Updated: May 3, 2018
Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary
Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation
I’m often too busy to immediately write a well-researched post about contemporary “ethnic-themed” fiction that has been translated and published in a foreign tongue. This is a loose category (民族题材文学) that includes stories — regardless of the author’s ethnicity — in which non-Han culture, motifs or characters play an important role.
In my brief list below, there are entries for fiction (and a bit of poetry) touching on peoples such as the Bai, Evenki, Hui, Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Lahu, Lisu, Oirat, Seediq, Tibetan, Tujia, Uyghur, Xiongnu and Yi. Unless noted, the original is in Chinese and the translation is in English. But I’ve also included a handful of renditions into French, German, Spanish and Japanese, as well as a few factual articles about oral epics whose English versions are not widely available.
I welcome your updates and corrections.
Here is a set of links I hope you’ll find useful:
- Table with info on ten works translated into English or French during 2009-14, including writing by Alai, Chan Koonchung, Chi Zijian, Fan Wen, Gao Jianqun, Jiang Rong, Li Jinxiang, Pema Tseden, Shi Shuqing, Wang Gang and Wu He.
- This collection presents works drawn from the large body of oral literature of many of China’s recognized ethnic groups — including the Han, Yi, Miao, Tu, Daur, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Kazakh — and the selections include a variety of genres such as epics, folktales, folk songs and quyi. Edited by Victor Mair and Mark Bender.
- Dedicated to non-Han authors including Alat Asem, Artai, Aydos Amantay, Ayonga, Dan Zeng, Guan Renshan, Jin Renshun, Memtimin Hoshur, Jidi Majia, Luruodiji, Ma Huan, Nie Le, Patigul, Ye Fu, Ye Guangqin, Ye Mei and Yerkex Hurmanbek.
- 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns): Translated into Swedish (Ett brokigt band om renens horn) by Anna Gustafsson Chen, it features an Evenki narrator telling an Evenki love story that spans the 1900-1950 period. The author is a 74-year-old Evenki woman whose mother was Aoluguya’s last practicing shaman. She explains her motivation for writing the book: “Since mother departed, no one has donned that Shaman Spirit Robe made of metal and leather, or struck the Spirit drum to pray for the Evenki . . . There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki. This is our people’s collective memory . . . I want to leave this for the children who love the forest.”
Chi Zijian (迟子建)
- Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸): Moving tale of the decline of the reindeer-herding, nomadic Evenki who once inhabited the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains straddling the Sino-Russian border. The novel also has been translated into Dutch (Het laatste kwartier van de maan), French (Le dernier quartier de lune), Italian (Ultimo quarto di Luna), Japanese (アルグン川の右岸), Korean (어얼구나 강의 오른쪽) and Spanish (A la orilla derecha del Río Argún ), and Swedish version is underway (launch: 2018).
Gerelchimig Blackcrane (格日勒其木格・黒鶴)
- The Nightjar at Dusk: Read an extract from this short story, set in the Greater Khingan Mountains of northeast China, here.
Huo Da (霍达)
- Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼): With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.
Li Jinxiang and Shi Shuqing (李进祥、石舒清 )
La rivière des femmes: Nouvelles hui: Stories set among the Muslim Hui along the banks of Qingshui River in Ningxia.
Shi Shuqing (石舒清)
- 西海固の人々 (西海固的事情): Collection of short stories set in Ningxia’s Xihaigu Prefecture.
Jin Renshun (金仁顺)
- Monk Dance (僧舞): Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series
Hu Donglin (胡东林)
- Fox Grin (狐狸的微笑): Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors’ series
Na Ye (睡前书，娜夜 著)
- Writing Before Sleep (娜夜): Poetry collection. Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series
Ye Guangqin (叶广芩)
- Back Quarters at Number 7 (后罩楼): Member of a family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, author Ye Guangqin peppers her story about growing up in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China with references to her culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu.
Zhao Mei (赵玫)
- Thus Speaks the Narrator (叙述者说): Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series
Butterfly Mother (Translated by Mark Bender)
- A collection of epic songs from the rich oral tradition of the Miao (Hmong) people of southwest China. These poetic narratives, traditionally performed by two groups of singers, relate the creation of a world in which everything is alive, and listeners find that besides mountains, rivers, trees, and creatures, inanimate objects are also ‘born’ and have spirits.
- Mamba Rasang (满巴扎仓): Scheduled for publication in 2018. Translated by Jim Weldon. Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series
The Epic of Jangar (江格尔传奇, 何德修编撰 )
- The great oral epic of the Oirat people retold in prose. See also Jangar Culture & Arts Palace Opens in Xinjiang for information on this new $9m-plus site in Hoboksar Mongol Autonomous County.
Guo Xuebo (郭雪波）
- For a backgrounder — en français — to this China-born Mongolian author who has published several novels and short story collections that draw deeply on Mongolian culture, click here.
- Moŋgoliya (蒙古里亚): Read an extract, The Mongol Would-be Self-immolator
- Short story collection: La renarde du désert in French
- Short story collection: The Desert Fox
Jiang Rong (姜戎)
- Wolf Totem (狼图腾): A young Han intellectual from the city, “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution, learns lessons about life and the environment from a Mongol elder.
- Sorceress Diguwan (笛鸛): Reportedly the first roman-fleuve ever produced by a Puyuma writer. It was inspired by a history of a conflict between his tribal people and the Bunun as recounted in documents compiled under the Japanese. Badai interviewed his tribal elders about this history in 2002, and discovered major differences in the two accounts.
Chang Ying-Tai (張瀛太)
- The Bear Whispers to Me by (熊兒悄聲對我說): A poignant forest fable seen through the eyes of a Taiwanese aboriginal boy about the vivid beauty of the natural world, childhood, loss and the transient nature of time.
Indigenous Writers of Taiwan (edited by John Balcom and Yingtish Balcom)
- Stories, essays, and poems in this anthology include pieces from nine indigenous tribes. The writers explore such themes as the decline of traditional ways of life in Taiwan’s aboriginal communities, residual belief in ancestral spirits, assimilation into a society dominated by Han Chinese, and the psychological and economic encroachment of the outside world.
Liglave A-wu (利格拉乐.阿乌)
- Dreaming of My Father (梦中的父亲): Liglave A-wu, born 1969, is a prominent indigenous Taiwanese activist and author of the Paiwan tribe. Her Han father retreated with the Kuomintang to Taiwan and married her mother, a Paiwan. As a result of the stigmas and discrimination she suffered in her early years, it was only well into her adulthood that A-wu came to identify with her aboriginal heritage and went on to advocate for her community.
- La vie de Maman dans le village de garnison (Jentayu (hors-série n°1) : Taïwan)
Walis Nokan (瓦歷斯.諾幹)
- Ours noir ou queue de porcelet (Jentayu (hors-série n°1) : Taïwan)
Wu He (舞鹤)
- Les Survivants by Wu He (余生 ): Story of the the 1930 “Wushe Incident” (雾社事件) and the ill-fated anti-Japanese uprising of the Seediq aborigines (赛德克族) in the mountains of central Taiwan.
- Surviving Civilization: Rereading the History of Taiwan and Modernity (reviewed by Sebastian Veg)
Wu Ming-Yi (吳明益)
- The Man with Compound Eyes (複眼人): Eco-fiction about a giant trash vortex. The novel is interlaced with Taiwanese aboriginal myths.
- L’homme aux yeux à facettes (複眼人): The novel in French.
- Hollow Mountain (空山): Series of six linked stories set in Tibet’s Ji Village that chronicle the five decades following the establishment of “New China” in 1949. Includes two translated by Saul Thompson. Co-edited by Canaan Morse and Joshua Dyer. (for details, contact email@example.com)
- Red Poppies (尘埃落定): Focuses on the extravagant and brutal reign of a clan of Tibetan warlords during the rise of the Communists. It is narrated by the chieftain’s son, a self-professed “idiot” who reveals the bloody feuds, seductions, secrets, and scheming behind his family’s struggles for power. When the chieftain agrees to grow opium poppies with seeds supplied by the Nationalists in exchange for modern weapons, he draws Tibet into the opium trade — and unwittingly plants the seeds for a downfall.
- The Song of King Gesar (格萨尔王): Visit The Shepherd’s Dream for an extract from the translation by Howard Goldblatt.
A Blighted Flower and Other Stories (short story collection)
- Döndrub Gyel’s A Blighted Flower; A Shameless Bride by Döndrub Gyel and Tshering Dondrub; A Girl with Her Face Concealed by a Scarf by Tenpa Yargye, and The Yellow Leaves of Summer by Tashi Palden.
Dan Zeng (丹增)
- The Little Novice (小沙弥): Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series.
- A collection of Tibetan short stories in German
- The Nine-Eyed Agate: Poems and Stories
- Le hachoir invisible (གཟུགས་མེད་ཀྱི་གཏུབ་གྲི): A bilingual (French-Tibetan) collection of poems.
Stephen Koonchung (陈冠中)
- The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by (裸命): What’s a young Tibetan stud to do for a living nowadays in a tourist hotspot like Lhasa? And what happens when his childhood dream — to hang out in the capital of a country called China — comes true?
- My Tibetan Childhood: When Ice Shattered Stone: Naktsang Nulo recalls his upbringing as a nomad on Tibet’s eastern plateau. He depicts pilgrimages to monasteries, including a 1500-mile horseback expedition his family made to and from Lhasa. Naktsang’s father was killed in the 1958 Amdo rebellion against the PLA. During the next year, the author and his brother were imprisoned in a camp where, after the onset of famine, very few children survived.
Neighbor of the Paradise (anthology)
- Collection of 15 short stories about Tibet by writers Tashi Dawa, Ma Yuan and others.
- 21 short stories by 16 Tibetan writers including Pema Bhum, Pema Tseden, Tsering Dondrup, Woeser, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Kyabchen Dedrol, and Jamyang Norbu.
Pema Tseden (པད་མ་ཚེ་བརྟན།, 万玛才旦)
- La couleur de la mort (死亡的颜色): À cause de son étrange frère jumeau, le beau Nyima se disputait parfois avec sa petite amie Drolma. Elle voulait se marier. Mais il lui répondait toujours : « Attends un peu que Dawa aille mieux, alors on se mariera. » Jusqu’à ce que la mort s’en mêle.
- Neige : A collection of short stories translated into French from the Tibetan and Chinese.
- The Doctor: A (very) short story. Has an air of Waiting for Godot to it, and includes a detailed introduction to the author by translator Françoise Robin. The original was in Tibetan.
- The Dream of a Wandering Minstrel: Translated from Tibetan by Tenzin Dickie.
- The Ninth Man: Yongcuo’s first man was a Buddhist monk and a virgin. Now she’s on her ninth lover.
Poetry Translations (various Tibetan poets)
- Dozens of poems in bilingual format published online at High Peaks Pure Earth
- A special edition of Mānoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing (2002): Essays (4), fiction (11), poetry (11) and reviews (4), all free to download in PDF and HTML formats.
- Pieces by: Tsering Shakya (foreword), Alai, Herbert Batt, Feng Liang, Ge Fei, Geyang, Ma Jian, Ma Yuan, Sebo, Tashi Dawa, Yan Geling, Yangdon
- La vallée des renards noirs (p. 99-120): Possibly the first Tibetan short story that takes as its core topic the settlement of Tibetan herders in newly built housing, and the gradual disappointment that ensues.
- The Red Wind Scream (p 84)
Tsering Norbu (次仁罗布)
- Amerika (啊米日嘎): A short story in English.
- A Sheep Released to Life (放生羊): Narrates an old Tibetan’s efforts to help his dead wife achieve rebirth.
- L’assassin (杀手): Une histoire relativement courte écrite à la première personne : une histoire de meurtre et de rédemption ou plutôt de rédemption sans meurtre : rédemption à la fois de celui qui était parti pour tuer et de celui qu’il voulait tuer, pour venger son père. Il s’agit d’une rédemption spirituelle, au-delà des schémas usuels de vengeance rituelle.
- Green Tara (绿度母): Pathlight Summer 2016.
- Prayers in the Wind: Novel translated by Joshua Dyer (excerpt)
- Présentation: Backgrounder on the author in French
- Short pieces in English from Tibetan writers Pema Bhum, Pema Tseden, and Kyabchen Dedrol.
- Le chef des perles en argent (དངུལ་དཀར་གྱི་ཕྲེང་དཔོན།): Note de lecture: Introduction in French to this Tibetan female author and her short story in this issue of Jentayu.
Ye Mei (叶梅)
- Song Rod (歌棒): Collection of short stories. Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series.
- The Last Chieftain (最后的土司): Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Authors series.
Alat Asem (غەيرەت ئاسىم , 阿拉提·阿斯木)
- Confessions of a Jade Lord (时间悄悄的嘴脸): Novel about Xinjiang’s jade mafioso, revenge and salvation. Translation underway by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. Scheduled for publication in 1Q 2018. Kaleidoscope: China’s Ethnic Writers series
- Sidik Golden MobOff : Like much of Alat Asem’s writing, this tale immerses us in a Uyghur world where Han just don’t figure; his hallmarks are womanizers, insulting monikers and a hybrid Chinese with an odd but appealing Turkic flavor.
- Introduction to this Uyghur poet, Living Otherwise with Uyghur Poetry
- Bilingual renditions of three poems: Ürümchi; City Night; and My Habitat
- Three poems in English: The Road, The Border, The Distance
Hong Ke (红柯)
- Urho by Hong Ke (乌尔禾): A novel set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. Click here to read an excerpt in English.
Yerkex Hurmanbek (叶尔克西·胡尔曼别克 著, aka Yerkesy Hulmanbiek)
Legend of Manas (玛纳斯故事, 贺继宏、纯懿编撰 )
- The great Kyrgyz oral epic retold as a novel and published in Chinese, Kyrgyz and English. See here for various short items about the epic and the revered (and recently deceased) manaschi, Jusup Mamay (居素普·玛玛依), who could recite the entire tale totaling over 200,000 lines of verse.
- Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic
Li Juan (李娟)
- The Road to the Weeping Spring: Osman Path and the legend of the “Kazakh King.”
- La route qui mene a la source du désert (extract) and Note de lecture on this short story in Jentayu, both by Brigitte Duzan.
- Sous le ciel de l’Altaï (阿勒泰的天下), due out in April 2017. Translated by Stéphane Lévêque with the help of Yvonne André.
Memtimin Hoshur (مەمتىمىن ھوشۇر, 买买提明·吾守尔 )
- Festival for the Pigs: Soon a rumor spread through the city that a pig was riding on another pig, circling through the streets, commanding the riot.
- The Boy Who Was Taken to the City: A series of short dialogues between a son and his father, who is taking him from his mother and the traditional rural Uyghur lifestyle to live with a new mother in the strange world of the big city.
The Mustache Dispute: I was surprised to hear that they started registering people with mustaches. I’ve heard about the registration of households, the illiterate, and people who don’t pay their garbage fees. But up until now, I’ve never heard of a registration for people who grow mustaches.
- The Test: Penned in 1961 and arguably a propaganda piece.
- This Is Not A Dream (بۇ چۈش ئەمەس): A “romantic tragedy,” is one of his longer short stories.
- Three poems from the founder of the gungga (“hazy”) movement in Uyghur poetry: Sadir in Search of His Five Orphaned Children (ﺳﺎﺩﯨﺮ ﻳﯧﺘﯩﻢ ﻗﺎﻟﻐﺎﻥ ﺑﻪﺵ ﺑﺎﻟﯩﺴﯩﻨﻰ ﺋﯩﺰﺩﻩﭖ); Uyghur Impressions (ئۇيغۇرچە تۇيغۇلار), and My Love
- One Hundred Year Bloodline (百年血脉): Scheduled for publication in 2Q 2018. Translated by Natascha Bruce.
Nurmuhemmet Yasin (نۇرمۇھەمەت ياسىن , 努尔莫哈提·亚辛)
- Wild Pigeon (ياۋا كەپتەر): In this fable, which is also a political allegory, a princely bird is captured by humans and caged. He longs for freedom and, in the end, prefers to die rather than live in captivity.
Wang Gang (英格力士, 王刚 著)
- English by (英格力士): Coming-of-age novel set in Ürümqi during the Cultural Revolution. For a review of the Turkish rendition of the novel, see Çin Edebiyatından Kültür Devrimine Ergen Gözüyle Bakış: Wang Gang’ın İngilizce Romanı.
Uyghur Modernist Poetry (Joshua L. Freeman)
- Introduction to Uyghur poetry + poems of three poets: Tamir Hamut, Ghojimuhemmed Muhemmed and Osmanjan Muhemmed Pas’an
Gao Jianqun (高建群)
- Tongwan City by Gao Jianqun (统万城): The reign of Helian Bobo, founder of Xiongnu state of Xia (407-431), the building of his heavily fortified capital, and the spread of Mahayana Buddhism via Kumarajiva (344-413).
Aku Wuwu (罗庆春, aka 阿库乌雾)
- Tiger Traces: Contains Aku’s Chinese language and Nuosu language poems in translations by Mark Bender, Aku Wuwu, and Jjiepa Ayi. For each, the Chinese or Nuosu script is included as well. Most interesting is the accompanying audio CD, on which Aku reads his poems in both languages, with English versions read by Bender and Kate Polak.
- Coyote Traces: Aku Wuwu’s Poetic Sojourn in America. Poems written during his trips to the US, through which he has tried to capture “tangible and intangible heritages of Native Americans” as he sees them. Presented in Chinese and English.
Jidi Majia (吉狄马加)
- Identity (身份): Poetry collection. To launch in English on Amazon.com within 2017. Part of Kaleidoscope: Ethnic Chinese Writers series)
- Jidi Majia: Five Poems: Poetry in bilingual (Chinese and English) layout appears in Chinese Literature Today. Jidi Majia belongs to the Yi-Nusuo ethnicity in southern Sichuan.
- Rhapsody in Black: Poems: The poetry of Jidi Majia is deeply grounded in the myths and oral traditions of the Nuosu minority. In their ethnic richness, they also resonate with the voices of the indigenous and the dispossessed, from Native American and South American Indian poets to the African American and aboriginal Australian writers preserving and reshaping cultural identity.
Meige (《梅葛》), Creation Epic of the Yi
- Fading Tones: The Slow Demise of Yunnan’s Epic Songs by Matthew Walsh. Includes recordings of the epic by master storytellers still alive in Mayou, Yunnan.
- Yi Creation Epic Published in Korean, Based on “Reconstructed” Mandarin Version
Chinese Ethnic Minority Oral Traditions: A Recovered Text of Bai Folk Songs in a Sinoxenic Script (Jingqi Fu and Zhao Min with Xu Lin and Duan Ling)
- The songs are presented in a multilinear format that includes the Bai text, an IPA version of the sound, a word-for-word Chinese line, a word-for-word English line, and vernacular (Standard) Chinese line and vernacular English translation.
Cun Wenxue (存文学)
- Las Zarcas Nieves de Biluo (碧洛雪山): Tale of the Lisu people who venerate the black bear as their guardian spirit. See Questioning Value of Made-in-China Modernity for links to a review of the novel, and a backgrounder (in French) on Hani author Cun Wenxue.
Fan Wen (范稳)
- A Century of Cultural Collisions in Tibet: Interview with author Fan Wen.
- The Creation Story (大地雅歌): An excerpt from the romantic escapades of Tibetan balladeer Tashi Gyatso.
- Une terre de lait et de miel (水乳大地): Rendered in French, this is the first novel of the trilogy. It is the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon — Gateway to Tibet — beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.
- Land of Mercy (悲悯大地) The second novel in Fan Wen’s trilogy, and the first to appear in full in English. Translated by Shelly Bryant and published by Singapore’s Rinchen Books.
Ye Duo Duo (叶多多)
- La vida cotidiana de las mujeres Lahu de Lancang (澜沧拉祜女子日常生活): Portraits of Lahu (拉祜族) encountered by authoress Ye Duo Duo during more than a year of on-the-ground research in Lancang Lahu Autonomous County. Translated by Adriana Martínez González of Mexico. Published by China Intercontinental Press (五洲传播出版社) in 2015.