Manchu Novelists: Storytellers First, and Partial to the Spoken Language

满族小说与中华文化A conference on the unique contribution of Manchu novelists was held in Beijing on June 6, 2014, to celebrate the publication of 满族小说与中华文化 (Manchu novels and Chinese culture). The book is the result of a project sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Fund (社科基金项目).

Editor Guan Jixin (关纪新), a Manchu himself, conceded that not long after the Manchu took power, they applied themselves earnestly to mastering Chinese culture, and as a result, early on most lost the ability—and/or the desire—to  write literature in their own tongue. While that may have been a loss to the Manchu, it was decidedly a plus for Chinese literature as a whole.

The work appears to be a creative and broad-ranging look at Chinese-language fiction by ethnic Manchu from the Qing Dynasty to the present.  A quick summary of a few of the more intriguing topics covered in this book:

  • Manchu writers from the Qing to our day, from Cao Xueqin (Dream of the Red Chamber), to Lao She (Rickshaw Boy) and contemporary writer Ye Guangqin (Backside Quarters, a short story that will appear in the next issue of Pathlight).
  • Perhaps thanks to their Shamanic culture and the 说部 (Shuō bù, or ulabun in Manchu) tradition of raconteurs who chanted long tales, the Manchu had a strong preference for storytelling that contributed to the richness of novel-length fiction for which the Ming and Qing Dynasties are famous.
  • As northern invaders who felt themselves particularly at home in Beijing, they tended to write in a style rich in the capital’s earthy dialect known as 京味儿 (jīngwèr), and which has long outlived the Qing Dynasty.
  • Unlike their Han counterparts, Manchu writers tended to possess a more “progressive” viewpoint regarding the nature of the female (进步的女性观), as compared to Han literature where women were often portrayed as a “source of trouble” (祸水).

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