“Manba Rasang” (满巴扎仓): Secret Mongolian Pharmacopoeia, Manchu Villains and a Stubborn Translator

The editor wanted to title the nouvella The Mongolian Pharmacist (蒙古药师), but Mongolian-to-Mandarin translator Hasen (哈森) resisted. After all, she argued, the setting for this new thriller was Manba Rasang Temple in 19th century Ordos. It served as a center for studies of ancient traditional medicine and treatment, and was frequented by Mongols, Tibetans, Manchus and Han. She didn’t want potential readers to mistake the story for just another piece of “popular fiction.”

Hasen got her way, and it was published in the Dec 2014 edition of People’s Literature magazine as 《满巴扎仓》(Manba Rasang). If you’re interested in why she was so keen on the story, read her 《满巴扎仓》翻译漫谈. The author is Ayonga (阿云嘎), a Mongolian raised in Inner Mongolia.

Given the huge success of The Tibet Code (藏地密码,何马著) by Han author He Ma—with sales of over 1m copies—it was to be expected that writers who grew up on the borderlands of the PRC and speak a language like Uyghur, Tibetan or Mongolian, would seek to tell tales inspired by their people’s unique history.

He Ma and several other Han writers arguably created a market for those stories, and now a number of translators like Hasen—much praised for earlier translations of verse—are well equipped to bring them to Chinese readers. Meanwhile, the authorities are doing their part to promote ethnic-themed fiction by non-Han authors. A forum on this nouvella (聚焦民族文化) was held on February 21 in Beijing, jointly organized by heavyweights such as the Ethnic Writers Society (少数民族学会), People’s Literature magazine (人民文学), and Nationalities Magazine (民族文学).

In Manba Rasang, Mongolian author Ayonga (阿云嘎) spins a thriller revolving around a mysterious medical canon dating from the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty. Ambitious Manchu courtiers want to take possession of this precious pharmacopoeia, but are thwarted by the temple’s “lama-doctors.”

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