Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Rights Across the Straits

Tsai Ing-wen (Right to be yourself)President-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s response on her Facebook page to a barrage of postings criticizing her stand in favor of Taiwan’s independence:  这个国家伟大的地方就在于,每一个人都有做自己的权利. The greatness of this country lies in that everyone has the right to be oneself, is one translation. The BBC renders this as The greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their rights.

Awards for Xinjiang Fiction in Uyghur, Kazakh, Mongolian and Kyrgyz



Twenty works in four indigenous languages were declared winners of three 2015 Xinjiang-based writing competitions in January 2016. They were written in Uyghur (11), Kazakh (5), Mongolian (2) and Kyrgyz (2), and include novels, novellas, short stories, poetry and works of literary criticism. The prize winners were all published, it appears, during 2013-14.

The three contests are “维吾尔语 “汗腾格里文学奖” (Uyghur “Khan Tengri Literary Competition”), 哈萨克语哈萨克·柯尔克孜 “飞马文学奖” (Kazakh-Kyrgyz “Flying Horse Literary Competition” ) and 蒙古语 “蒙古族金马镫文学奖” (Mongolian “Golden Horse Stirrup Literary Competition”).

These Xinjiang fiction contests are not as widely known as those claiming all-China status, including the newly launched Tangun Literary Contest for writing in Korean (檀君文学奖评奖结果揭晓), the Aksay Kazakh Literary Competition, (“阿克塞” 哈萨克族文学奖揭晓), the Duorina Contest (朵日纳文学奖) for writing in Mongolian, the multilingual Junma Ethnic Literary Awards (骏马奖) , and the annual awards event (年度奖 ) in which the China Writers Association’s Nationalities Literature Magazine hands out awards for the best fiction published in the magazine in Uyghur, Mongolian, Kazakh, Korean and Tibetan.

Since most of the winners of such competitions were written in a language other than Mandarin, it would make sense to issue bilingual press releases about them; otherwise, readers may assume the writing is available in Chinese – which it often isn’t – and without the name of the author and title in the relevant language, readers will have trouble even finding the writing online or in a bookstore. An official bilingual list did appear recently for award-winning Korean writing (here), but I have seen no full one for these Xinjiang works. However, you can find details about Uyghur-language winning titles here.

For the press release regarding the awards ceremony (with photos) for the latest Xinjiang contests, visit here.

The full list of winners follows in Chinese:

荣获 2015 年《新疆少数民族文学奖》作品及作者名单

维吾尔语 “汗腾格里文学奖” 获奖作品目录

长篇小说 :(1部)

1《丁乡西林传》 作者:麦提图尔荪.奥布力卡斯木 (مەتتۇرسۇن ئوبۇلقاسىم Mettursun Obulqasim)


1 《伊犁的古道弯又弯》 作者:艾赛提.阿布都热西提 (ئەسئەت ئابدۇرېشىت Eset Abdurıshit)

2 《 云姑娘 》 作者:吾斯曼·卡吾里 中篇小说 (ئوسمان قاۋۇل Osman Qawul) (by the same author in Uyghur: 花石的秘密


1《 父亲的桥 》 作者:哈丽旦木·伊斯热伊力 ( خالىدە ئىسرائىل Khalide Israil)

Anwar Abursul and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington in Seattle, Darren Byler, have recently co-translated one of Khalide Israil’s works, There are no Cows in the City ( شەھەردە كالا يوق , Sheherde Kala Yoq). According to Byler, her short story centers around an encounter with a cow in an urban apartment complex and how the bureaucratic hierarchy of the local community was mobilized to deny its existence. Through the use of finely crafted dialogue and evocative description, the story evokes the feelings of community and control that many Uyghurs experience in urban spaces. It is a very well constructed, humorous story told in a realistic vein with Orwellian overtones. (Note: When it is published in English, I will announce the name of the collection and its publisher).

《现代的扎穆西提 》 作者:祖合热·阿不都瓦依提 (زۆھرەگۈل ئابدۇۋاھىت Zöhregül Abduwahit)

《 耐心 》 作者:艾比拜.买买提艾萨 (ھەبىبە مۇھەممەتئەيسا Hebibe Muhemmet-eysa)


1 《 艾再勒诗体》作者:买买提江·热西丁 (مۇھەممەتجان راشىدىن Muhemmetjan Rashidin)

Muhemmetjan Rashidin is a renowned song-writer and poet. He is well known for lyrics performed by the singers such as Mominjan and other mainstream Uyghur pop singers.  

2 《爱的中国》 作者:雅森.孜拉力 (ياسىن زىلال Yasin Zilal)

Yasin Zilal is a writer and a poet. He is most well known among intellectuals because of his position within the Uyghur section of the Xinjiang Culture Ministry.

3 《喀什葛尔创作的诗歌选》 作者:米日努尔·艾白都拉 (مېھرىنۇر ئەبەيدۇللا Mıhrinur Ebeydulla)

4 《狂爱者》 作者:艾哈买提•玉苏浦 ( ئەخمەت يۈسۈپ Ekhmet Yüsüp)


《当前维吾尔小说创作中的两个弊端 》 作者:艾尼瓦尔.吾守尔 (ئەنۋەر ھوشۇر Enwer Hoshur) [Read more…]

Behind the Bamboo Curtain: At Last the World Is Paying Attention to How Foreign Works Are Translated into Chinese

Feng Tang's controversial rendition of Tagore's "Stray Birds" has ignited controversy both in Chinese and Indian literary circles

Feng Tang’s controversial rendition of Tagore’s “Stray Birds” has ignited controversy in both Chinese and Indian literary circles

Jan 12 Update: Indiatoday’s Interview with Feng Tang

* * * * *

January 7 Post

Feng Tang, a well known Chinese author — and occasional translator — will reportedly not be among a group of Chinese writers attending the World Book Fair in New Delhi next week (Jan 9-17). He had previously been scheduled to take part. It is not perfectly clear from the report below if he decided to withdraw on his own, or if he was pressured to do so. Reports the online hindustantimes (‘Racy’ Tagore Translation):

Feng Tang, one of China’s most provocative authors, has been pulled out of a delegation of writers slated to participate in a New Delhi book fair next week because of the backlash over his translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems that was deemed vulgar and racy.

The translation of “Stray Birds”, a collection of poems by the Nobel laureate, was published early last year but the controversy erupted last month. One author described it as a “cultural terrorist attack” and the translation was pulled off the shelves by the publisher on December 28.

“It would be unsafe for me in New Delhi, is what my publisher told me in as many words,” Feng told Hindustan Times in Beijing on Wednesday.

He was among nine Chinese authors set to take part in the book fair, and was to speak on Tagore’s contribution to Chinese literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 9.

For bilingual versions of several of Tagore’s poems, and a discussion of the issues raised by Feng Tang’s renditions, see the discussion at Paper Republic: Don’t Touch My Tagore! 

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget an excerpt from one of Feng Tang’s Beijing-based novels that I did several years ago. You can read my rendition here

2015: End of an Era for Chinese Journalism?

In Decline of Independent Journalism in China, Sarah Cook documents the forced confessions, prosecutions and closures that spell the end of one type of Chinese journalism, and suggests what the Xi Jinping Era will look like:

Adding to the shifting direction of news coverage in China, a number of new, state-subsidized digital media outlets are gaining readers and increasing the dominance of official narratives. The most prominent is the Paper, a web-based publication entirely funded by the government under the Shanghai United Media Group. As Tabitha Speelman outlined in a recent article, the Paper is China’s first digital news organization to create a mobile application featuring its own content, which consists of an incongruous combination of social exposés that occasionally get censored, propaganda-like pieces, and arts and culture news. With this recipe, the Paper “has distinguished itself by successfully integrating into the media diet of many young Chinese, most of whom would normally not follow or share state media’s often stodgy coverage.” Its success has reportedly prompted satisfied reactions from the State Internet Information Office and copycat online platforms in at least six other provinces or municipalities.

Taken together, these developments paint a disheartening picture for China watchers who saw publications like those at the Southern Media Group as proof that quality journalism could survive — and even thrive — in one of the world’s most restrictive political environments.

A few journalistic stalwarts, like Hu Shuli’s Caixin, carry on. But with the regime’s thumb on the scale, the model of journalism that produced hard-hitting, popular investigative reporting on topics like official corruption and tainted vaccines is increasingly losing out to a format whose most prominent feature is sunny headlines about government work and the daily activities of Xi Jinping.

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Readers Speak Out

An admittedly quirky collection — selected by me — of unedited online reviews of my translation of Chi Zijian’s 额尔古纳河右岸 (Last Quarter of the Moon). Not to worry. They aren’t all glowing recommendations. . .

* * *

Beautifully written, but depressing as fuck. (full text)

* * *

It is an atmospheric modern folk-tale, the saga of the Evenki clan of Inner Mongolia – nomadic reindeer herders whose traditional life alongside the Argun river endured unchanged for centuries, only to be driven almost to extinction during the political upheavals of the 20th century. (full text) 

* * *

Don’t let anyone kid you that this is anthropology in fictional guise however. Last Quarter is a real novel and the personalities of each of the herders, their sorrows and their joys, shine through. What I found very moving was their stoicism. And that’s not the same as fatalism. They suffer just like us. (full text)

* * *

Favourite line: “They faced each other like weathered cliffs” (full text)  

* * *

The account of the end of the traditional way of life is sentimental. Chi Zijian has not said anything which is likely to offend the Communist party or the Chinese state, but she has not told the truth for the Evenki. There is a story to be told about the genocide of the foraging people worldwide. The Last Quarter of the Moon isn’t that. (full text) 

* * *

[Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Distorted Relationship Between China’s Writers and Readers


海森 [Dave Haysom]:它渗透在每一种作品之中,甚至包括没有明显政治内容的小说,因为它意味着读者脑中将始终存在一丝疑窦:这是否是作家真心想写的东西,他/她是否为了让作品发表而不得不作出改动?读者和作家被分隔开来,他们之间的关系从根本上被扭曲了。同时被扭曲的还有写作这一行为,因为关于 “什么可以写” 和 “什么不能写” 的标准太过模棱两可、反复无常,作者内心会有个声音提醒他们谨言慎行,而他们不得不时时与这个声音进行协商。它还扭曲了整个翻译的文学市场,“没能在中国出版” 成为外国出版社的销售噱头,从而影响了外国读者对中国文学的整体期待。

(Interview with Dave Haysom, co-editor of Pathlight (路灯), a magazine featuring Chinese literature in English translation. Excerpted from “纸托邦”异花传粉,将中国文学译介给英语读者)

Ethnic ChinaLit Excerpt of the Week: Hong Ke’s Xinjiang novel, “Urho”

Hong Ke’s novel, Urho (乌尔禾, 红柯著), is set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. A Han soldier back from the Korean front — dubbed “Hailibu” by the乌尔禾封面 locals after the legendary Mongolian hero graced with the gift of understanding animal speech — runs a sheep ranch for the Xinjiang Construction Corps.

** Excerpt **

It was the tail-end of summer, and Hailibu hadn’t imagined that the boy would grow so intimate with the lambs. This was Hailibu’s error. He had forgotten that Weijiang’s affinity with the animal world was rapidly deepening.

Before the traditional time for setting sheep free — late autumn — had arrived, Weijiang set free a pair on his own.

This caused Hailibu considerable consternation. It was one thing for an old man to perform such a ritual, but perhaps this act of charity was best not performed by a child. Alone deep in the wilderness, Hailibu pounded his head.

Hailibu spoke with Weijiang’s father, suggesting the boy leave the sheep ranch. The man imagined his son must have stirred up some trouble. Yet when Hailibu explained about the boy’s releasing sheep into the wild, Weijiang’s father just laughed.

Freein’ a sheep, is that such a big thing?” said the father. “When that boy’s momma had him in her belly, she let hares go. At our place, they used to come and go whenever they pleased. I don’t know how many hares we freed, me ’n her. Hedgehogs too. Like fresh meat delivered to our door, but we saw ’em off in fine health.”

So somebody let a pair of your sheep go, and you feel bad, right?” he queried Hailibu. “I’ll give you ’nother two to make up for it.”

The hell you will! Let’s have a drink.”

The pair sat down on the kang and finished off a bottle of liquor. Hailibu felt relieved.

* * *

Time passed, but Hailibu remained uneasy. Having made arrangements for the ranch, he mounted his horse and began roaming the steppe. He rode to Toli and Hoboksar in North Xinjiang. He listened wistfully to urtyn duu, the famed Long-Song of the Mongolians, and to folk songs sung by Aken, Kazakh minstrels who play the stringed dongbula.

Hailibu visited the most respected Elder on the steppe. A virtual encyclopedia of the grasslands, the old man could narrate ancient legends for months on end. Among these tales, however, few mentioned a child setting sheep free.

This weighty matter on Hailibu’s conscience didn’t escape notice. “Guest from afar,” said the Elder, “Speak what is on your heart. Otherwise it will freeze over.”

Hailibu explained that a boy at his ranch had freed a pair of sheep on his own.

The old man was unfazed. “How far can they go, sheep released by a youngster?” Before the old man could utter another word, Hailibu began to tremble and prepared to kneel.

They were released by one child, so they shall be taken in by another,” announced the Elder, matter of factly. At which point, Hailibu prostrated himself with a thud.

Fathers are like that,” chuckled the Elder. Two young Kazakhs lifted the visitor off the ground. Hailibu clambered into his saddle like a drunkard.

Can he ride that way?” asked one of the young men as Hailibu’s horse departed. “He’s falling asleep. Better bring him back!”

A horseman doesn’t sleep in a tent or on a prairie,” said the Elder. “For him, the steadiest bed is a saddle.”

Hong Ke wrote "Urho" in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)

Hong Ke wrote “Urho” in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)

Hailibu was indeed exhausted. On the steppe, there is a custom: When a man reaches the limits of his fatigue, in his stupor he climbs into his saddle, releases the reins and lets his steed take charge. Dreams know no boundaries, nor does sleep. This carefree, directionless rambling is a gift from the Heavens, when a Spirit takes brief possession of the body.

Like a bird, a gazelle, a deer or a wild stallion,” said the Elder to the young men. “That’s a life worthy of envy.” [end]

Like to read the full Chapter 3 from Hong Ke’s Xinjiang-based novel? Contact Ms. Wang Ting ( at Beijing October Arts & Literature Publishing House.

Korean Script in Mainstream China Media: Kosher at last?

For the first time ever — I’ve been watching such announcements for at least 5 years — official Chinese media has used an indigenous language other than Mandarin to publicize the winners of a major literary prize for writing in a minority language. In this case, the China Writers Association has issued a Chinese press release (檀君文学奖评奖结果揭晓) using Korean to cite the names of the winning titles for the 檀君文学奖 literary prize, a new competition for writing in Korean that will be held every two years hence. It is named after Tangun, the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom located around present-day Liaoning, Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula.

In the past, winning titles written in Mongolian or Uyghur, for instance, were announced solely using Chinese characters. This was patently absurd, as many of these books did not even exist in Chinese, and interested readers could not easily use those invented Chinese titles to find the work online or in a bookstore.

There have been some suggestions that this was coming. For instance, the very official Baidu Baike has recently begun using the Uyghur’s Arabic-based script to note the names of some Uyghur artists (see Baidu Encyclopedia First?). Ironically, it refers to such names as “foreign,” but better listed than not, I suppose.

Here’s a partial list of winners (Chinese titles are translations and do not necessarily mean the work has been published in Chinese):


许莲顺 (허련순) for 누가 나비의 집을 보았을가 (谁见过蝴蝶的巢)

Short Story

张正一 (장정일) for 세모의 설레임 (岁暮随想)


李惠善 (리혜선) for  정률성평전 (郑律成评传)

For the full list that includes children’s books, poetry and other categories, see here.

Tibetan Horse Festivals: Not Just about Equestrian Prowess

In A Showcase of Tibetan Culture Serves Chinese Political Goals, Edward Wong reminds that there is more driving the festivities than just traditional competition among horsemen:

These days, horse festivals on the Tibetan plateau are not just about equestrian prowess. They are political affairs with a propaganda goal — Chinese officials hold them to signal to people here and abroad that traditional Tibetan culture is thriving, contrary to what the Dalai Lama and other critics say.

The image of Tibetans showcased by the festival is one that China has long promoted of its ethnic minorities, that of dancing, singing, happy-go-lucky, costume-wearing, loyal citizens of the nation. But there are dissonant notes, including the presence of Han soldiers, who have been posted to horse festivals across the plateau since a Tibetan rebellion in 2008.

The festival this year on the Batang Grasslands, at 12,000 feet near the market town of Yushu, or Gyêgu in Tibetan, drew thousands of nomads, monks and merchants. But even as they were swept up in the excitement of the races, for many the occasion was tainted by its role as a tool of government.

For full text, click here.

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Pu Zhiqiang and the Taboo “C” Word for Xinjiang


If Xinjiang belongs to China, then don’t treat it as a colony, don’t act like conquerors and plunderers.

(One of the Weibo messages for which China’s human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang (浦志強) is now being prosecuted, charged with “inciting ethnic hatred”. Cited in China’s Case Against a Civil Rights Lawyer, in Seven Social Media Posts)