“Sidik Golden MobOff”: Li Bai was Uyghur

An Excerpt from Sidik Golden MobOff by Alat Asem

斯迪克金子关机  阿拉提·阿斯木 著

First published in Peregrine, Issue 14, June 2013

Translated by Bruce Humes

In our community, the only person who excelled at translating Uyghur into Chinese was Big Brother Sidik, and this was the inexhaustible source of his arrogance and aloofness. His colleagues and fellow students all granted him this; he never lost the knowledge of Chinese he acquired fifty years ago, while his erstwhile classmates have exhausted theirs and can no longer put it to good use. 

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Li Bai: Born in Suyab, (modern-day Ak-Beshim, Kyrgystan), originally a settlement of Sogdian merchants that sprang up along the Silk Road in the 5th or 6th centuries. 

One year a friend visited from Beijing, a man of culture who researched poetry. We’d just downed two shots when Big Brother began showing off, quickly winning him over and joining him in the liquor’s sway. As I filled their glasses and observed the points where Big Brother was brilliantly sweet-talking my Beijing friend, I had to chuckle. Big Brother was a psychologist and a gifted con artist. 

He began by reciting the poems left by the High Commissioner Lin Zexu when he was banished to Xinjiang’s Ili for his role in China’s defeat by Britain in the Opium War. Big Brother first rendered them in Uyghur, explicating the brilliant word choices in his rhyming scheme, and then recited poems by Li Bai and Su Dongpo and touched on the status of translations of these revered ancient poets’ works into Uyghur. 

When they had finished off their third round, Big Brother raised his head and announced, proudly and mysteriously, that he had been writing a thesis now for five years, focusing on the accomplishments of Li Bai’s verse, the key point of his argument being that Li Bai was Uyghur. His background in the Western Regions and the intrepid spirit of his poetry were proof of that point. 

I couldn’t help but chortle and turned toward my Beijing friend. “This Big Brother of ours is very witty. No sooner do his lips touch liquor than he speaks like an alien from outer space!” 

A few days before when we were entertaining a group of Shanghainese guests, Big Brother had proclaimed that the twentieth-century poet Guo Moruo was Uyghur. As long as he was imbibing, any famous personality could be Uyghur. 

“Admirable, admirable!” gushed my Beijing friend. “It’s a pleasure to meet someone so knowledgeable.” 

Big Brother cupped his hands before his chest in the traditional Chinese fashion. “You flatter me!” 

But he had achieved his goal, for this was the desired effect.