excerpt follows:

Chapter 9

 

1.

It was June 8, 2013. Right under the eyes of the sentry on guard, beneath the long needles of that big pine tree, the Ambassador and I performed our French greeting rites for the second time.

“Bonjour. Comment allez-vous?”

“Je vais bien, merci. Et vous?”

“Moi aussi, merci.”

When his eyes paused on my face, he still displayed the bashfulness of a young man. The knowledgeable recognize this as another signal of enticement. I caught the subtle distinction between the light in his pupils and the temperature of carnal desire as I followed him with a palpable sense of intrigue. After we entered the embassy, as soon as the main gate was shut, all that remained within that huge space were male and female. The ban on distinction between genders was terminated. We could now begin to make up for lost time. Right down to our very nerve endings. [Read more…]

Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins
[Read more…]

Aug 10-11 Hailar Event: 3rd Annual Tungusic Language and Culture Conference

第三届通古斯语言文化国际学术研讨会

Date: August 10-11, 2015

Venue: Hailar District, Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia

Organizer/Sponsors: CASS Institute of Ethnic Literature, Hulunbuir College, Hulunbuir Institute of History and Culture Research

Topics: History, culture, religious beliefs, literature, folk arts and socio-economic status of Tungusic peoples: within the PRC (Hezhen, Evenki, Oroqen, Manchu and Xibe); in Russia’s Far East and Siberia; in Mongolia (Tsaatan); in Japan (Ainu); and the interaction of Tungusic peoples with other peoples of northeast Asia, such as the Mongols, those of Turkic origins, Nordic Sami, Koreans and Japanese.  

Call for papers: contact hyao2013@163.com or yulan_003@163.com

One of the key personalities on the organizing committee is Dr. Chao Ke (Dulor Osor Chog), a renowned Evenki scholar who has written widely on Tungusic culture and language. See here for details on his latest published works.

Hong Kong and Cambridge Events: Spotlight on the Tungus-speaking Orochen and Evenki

Event: The Orochen – China’s Last Nomadic Hunters, a Royal Geographical Society presentation by Sih Hing Chao (founder of the Orochen Foundation)

Venue: 1/F The Hong Kong Club, 1 Jackson Road, Central, Hong Kong

Time/date: June 16, Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm

Reservations/info: events@rgshk.org.hk (HK$150 for RGS members, HK$200 for non-members)

The Orochen [鄂伦春] first entered Chinese historic annals during Emperor Kangxi’s reign as reindeer herders, but gradually gave up the reindeer for the horse. Over time, they developed a nomadic horse-breeding hunter-gatherer culture highly specialised in the hunting of various deer species prevalent in the Khingan Mountains.

During the Qing dynasty, the Orochen played a significant role in the Manchu imperial military forces, as part of the “all-conquering” Solon Eight Banners [索伦八旗], which consisted of a number of horse-based ethnic groups. The Solon Banners fought in campaigns as far-flung across Asia as Nepal, Sichuan, Korea and Vietnam, providing the finest cavalry for the imperial troops. 

 

Event: River Stars Reindeer, exhibition of photos of the Evenki and Orochen communities in the early 20th century

Venue: Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Time/date: June 23 to September 27, 2015

Previously unseen photographs capturing life in a remote corner of the world a hundred years ago will be displayed for the first time as part of  “River Stars Reindeer” at the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers (photo by Sergei Shirokogoroff)

A shaman, a shamaness, and a Achinsk Lama with their helpers (photo by Sergei Shirokogoroff)

 

The photographs record the indigenous Evenki [鄂温克] and Orochen [鄂伦春] communities and were made by Russian ethnographer Sergei Shirokogoroff and his wife Elizabeth between 1912-1917, and by Cambridge graduate Ethel Lindgren and her husband, Oscar Mamen, between 1929-1932.

“Dissident Writers” with Chinese Characteristics

In Censorship and Salesmanship at America’s Biggest Book Fair , Christopher beam argues that categorizing China’s community of writers into “dissidents and collaborators misses the nuances of Chinese publishing and politics”:

“People use the term ‘dissident writer’ in a very confused way,” said Eric Abrahamsen, an American translator and publishing consultant who lives in Beijing, and who drew up the initial list of Chinese authors to invite to B.E.A. Chinese writers don’t go to jail for writing novels, he said: “If that was happening in China, Sheng Keyi [盛可以] would be in jail. Yan Lianke [阎连科] would be in jail. And not only are they not in jail, they’re part of the system. They’re part of the Writers Association. They’re drawing a stipend from the government. They’re getting literary prizes. They have difficulties — sometimes they have trouble publishing, sometimes they don’t win prizes they would have otherwise — but their feet are on the streets.” Dissidents like Woeser [唯色], Tohti [伊力哈木·土赫提], and Liu Xiaobo [刘小波], he added, are jailed for their political activities, not their creative writing. “People talk about Liu Xiaobo as a poet,” he said. “But he’s not a very good poet, and he’s not in jail because of his poetry. He’s in jail because of his political commentary on Charter 08.”

One-Size-Fits-All Qualification Exam for China Publishing Professionals Militates Against Ethnic Minority Talent

In China, since 2002 all technical staff employed in a publishing enterprise engaged in “editing, publication,

Ughur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese?

Uyghur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese fluency?

proofreading and distribution . . . must obtain a National Publication Professional Qualification Certificate” (国家出版专业职业资格).

That sounds fairly reasonable in the China context where media is tightly managed for political correctness. But the reality is that in one sector in particular — enterprises that specialize in publishing in indigenous languages other than Mandarin, or books about the culture of ethnic minorities that require specialized knowledge of those cultures — the effect has been to severely limit the talent pool.

In a June 2 article at China Ethnic News (破除人才瓶颈), Qian Lihua (钱丽华) explains:

  • The standardized qualification test — entirely in Chinese — is aimed at publication professionals nationwide and assumes a very high standard of written Chinese.
  • In 2008, it was announced that exceptions could be made for those working in languages other than Chinese. However, specific regulations and tests or assessment standards have not been forthcoming.
  • Many staff working in publishing houses are members of ethnic minorities initially educated in a non-Chinese mother tongue, regularly work in indigenous languages, and have often not had an opportunity for systematic training in Chinese.

Predictably, members of ethnic minorities who are part of the estimated 4,100-strong workforce in this sector of publishing are flunking the test in droves. Qian Lihua cites one striking statistic: Among 138 ethnic Koreans employed by three main publishers in Jilin Province, since 2002 just 5 have passed the exam and been certified. [Read more…]

“Shanghai Baby” and “Candy”: Back When Young Female Chinese Writers “Wrote with their Bodies”

Controversial new kiss 'n tell novel by forty-something Jiu Dan, who shocked with her "Crows" at the turn of the century

Controversial new kiss ‘n tell novel by forty-something Jiu Dan, who shocked with her “Crows” at the turn of the century

Just finished translating a new semi-autobiographical novella (extract), The Embassy’s China Bride (大使先生), by Jiu Dan of Crows fame (乌鸦, 九丹著). This reminded me that at the turn of 21st century, three young Chinese female writers were busy boldly writing about their sexuality, orgasms and all, and being lambasted for it by the critics and Chinese society at large. The trio were Jiu Dan, who chronicled the exploits of “Little Dragon Girls” from China in Singapore; Mian Mian, author of Candy (糖, 棉棉著); and arguably the best known, Wei Hui, who authored the infamous Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝).  They were denigrated as “pretty chick-lit authors” (美女作家) who “write with the lower half of their bodies” (下半身写作), as some engagingly put it.  This designation conveniently allowed the critics to focus on the writers’ lifestyles rather than the content of their writing.

But that wasn’t the case with Zha Jianying, who holds a Ph D. in Comparative Lit from Columbia. Happily, I have just located my translation of her Analyzing Wei Hui and Mian Mian: Hollywood Ice Cream and Shanghai Lollipop. I don’t recall exactly when it was published, but I think I translated it in 2000.

Given that Jiu Dan — now a forty-something — has just launched The Embassy’s China Bride in Taiwan (potentially controversial in its own right), I thought it might be fun to put my translation of Zha Jianying’s critique up on this blog in order to give readers a taste of how these daring female writers were viewed when they first appeared on China’s literary scene. I should mention that Zha Jianying wrote me and roundly criticized me for a host of errors in my rendition. But since she wasn’t specific, I publish it below, warts and all. For a bilingual version with her original, see 卫慧棉棉. [Read more…]