“The Mongol Would-be Self-Immolator”:An excerpt from “Mongolia,” a novel by Guo Xuebo

Set in China’s 21st-century Inner Mongolia, the novel is a semi-autobiographical tale by Guo Xuebo, a Mongol who grew up speaking the language of his people. It comprises three distinct but intertwined narratives: A spiritual journey, in which the author — ostensibly the narrator — seeks his Shamanic roots, long obscured in post-1949, officially atheist China; vignettes from the Mongolian
adventures of Henning Haslund-Christensen, born to a Danish missionary family in the Chahar grasslands in 1896, and real-life author of the anthropological masterpiece Men and Gods in Mongolia; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu, a modern-day fictional Mongol herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a coal mining company that covets the traditional pastures of the Mongols.


The excerpt from Mongolia below treats comically two taboo topics almost never mentioned in Chinese news reports or fiction: The exploitation of traditional Mongolian pasture lands by ruthless coal mining firms, and the use of self-immolation by China’s ethnic minorities to protest government policies aimed at acculturation.

 

The Mongol

Would-be Self-Immolator

 An excerpt from Mongolia, a novel by Guo Xuebo
(《蒙古里亚》郭雪波 著)
Translated from the Chinese
by Bruce Humes

 

When I arrived at the police station to visit the prisoner, Teelee Yesu was fast asleep in the Detention Center. I could hear his thunderous snoring from afar.

The station was located on the north side of the town in a small one-story courtyard with a single entrance. Signs hung from each of department offices, and everything was spic and span. The Detention Center was in the yard out back where someone was standing guard. That rattling wheeze carried through to the front courtyard.

“You’re awfully easy on your detainee,” I said to the policeman, Little Li. “Snoring like that must impact your work.”

“That depends on who’s doing the snoring.”

That struck me as odd. “You mean snoring depends on class background?” [Read more…]

Last King of Kuqa: Uyghur Author Patigül Launches her Xinjiang Historical Novel

First enfeoffed by Qing Emperor Qianlong in 1758, this Uyghur dynasty in northeastern Xinjiang eventually boasted a line of eleven monarchs, popularly known as the “King of Kuqa” (库车王). Kuqa was an ancient Buddhist kingdom located on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, but to most Chinese today, the term signifies the city of Kuche. The last in the line, Dawut Makosuti (达吾提·麦合苏提), passed away in 2014.

Over the centuries, the various sovereigns met with different fates depending upon palace
intrigue and politics of the era. According to Chinese-language Wikipedia (庫車回部多羅郡王), for instance, the 9th sovereign (買甫思) reportedly died in prison in 1941.

Dawut Makosuti himself, a member of the government during the 1940s, was officially dethroned in 1949 with the establishment of the People’s Republic, and demoted to the more humble position of “translator.” Things got worse during most of the fifties, when he was posted to Aksu and underwent “Reform through Labor” (劳改).  His fate in the Cultural Revolution is not annotated in Wikipedia — hopefully Patigül’s novel will shed some light on those years! — but in 1984 he was rehabilitated, and designated Deputy Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In 2004, his palace (库车王府) was refurbished by the government, and he lived there briefly before his death.

A seminar to promote discussion of the soon-to-be published novel (柯卡之恋) will be held in Yuyao, Zhejiang (浙江余姚) on September 11. It was previously partially published in Jiangnan magazine (江南) under the title, 最后的王. In attendance will be the female author, Patigül (帕蒂古丽), who was raised in a multiethnic Xinjiang village by her Hui mother and Uyghur father, and speaks fluent Uyghur, Kazakh and Mandarin. Her tumultuous, semi-autobiographical family saga, portrayed in moving detail in One Hundred Year Bloodline (百年血脉), has been translated into English by Natascha Bruce, and should be published within 2017 by Chinese Translation & Publishing House.

Patigül’s piece on leaving Xinjiang for life in Zhejiang, Life of a Mimic, also touches boldly on sensitive interethnic issues in China today in a way that simply cannot be matched by mainstream Han authors.

Xinjiang Slogan Update: Pomegranate Seeds

Dance to the music, Comrade: “People of all ethnic groups are like pomegranate seeds, tightly embracing one another” reads the banner (upper right)

As part of the global One Belt, One Road publicity campaign, China’s media is publishing a bevy of articles introducing major oasis cities along the ancient Silk Road, including this one focusing on Xinjiang’s Aksu (一带一路上的阿克苏: 新型全球化的城市样本). Here’s a pic from the article, showing modern-day Aksu residents dancing.

Inner Mongolia Film Week: Sep 9-17 in Hohhot

Event: 内蒙古青年电影周 (Inner Mongolia Film Week)

Date: 2017.9.9-17

Venue: 呼和浩特 玉泉区 (Yuquan District, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia)

Details: Twenty-three films will be shown, including six full-length ones: K》,《风的另外一面》,《十八站》,《写真人生》,《北国之春》,《无人》

Burn the books and bury the scholars! 焚書坑儒!

Geremie Barmé takes a look at the recent decision of Cambridge University Press to reinstate content deleted from the online version of its China Quarterly available in China:

Chinese censorship has come a long way.

During his rule in the second century B.C.E., the First Emperor 秦始皇 of a unified China, Ying Zheng 嬴政, famously quashed the intellectual diversity of his day by ‘burning the books and burying the scholars’ 焚書坑儒. He not only got rid of troublesome texts, he deleted their authors and potential readers as well.

Click here for the full essay.

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Quote of the Week: Pamuk on Teaching His Own Novels

I teach comparative literature at Columbia University. At the start of every semester, if I plan to discuss one of my own novels in class, I always tell my new students an old story about writing and teaching.

It’s a very popular (but possibly apocryphal) anecdote about Vladimir Nabokov. In 1957, he was proposed for an appointment at Harvard University as professor of Russian literature. Not everyone welcomed the idea. “If Russian literature is to be taught by Russian greats,” the Harvard linguist Roman Jacobson reportedly told his colleagues, “then we must get elephants to teach at the faculty of zoology.”

(Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, quoted in Sometimes, to Teach a Novel Feels Like a Betrayal of Literature)

非漂 [Fēi Piāo] Newsbriefs: September 2017

Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, speaking in Glossing Africa, questions the practice of briefly defining, footnoting, or otherwise clarifying the usage of indigenous terms in one’s fiction writing: There’s a part of me that just deeply resents the fact that there’re many parts of the world where the fiction that comes from there is read as anthropology rather than as literature. And increasingly that kind of anthropological reading then means that . . . you’re explaining your world rather than inhabiting your world.

“We don land gidigba!”

The BBC has launched a Lagos-based online news service that delivers news exclusively in West African pidgin English — a mixture of English, local languages and street slang — spoken by millions of people across ethnic and cultural lines in the region. Reporters will be stationed in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

 At The Republic, SOAS Ph D candidate Oreva Olakpe documents “parallel institutional arrangements Nigerian migrants have established in China,” including “an informal justice system” that “facilitates dispute resolution at a micro level — which, practically, the Chinese government cannot enforce due to the clandestine existence of many individuals.”

One Last Ride aboard Kenya’s “Lunatic Express”

Writes Thomas Bird from Kenya (Lunatic Express), where the China-built new Nairobi-to-Mombasa railway looks set to render the Victorian-era line redundant:

“Belt and Road Cooperation for Common Promutual Benefit,” proclaims a large street sign suspended above Beijing’s ever-congested second ring road.

China is investing massively in its 21st-century reimagin­ing of the Silk Roads, even if the budget for fluid English translation remains insufficient. This rekindling of ancient trade routes is President Xi Jinping’s signature project and, in the year of the Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, the banners are flying the message of globalisation with Chinese characteristics.

Deals have been brokered from Vientiane to Vilnius, provoking critics to cry, “Empire!” and advocates to applaud vital infrastructure heading to countries most in need of investment.

Many of those countries are in Africa and, in May, an unveiling in Kenya highlighted the fact that China’s inter­nationalist wheels are already very much in motion.

But first, a little history …

To Gloss or Not, That is the Question

There’s a part of me that just deeply resents the fact that there’re many parts of the world where the fiction that comes from there is read as anthropology rather than as literature. And increasingly that kind of anthropological reading then means that . . . you’re explaining your world rather than inhabiting your world.

(Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speaking in Glossing Africa, referring to the practice of briefly defining, footnoting, or otherwise clarifying the usage of an indigenous term in one’s fiction writing)

Xinjiang’s Hotian Education Department Issues Directive Limiting Use of Uyghur in Schools

According to a July 28, 2017 report by Radio Free Asia (Uyhgur Language):

In late June, the Education Department in Xinjiang’s Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture issued a five-point directive outlawing the use of Uyghur at schools in favor of Mandarin Chinese “in order to strengthen elementary and middle/high school bilingual education.”

Under the directive — a copy of which was obtained by RFA’s Uyghur Service — schools must “insist on fully popularizing the national common language and writing system according to law, and add the education of ethnic language under the bilingual education basic principle.”

Beginning in the fall semester this year, Mandarin Chinese “must be resolutely and fully implemented” for the three years of preschool, and “promoted” from the first years of elementary and middle school “in order to realize the full coverage of the common language and writing system education.”

The directive instructs schools to “resolutely correct the flawed method of providing Uyghur language training to Chinese language teachers” and “prohibit the use of Uyghur language, writing, signs and pictures in the educational system and on campuses.”

Additionally, the order bans the use of Uyghur language in “collective activities, public activities and management work of the education system.”

For Chinese report, see: 維吾爾語