Qing Dynasty Translations of Han Classics into Various Languages of China

The four classics of Chinese vernacular literature during the Ming and Qing Dynasties — Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber — were all more or less fully translated into Manchu under the Qing, writes Yiming Abula (伊明·阿布拉) in Minority Translators Journal (民族翻译).

Translations into Manchu actually began before the Manchu breached the Great Wall at Shanhai Pass and established the Qing Dynasty in 1644. According to Abula’s article, Jurchen chieftain Nurhachi (reigned 1616-26) commissioned the translation of Sun Zi’s Art of War (孙子兵法) and Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms (三国演义).

Other interesting factoids in Abula’s piece:

Translations from the Chinese included historical, philosophical, religious and military subjects, as well as literature. Besides the four vernacular classics noted above, literary works that were translated into Manchu and Mongolian included the very ancient Book of Songs (诗经), Strange Tales from Liaozhai (聊斋志异) and the erotic classic, The Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅).

Mongolian renditions were sometimes retranslations based on Manchu or Tibetan translations direct from the Chinese.

Later during the Qing, popular Chinese literary works were also rendered in indigenous languages further south in places such as Hunan and Yunnan:

  • Dehong Dai (德宏傣语): Journey to the West, Water MarginRomance of the Three Kingdoms and Wu Jingzi’s The Scholars (儒林外史)
  • Yi language (彝语): Journey to the West and Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯于祝英台)
  • Miao (Hmong): Hunan’s Shi Bantang (石板塘, 1863-1928) composed songs in Miao based on short extracts from works such as Journey to the West, Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and Thirteen Confucian Classics (十三经).

2015 Update: The Xinjiang Archives Project

Initiated in 2011, the Xinjiang Archives Project (新疆文库) aims to publish 1,000 volumes by 2020. According to a古西域行纪十一种 January 2015 report that ran in 《了望》magazine (文化格局), 26 volumes have been published.

Featured among those that are now available to the public include a complete Chinese translation of the Turkic classic, Kutadgu Bilig (福乐智慧), a version of the Jangar Epic in Mongolian, and 古西域行纪是一种 (lit., The Ancient Western Regions: 11 Travelogues, at right). “Western Regions” is the term given by pre-Qing Dynasty Chinese to much of Xinjiang and Central Asia.

There is no doubt that the Xinjiang Archives Project is massive in scope, and represents the largest effort to date to capture the region’s incredible variety of ancient manuscripts. According to the report, 50,000 books in Mandarin, 24,000 volumes in other languages and more than 30,000 documents have been unearthed over the years. Most of the upcoming publications will be in Mandarin, Uyghur, Kazakh, Mongol, Kyrgyz or Xibe, but works in more than 20 scripts have been found, including Sanskrit and Kharosthi.

Curiously, the number of volumes actually published as of January 2015 — 26 — is exactly the same number as cited in April 2014 (Archiving Projects Make their Mark).

In hard copy terms, then, little progress seems to have been made, though some 210 additional volumes have reportedly been edited and await publication. So why the current renewed media focus on the project? It appears that the authorities want to make a political statement of sorts. The report quotes Liu Bin (刘宾), co-translator of Kutadgu Bilig, and Deputy Chairman of the project’s Editing and Publication Committee:

“At present, some people in and out of China derive great pleasure prattling on about the so-called ‘Xinjiang Problem.’ A few people with ulterior motives seek to exaggerate a sense of cultural estrangement and antagonism, and fabricate and abet a mentality of conflict.  And on the other hand, others have revealed their ‘ignorance’ regarding Xinjiang,” said Liu Bin.

“We believe that with the ongoing publication of ‘The Xinjiang Archives,’ the haziness these people have fabricated is bound to gradually disperse, and in its place a genuine Xinjiang, one that exists according to historical logic and progress, will be clearly revealed to the world.”

By the Numbers: Non-Han “Literary Families” during the Qing

In much the same way as modern gender studies have exploded the myth that great writers throughout human history were necessarily male, contemporary research into literary production by non-Han authors is slowly lifting the veil on their role in China’s pre-20th-century literary life.

In a recent piece on the current state of research into so-called “literary families” during the Qing Dynasty (民族文学家族研究, 多落肯著), Duo Luoken notes that most such research has focused on socially prominent Han families in the Jiangnan and Central Plains regions. The author is a professor at Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou.

Until recently, this focus on Han writers, writing in hànwén and the dominance of Han literary critics, have all resulted in a general sense among the Chinese public that the other officially recognized 55 peoples of the PRC have rarely made important contributions to the nation’s literature since ancient times.

According to Duo, to date just a dozen or so research papers have delved into the existence of Qing era non-Han literary families nationwide, each of which featured several writers whose manuscripts — printed or handwritten — are extant. Based on that research, Duo has compiled statistics on the ethnicity of the families, number of writers they produced, and numbers of known manuscripts. I’ve simplified as follows:

80 Manchu literary families (270 writers)

14 Hui families (53 writers)

11 Zhuang families (33 writers)

10 Mongol families (31 writers)

5 Bai families (18 writers)

4 Yi families (14 writers)

3 Naxi families (11 writers)

1 Buyi family (3 writers)

Premier Kazakh Literary Competition Announces Winners

Novel by Aydos Amantay, winning entry for the Aksay New Writer's Award

Novel by Aydos Amantay, winning entry for the Aksay New Writer’s Award

The winners of the first-ever Aksay Kazakh Literary Competition have been announced (“阿克塞” 哈萨克族文学奖揭晓). It joins two existing high-profile sets of awards for writing in non-Han languages: the Junma Ethnic Literary Awards, which accepts entries in all indigenous languages besides Mandarin, and the Duorina Mongolian Literary Prize. The competition was jointly sponsored by China Institute of Minority Writers and Aksay Kazakh Autonomous County in Gansu Province, with the collaboration of National Literature Magazine (民族文学).

Some 94 entries were reportedly judged. The press release states that the entries were overwhelmingly in Kazakh (only 5 in Chinese), but I am not sure this is the case — 3 of the winners below are in Chinese, after all. It appears that the “Kazakh” nature of the competition refers to two aspects: the language of the entry, or (principally) the ethnicity of the author.

I note that none of the Kazakh-language winning titles are given in Kazakh in the report. This is a standard approach not just for these awards, but for virtually all such reportage on writing in languages indigenous to China — Mandarin excepted — in online Chinese-language media. This means that these works cannot be searched for online using Kazakh, and it gives the false impression that they exist in Chinese, when some were written in Kazakh and have not been translated. English frequently appears in Chinese text on the web; surely the Kazakh words (in Cyrillic or Arabic script) could be inserted as well?

At any rate, here are the winners:

Grand Aksay Literary Award

《幻想》: poetry collection by 叶尔兰·努尔得汗

Aksay Creative Writing Award

《艾克拜尔·米吉提短篇小说精选》: short story collection in Chinese by 艾克拜尔·米吉提

《生存》: short story collection in Kazakh by 朱玛拜·比拉勒

《无眠的长夜》: novella in Kazakh by 胡马尔别克·状汗

《东迁的哈萨克》: reportage in Kazakh by 阿排泰·木哈拉甫

Aksay Translation Award

Mo Yan’s《透明的红萝卜》(The Crystal Carrot) as translated into Kazakh by 卡克西·海尔江

《唐加勒克诗歌集》: poetry collection as translated into Chinese by 阿依努尔·毛吾力提

Aksay New Writer’s Award

《艾多斯 舒立凡》: novel in Chinese by 艾多斯·阿曼泰 (Aydos Amantay)

《音色阳光》: poetry collection in Kazakh by 哈志别克·艾达尔汗

11th-Century Turkic Classic “Kutadgu Bilig” Recited in Chinese at the Great Hall of the People

Wish I could have been there along with former Minister of Culture Wang Meng — a Han who spent part of the Cultural Revolution in Ili laboring

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency:  What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

Author Yusuf Khass Hajib on Kyrgyz currency: What would he think of the recital at the Great Hall of the People?

among Uyghurs — and central government and Xinjiang dignitaries. I was briefly in Beijing but unaware of the event: On January 18, a new Chinese rendition of the 11th-Century Turkic Classic Kutadgu Bilig (福乐智慧) was launched and an excerpt recited at the Great Hall of the People.

The symbolism of this recital should not be underestimated. It took place on Tiananmen Square, the heart of political China, at a time when Xinjiang society is the object of a harsh crackdown that at times appears more “anti-Uyghur” than “anti-terrorist”: Uyghur women wearing the hijab and long-bearded men are being banned from public transport; Uyghurs in some areas of Xinjiang can no longer travel freely with their national ID, but must apply for difficult-to-obtain additional identification such as a “Convenience Card” (便民卡); moderate Uyghur intellectual and spokesman Ilham Tohti has recently been sentenced to life in jail for operating a web site alleged to have incited separatism; and hundreds of writers and translators have reportedly signed an Open letter to our Uyghur Compatriots in which they call for Muslims to “go to mosques under the sunshine instead of illegal teaching sites hidden in underground dens.”

In this context, the re-publication — it was first published in 2003, and nothing in the news item explains if there is any major difference between the two editions — of the Chinese-language Kutadgu Bilig is intriguing. Thus the questions: What is the nature of the work, and why the high-profile relaunch?

Launch ceremony: The Party's poster-boy for Han-Uyghur friendship, Wang Meng, pointed out similarities of Kutadgu Bilig with Confucius' "Analects"

Launch ceremony: The Party’s poster-boy for Han-Uyghur friendship, Wang Meng, pointed out similarities of Kutadgu Bilig with Confucius’ “Analects”

The book was authored by Yusuf Khass Hajib (يۈسۈپ خاس ھاجىپ‎), an 11th-century Turkic poet from the city of Balasaghun, the capital of the Karakhanid Empire in modern-day Kyrgyzstan. He died in Kashgar in 1085 and a mausoleum now stands on his gravesite.

According to Wikipedia, Kutadgu Bilig was written in Uyghur-Karluk language (Middle Turkic), and employed the Arabic mutaqārib metre (couplets of two rhyming 11-syllable lines). [Read more…]

Compiling New 150,000-entry Tibetan Dictionary: Any Role for the Tibetan Diaspora?

1902 Tibetan-English Dictionary: Compiled by an Indian spy for the British Empire

1902 Tibetan-English Dictionary: Compiled by an Indian spy for the British Empire

Xinhua reports that the first 3 volumes of a new all-Tibetan dictionary will be published within 2015, with another 27 to be gradually launched through the end of 2018 (新版《藏文大辞典》). The aim seems to be to create the Tibetan equivalent of the much respected《辞海》(Cihai), the large-scale dictionary and encyclopedia of the Chinese language.

Anyone who follows the PRC’s dictionary scene knows that the Chinese authorities can be more than a tad political about these reference tools – which script they employ, which words make the cut (or don’t), and crucially, who actually edits them.

The news item informs us that there are some 8 million potential end-users out there in China, Bhutan, Nepal and India. Given that about 120,000 Tibetan refugees are located in India (source: Wikipedia), many of whom have been educated in English and have unfettered access to the Internet (unlike their compatriots who live behind the Great Firewall of China), one might imagine some ethnic Tibetan scholars in India have been invited to take part in the compilation. Or academics worldwide, for that matter.

There was nothing in the news item about whether anyone outside mainland China would play a part in the massive project. Over the years I have used and/or reviewed many dictionaries compiled in China (see Turkish-Chinese Dictionary or Vaporware), and the prevailing spirit is well captured in an old Chinese idiom: Fabricating a cart behind closed doors (闭门造车). In fact, it wasn’t until recently that Taiwan-based scholars began to be officially consulted about all-Chinese dictionaries, a development that has helped to make them more inclusive and representative of Chinese as it is actually used worldwide.

Just take a look at one of China’s leading works, The Chinese-English Dictionary (《汉英大辞典》,吴光华主编) published in 2010: Well over 500 names of compilers/editors are listed for the past and current three editions, but not one is in English, and none of the names look faintly non-Chinese, i.e., have more than 3 syllables, etc. [Read more…]

“Nationalities Literature” Magazine Announces 2014 Award Winners

China’s most high-profile, state-run “literature-in-translation” magazine available in Mandarin and five indigenous languages, Nationalities Literature (民族文学), has announced its 2014 awards for excellent novels, short stories, translations, poetry and “China Dream” essays. Only pieces published in at least one edition of the magazine are eligible. For the full list, see 年度奖 .

Perhaps in an attempt to bring a bit of glasnost to the judging process for literary awards that has been strongly criticized — see 2014 Scandals for details — the news item notes that 23 judges took part, including several whose names indicate they are themselves members of non-Han ethnic groups such as Tujia, Uyghur, etc.

Here is the list of award winners for novels and short stories:


《一眼望不到头》(汉文版 2 期) in Chinese by Yu Huai’an (于怀岸)

《蛋壳》(汉文版 3 期) in Chinese by A She (阿舍)

《愧疚》(维吾尔文版 3 期) in Uyghur by Tuerxunjiang Maimaiti (吐尔逊江·买买提)

《霪雨》(藏文版 6 期) in Tibetan by Huazan (华赞) [Read more…]

Beijing Jan 17 Event: Sheng Keyi to Launch Novel at her Premier Solo Painting Exhibition

You may recognize the name of Sheng Keyi (盛可以) as the novelist who wrote Northern Girls (北妹)Sheng Keyi and more recently Death Fugue (死亡赋格), both translated into English. But you might not know that she is a budding artist as well. She took up painting in 2013. Check out her brushwork here.

You are invited to attend the exhibition, comprising 26 tableaux, as well as the launch of her latest novel, Savage Growth (野蛮生长), which also features her own illustrations:

Date/time: 3:00-5:00 pm, January 17
Venue: New Millenium Gallery (北京千年时间画廊)
Curator: Zhang Siyong (张思永)
Academic Support: Feng Tang (冯唐)
Special Guests: Li Jingze (李敬泽), Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), Wu Hongbin (武洪滨), Li Jian (李健), Li Xiuwen (李修文) and A Yi (阿乙)

Bilingual Han Cadres: Coming Soon to Tibet Autonomous Region?

In Han Cadres Required to Learn Tibetan Language, the Global Times reports that Xi Jinping and company are getting serious about implementing the “bilingual policy” (藏、汉双语方针) that was legislated in Tibet way back in 1987:

Mastery of the Tibetan language will become a requirement for non-native cadres in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.

All seven prefecture-level cities in Tibet have started organizing Tibetan language training for non-native cadres, according to the regional bureau of compilation and translation on Monday.

Qoizha, deputy director of the bureau, said they have handed out 40,000 books on basic Tibetan language for daily conversation.

In a country where statistics and quantifiable targets pepper most news reports — e.g., 90 percent of Tibet residents are Tibetan, 40,000 handbooks distributed — there are several key numbers missing from the report:

  • Percentage of Han cadres who can currently conduct their daily tasks in Tibetan
  • Percentage who must attain basic fluency within 2015
  • Date when formal testing of Han cadre fluency in Tibetan will begin

Although the new announcement regarding the implementation of the old bilingual policy is certainly a step in the right direction, it sounds like a statement of intention rather than the “requirement” being suggested in Global Times’ lead paragraph.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make bilingualism among civil servants in Tibet a reality:

1) Announce a realistic timetable and a budget for implementing the program. It will certainly take at least 5 years to get this project off the ground;

2) Gradually introduce examinations in oral and written Tibetan for would-be and current civil servants. Gradually tie promotions for cadres to ability to communicate in both Putonghua and Tibetan;

3) Offer free, intensive Tibetan language training to current and new civil servants;

4) Do not refer to ethnicity of candidates in recruitment ads. Instead, note the level of Putonghua and Tibetan required for each job;

5) Send a delegation to Hong Kong to see how 1-4 were fairly successfully implemented for Cantonese and English during British rule, and continue to be implemented in the post-1997 Hong Kong SAR.

For the Chinese-language version of the news item, see 西藏动员全区汉族干部学藏语 “接地气” .

Liao Yiwu: Charlie Hebdo and the Hijackers

Chinese dissident writer Liao Yiwu ( 廖亦武), who slipped through the Sino-Vietnamese border and has taken refuge in Germany, draws parallels between the jihadists who killed Charlie Hebdo staff, and censors everywhere:

In 2012, Mo Yan, who believes in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party, received the Nobel prize for literature. In front of the assembled Western media he compared censorship to airport security control. Nothing special, everybody had to go through it. He took writers who believe in freedom, and everyone who pays a price for saying their minds, for hijackers.

No, they are the hijackers! They hold countries for ransom, they take religion hostage, their ultimate goal is to hijack everyone’s freedom of speech. If you don’t hand it over, they will follow you like a nightmare to the ends of the world.

To read the entire text translated by Martin Winter, click here.