In much the same way as modern gender studies have exploded the myth that great writers throughout human history were necessarily male, contemporary research into literary production by non-Han authors is slowly lifting the veil on their role in China’s pre-20th-century literary life.
In a recent piece on the current state of research into so-called “literary families” during the Qing Dynasty (民族文学家族研究, 多落肯著), Duo Luoken notes that most such research has focused on socially prominent Han families in the Jiangnan and Central Plains regions. The author is a professor at Northwest University for Nationalities in Lanzhou.
Until recently, this focus on Han writers, writing in hànwén and the dominance of Han literary critics, have all resulted in a general sense among the Chinese public that the other officially recognized 55 peoples of the PRC have rarely made important contributions to the nation’s literature since ancient times.
According to Duo, to date just a dozen or so research papers have delved into the existence of Qing era non-Han literary families nationwide, each of which featured several writers whose manuscripts — printed or handwritten — are extant. Based on that research, Duo has compiled statistics on the ethnicity of the families, number of writers they produced, and numbers of known manuscripts. I’ve simplified as follows:
80 Manchu literary families (270 writers)
14 Hui families (53 writers)
11 Zhuang families (33 writers)
10 Mongol families (31 writers)
5 Bai families (18 writers)
4 Yi families (14 writers)
3 Naxi families (11 writers)
1 Buyi family (3 writers)