Inner Mongolia: Tardy Legal Move to Protect Oroqen Culture it Once Suppressed

Inner Mongolia has just passed a law aimed at protecting the culture of the Elunchun (鄂伦春), also known as the Oroqen, according to an item republished at (鄂伦春传统文化).

Like the Evenki portrayed in Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, the Oroqen speak a Tungusic tongue, and their population has markedly declined since the PRC was founded in 1949.  Similar to the Evenki in Heilongjiang, and other Siberian peoples in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, China’s Oroqen were accused of superstitious beliefs and forced to abandon their Shamanistic rituals. For details, see The Last Oroqen Shaman of Northeast China.  

A few factoids from the article at

  • 1996: Authorities ban Oroqen from hunting within their “Oroqen Autonomous Banner” territory.
  • 2010: Oroqen population estimated at 8,659 persons.
  • 2014: “Regulations regarding protection of traditional folk culture of the Oroqen people of the Oroqen Autonomous Banner,” passed and set for implementation beginning October. It calls for a “traditional folk culture” fund, and the establishment of an “Oroqen Ecology Protection Zone” (鄂伦春生态保护区).

Talking Translation at 2014 Shanghai Book Fair (Aug 12-19)

I note that there are four events at the 2014 Shanghai Book Fair’s International Literature Week around the theme of “translation.” The schedule is in Chinese (上海国际文学周), and I’m not sure if simultaneous interpretation will be provided — though you’d hope so since many participants are not Chinese:

Aug 12 (14:00-18:00) “Literature and Translation: Inside another Language”

Aug 14 (14:00-16:30) “Translation Reception by Readers and Payback”

  • Participants: American poet Robert Hass, plus a female American poet and a Chinese poet, 王家新

Aug 18 (14:00-16:00) “Looking in the Mirror: Shanghai Young Translator Salon”

  • Participants: 曹元勇, 黄昱宁, 冯涛, 于是 and others

Aug 18 (16:30-18:00) “Minor Languages vs. Major Languages”

  • Participants: Translator of French literature 周克希, and a literary translator from France

China Launches Premier Kazakh Literary Competition

Kazakh-themed China postage stampThe first-ever all China Kazakh Literary Competition has been announced. Entries are now welcome for Kazakh-language anthologies, novels, short stories, poetry and literary criticism, as well as translations between Mandarin and Kazakh, published in China during 2010-2013.

Winners will be handsomely rewarded: 1 grand prize winner, 120,000 yuan (US$19,500); and 30,000 yuan (US$4,875) each for 4 winners in original fiction/poetry, 2 winners in the translation category, and 2 “promising new” writers under 40.

The competition is 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).

To the best of my knowledge, this means that China now boasts three high-profile sets of awards for writing in non-Han languages: the Junma Ethnic Literary Awards, which accepts entries in all languages of China excepting hànwén, and the Duorina Mongolian Literary Prize.  Nationalities Literature Magazine also recognizes excellent writing in several languages each year (2013 Awards), but only pieces published in the magazine are eligible.

We can reasonably expect new individual competitions to be launched  in 2014-15 for writing in Tibetan, Uyghur and Korean, because National Literature Magazine also issues editions in these languages. The magazine, owned by the state-run China Writers Publishing Group, appears to be a driving force in popularizing mother-tongue writing — “code” for writing in languages other than pǔtōnghuà. The magazine also frequently hosts workshops which bring together magazine editors with writers and translators of a specific language. See June Training Sessions for details.

Click on 征集启事 for info on how to participate. Two interesting things about the application process: 1) Applications can be submitted by “experts,” not just publishers or the local China Writers Association; and 2) The application form does not inquire about the writer’s ethnic background. This seems to be a trend, signifying that the language of expression — rather than ethnicity as noted on one’s official I.D. — is what counts.

Extract: “Back Quarters at Number 7” by Manchu Writer Ye Guangqin

Pathlight 2014 SpringIn Back Quarters at Number 7, Ye Guangqin recreates what it was like growing up Manchu in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China. Once part of a prince’s stately residence, the Big Courtyard now belongs to the masses and serves as a venue for collective activities such as neighborhood meetings, or rehearsals for the Rice-Planting Dance performed on National Day.

Traditionally, at the very rear of a Qing Dynasty prince’s mansion one finds a two-floor structure that functioned to “enshroud and anchor the entire quadrangular compound.” These “back quarters” — “Number 7” in the cold military parlance of post-liberation Beijing in this tale — housed females. They were private and not easily accessible to men, even those of noble lineage, residing within the compound.

Herself a member of a Manchu family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, Ye Guangqin peppers this semi-autobiographical story with references to Manchu culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu that expressed itself during the Qing Dynasty both orally and through literature (Manchu Novelists).

Ironically, the fascination of two children with Grandpa Zhao’s tall tales ends in tragedy when the Cultural Revolution arrives, and Red Guards target class enemies — including remnants of the Qing ruling class.

The full text of the extract below has been published in Spring 2014 Pathlight, a quarterly featuring Chinese literature in translation. The original short story is entitled 后罩楼 and was written by Ye Guangqin (叶广芩).

* * * * *

Back Quarters at Number 7

(Original by Ye Guangqin, translated by Bruce Humes)


Grandpa Zhao was a Manchu Bannerman in one of just three elite Banners – there were eight total – personally commanded by the Emperor.

He said one of his ancestors had served in the Emperor’s personal guard at the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City. This relative had seen His Imperial Majesty as He wrote by a window, and watched Him strolling along palace verandas, so he must have been one of His bodyguards. How else could he have witnessed these details in the life of the True Dragon Emperor? [Read more...]

Infrastructure for China Soft Power Inc.: Newly Established China Academy of Translation

In a move to get the infrastructure on the ground for China’s re-emergence on the international cultural scene, the China Int’l Publishing Group has founded the China Academy of Translation (中国翻译研究院). Read about it here in Chinese, and here in English.

This is definitely a state-run body founded to serve China’s strategic interests, a “translation think tank” focusing on translation out of Chinese, if you will. But there are a few aspects of interest to translators of Chinese in general. The academy will:

  • Periodically release suggested translations — one would assume mainly from Chinese into English — for “culture-loaded” expressions “with Chinese characteristics”
  • Host training programs for domestic and foreign translators
  • Promote translation education for non-European languages, such as certain languages indigenous to Africa and Southeast Asia

There were several but vague references to a “platform” at the inaugural ceremony, which imply that there will be one or more web sites, including a database, run by the academy.  For some info on an existing one listing translators, see New Kid on the Block.

Ideas about how to train up the next generation of Chinese-to-English literary translators have recently been discussed in Open Letter and in The People’s Daily (建立驻地翻译基金). Oh yes, and here’s how to sign up for a training course in China scheduled for September: CELT Rides Again.

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: China’s Media — Many Channels, One Voice

The nationalist image Rui cultivated will live on. The official news media are already separating the message from the messenger. That’s too bad. It would serve China well to ditch both.

(Nailene Chou Wiest in Silencing the Spokesperson on the arrest of CCTV’s news anchor Rui Chenggang ( 芮成钢), allegedly for corruption)

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Impoverished Globish

English today is the global language of commerce and trade, so while it’s dominant, it’s also in some respects deeply impoverished. It desperately needs these transfusions from other languages. 

(Translator of the Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai on the state of the English language, in Recalcitant Language Q & A)


China’s Schizophrenic Media Apparatchiks: Manage the Press, or Program it?

China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television has recently announced a number of measures aimed at “tightening” management of journalists on the ground. First there was a circular on “critical reporting” that, according to the China Media Project (June 18 Media Circular), seeks to ensure that news bureaus “do not engage in ‘reporting activities across industries and across sectors’,” and that “journalists are not striking out on their own and maintaining websites.” The latter is an obvious reference to blogs where Chinese reporters publicize sensitive facts that were deleted from their published articles.

Then on June 30, an official statement on the organ’s web site was published “warning Chinese journalists not to share information with their counterparts in the foreign press corps” (How to Read China’s New Press Restrictions).  In this same article, Orville Schell succinctly explains the historic background to China’s schizophrenic persona when it comes to the press:

. . . the People’s Republic of China has two competing conceptions of the press that are vying with each other and are constantly in a state of dynamic yin-yang tension. The first is the Western notion of the press not just as an independent, public watchdog arrayed against wrong-doing of all kinds, but as a check and balance against the over-reach of state, ecclesiastical, and corporate power. The second is the Leninist notion of the press—indeed, of all art, culture and media—as the exclusive megaphones for the party and state. 

Bill Porter on “Yellow River Odyssey” and the Han

Perhaps better known as Red Pine, Bill Porter lived in Taiwan for several decades where he practiced Buddhism, authored books such as Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, and famously translated Daoist and Buddhist canons into English. In Journeys, Poets and Best-Sellerdom in China, he speaks with Ian Johnson about his latest book in English, Yellow River Odyssey:

Q. [In Yellow River Odyssey] You also talk a lot about the non-Chinese people — the non-Han.

A. The reason I wanted to focus on the Yellow River is that’s where Chinese civilization began. By going up the river I’d get to its source and the source of Chinese culture. But what you see is that Chinese culture is a great mixture of peoples. Five thousand years ago, north China was not controlled by the Han Chinese. That sort of started with the Yellow Emperor defeating the Miao people at the Battle of Zhuolu. Until then, north China was up for grabs. I felt that traveling there. Even today a lot of north China isn’t entirely Chinese. There are Mongolians, Hui and others. It becomes obvious when you travel the length of the Yellow River that it was a series of accidents that led to the ascendency of the Han.

Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Chatting with Guóbǎo

Murong Xuecun, author of Leave Me Alone Tonight, Chengdu, was in Australia when several intellectuals and activistsMurong Xuecun got together in Beijing this year to commemorate the anniversary of the 1989 “June 4th Incident.” Several of those who were there have since been arrested, such as civil rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), and in order to call attention to their plight, he turned himself in to the police and admitted that while not present at the gathering, he had contributed an essay for their discussion. Here is his description of the ensuing questioning session with the 国保, or Guóbǎo (Inside a Beijing Interrogation Room): 

Then we discussed the Tiananmen Square incident itself. I argued that under no circumstances should the government have ordered the army to shoot at unarmed civilians, let alone dispatch tanks to roll onto the streets of Beijing. The officers did not agree or disagree with me; they just kept asking questions: Do you know what the overall situation was? Do you know what was happening in international affairs at the time? Do you know how many soldiers were beaten or burned to death?

The conversation turned to whether I had broken the law. I told them that I assumed they thought I did because they arrested my friends who were at the Tiananmen commemoration. The officers didn’t like that I made the law sound capricious. The law is not about what they “think,” one of them said. The police, the officer said, had arrested my friends because they broke the law.

Next we discussed whether citizens “must obey the law.” I said good laws should be obeyed but evil laws must be challenged. They strongly disagreed, insisting that the law must be obeyed whether it’s good or evil.

“And you’re a graduate of the China University of Political Science and Law, eh?” the younger one asked mockingly.

I began to talk about Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, but quickly felt like a ridiculous pedant. What’s the point of talking about the virtues of civil disobedience in a Beijing police station?