An entry I read today in Baidu Encyclopedia (百度百科), a domestic site which serves as a (politically correct) Wikipedia for mainland Chinese — the latter is often firewalled — may signal a change in the policy of referring to members of minority ethnicities by Chinese name only.
Qurbanjan Semet, author/photographer of the recently launched I Am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road, is Uyghur. His profile on Baidu Encyclopedia lists his Chinese name as 库尔班江·赛买提 and his foreign names as Kurbanjan Samat and قۇربانجان سەمەت . The latter is his name in the standard Arabic-inspired, Uyghur script used in Xinjiang.
Granted, the Uyghur name is categorized as “foreign,” but in the two years or so that I’ve regularly used Baidu Encyclopedia, this is the first time I’ve seen Uyghur appear in any profile of a personality.
Could this be a trend? I think it might. One reason: Wikipedia has been providing such information about China-based, non-Han persons of note for quite a while now. Take French Wikipedia’s entry on Tibetan cineaste/writer Pema Tseden, for instance:
Pema Tseden ou Wanma Caidan (tibétain པད་མ་ཚེ་བརྟན།, Wylie : pad ma tshe brtan), chinois simplifié : 万玛才旦 ; chinois traditionnel : 萬瑪才旦 ; pinyin : Wàn mǎ cái dàn)
China’s online editors and publishers will tell you that reproducing non-Han script on their sites is technically difficult, yet Wikipedia — and my blog — both do so with little problem. The real obstacle to occasional use of other languages, I suspect, has been that Han-dominated media 1) Has not been specifically instructed to cite names of persons or written works in any language except Chinese, or 2) Has been specifically instructed not to use Tibetan, Kazakh, Uyghur scripts etc., in the interest of national unity.
The result: Information about the “other ten percent” — 90 percent of the Chinese population is Han — is sometimes laughably useless. A case in point: Reports that list award-winning minority authors and works of fiction written in their mother tongues.
For instance, Nationalities Literature Magazine (民族文学), which is published in five different languages, gave one of its 2013 annual “best novel awards” to 江阿古丽 • 哈代 for her novel, 双拇指姑娘 . Given that the book was published in Kazakh, potential readers fluent in Kazakh will have a devilish time figuring out either the name of the author or the book, and then locating it online or in a bookstore!