Richard Bernstein reviews Perry Link’s translation of physicist Fang Lizhi’s autobiography, Most Wanted Man in China, and Ji Xianlin’s The Cowshed. (Enemy of the State)
International publishers, booksellers and free speech advocates have penned an open letter to HK head honcho Leung Chun-ying calling for him to defend HK’s interests in the face of China’s forced disappearances and detention of five HK-based publishing professionals. (Renditions)
The New York Times reports that Yang Jisheng (杨继绳), author of 墓碑, a controversial book on the Great Chinese Famine of 1958-61 — translated and published as Tombstone — has been told he cannot go to the US in March to accept an award from Harvard U for his “ambitious and fearless reporting.” (Travel Ban)
Writer and media critic Zha Jianying on Ji Xianlin’s newly translated The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution (牛棚杂忆, 季羡林著). (Remembering the Cultural Revolution)
Perhat Tursun, le Salman Rushdie de Chine: En 1999, le romancier ouïghour sortait son Art du suicide et allait immédiatement être la cible de menaces de mort. Aujourd’hui, il se remet enfin à écrire. (Profil)
Liu Cixin’s much acclaimed sci-fi novel, The Three-body Problem (三体, 刘慈欣著), has reportedly sold 110,000 copies worldwide as of end 2015. According to the report, this refers to the first part of the trilogy. The second, The Dark Forest, is also out, and the third, Death’s End, will be published in 2016. (全球销量)
Uyghurche ئۇيغۇرچە Уйғурчә | Uyghur language and culture for English-speakers features an excerpt from a translation of one of Memtimin Hoshur’s longer short stories, This Is Not A Dream (بۇ چۈش ئەمەس), as well as translations of a few others of his works. (uyghurche.net)
China’s ambassador to Bangladesh demands – and obtains his wish – that Last Words, farewell letters from
Tibetans before they self-immolated in China, be excised from the Dhaka Art Summit (Feb 5-8). (Last Words)
The obligatory annual round-up of writing by minority authors has been published at Chinawriter.com.cn. Yang Yumei, a member of the Dong people who holds a Ph D. in ethnic literature (杨玉梅, 侗族), follows the traditional format — writers are generally identified and grouped by their ethnicity — and touches on several dozens of non-Han authors and their 2015 works deemed worthy by the literary establishment. This year’s theme appears to be fiction that highlights the patriotic contribution of all nationalities to the campaign to liberate China from Japanese aggression in the 30s and through the end of World War II (文学使命的新实践)
Multilingual CASS scholar Adili Zhumaturdu (阿地力·朱玛吐尔地) reports that his 4-volume Chinese translation of the Kyrgyz epic, Manas (玛纳斯史诗), has made it onto the list of 86 books for “popularizing multi-ethnic traditional culture” (全国推荐中华优秀传统文化普及图书名单) recommended by China’s very official State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. An ethnic Kyrgyz, he worked closely with Jusup Mamay, China’s last great Xinjiang-based manaschi capable of reciting the classic that counts over 200,000 lines of verse. Zhumaturdu is also the author of a detailed Chinese-language biography of the much-revered storyteller (居素普·玛玛依评传) that I discuss in Jusup Mamay, Manaschi: A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.
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A typeface that fuses the Tibetan script with Latin letters — referred to as the “China Daily Tibet Font” (see headline at right) – was featured in a report celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Tibet Autonomous Region. It was created as a collaboration between China Daily and Beijing Founder. Details are scant, but no Tibetan names figure among the designers. Interest in things Tibetan among mainstream Chinese and foreigners alike has fueled literary output over the last few years, including the wildly popular Tibet Code (藏地密码) and the controversial Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver.
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Behemoth (悲兮魔兽), a harrowing documentary by Zhao Liang about coal mining in Inner Mongolia, was recently screened in Beijing. Well received at international venues such as the Venice Film Festival, it has been shown to small audiences just three times in China and has reportedly been banned. Watch the trailer here. As I’ve reported before, ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of rapacious mining and logging projects, and inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue. For more information, see Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up.
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Tujia folklorist Sun Jiaxiang (孙家香), who documented more than 500 Tujia folk tales and authored 孙家香故事集 (lit, Sun Jiaxiang’s Collected Tales), passed away in January 2016, aged 97. Chinanews.com (土家族首位女性故事家) reports that her collection was officially designated for publication under the Ninth Five-year Plan (1996-2000), and it does appear to have been published (here). Sadly – like so many state-bankrolled publications about China’s ethnicities – I cannot find where it can be purchased online. However, Lin Jifu’s 孙家香故事讲述研究 is available, and it profiles her as a folklorist and a storyteller in her own right.
Taiwan Today reports (Awards):
The winners of Taiwan Aboriginal Literary Awards organized by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education were honored in a ceremony Jan. 20 at Hualien Cultural Creative Industries Park.
The 36 recipients are from the indigenous tribes of Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Kahabu, Paiwan, Pazeh, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Sediq, Truku and Tsou. They finished atop a 99-strong field in the categories of essay, novella, poetry and translation.
Winners include “Words from Elders” by Lowking Nowbucyang of the Truku, the novella “Stories of Fataan and Tafalong” by Sing Olam of the Amis, and the poem “Mourning River” by Rucu Pawan of the Atayal. The biannual awards were founded in 2007.
For the first time ever — I’ve been watching such announcements for at least 5 years — official Chinese media has used an indigenous language other than Mandarin to publicize the winners of a major literary prize for writing in a minority language. In this case, the China Writers Association has issued a Chinese press release (檀君文学奖评奖结果揭晓) using Korean to cite the names of the winning titles for the 檀君文学奖 literary prize, a new competition for writing in Korean that will be held every two years hence. It is named after Tangun, the legendary founder of Gojoseon, the first Korean kingdom located around present-day Liaoning, Manchuria, and the Korean Peninsula.
In the past, winning titles written in Mongolian or Uyghur, for instance, were announced solely using Chinese characters. This was patently absurd, as many of these books did not even exist in Chinese, and interested readers could not easily use those invented Chinese titles to find the work online or in a bookstore.
There have been some suggestions that this was coming. For instance, the very official Baidu Baike has recently begun using the Uyghur’s Arabic-based script to note the names of some Uyghur artists (see Baidu Encyclopedia First?). Ironically, it refers to such names as “foreign,” but better listed than not, I suppose.
Here’s a partial list of winners (Chinese titles are translations and do not necessarily mean the work has been published in Chinese):
许莲顺 (허련순) for 누가 나비의 집을 보았을가 (谁见过蝴蝶的巢)
张正一 (장정일) for 세모의 설레임 (岁暮随想)
李惠善 (리혜선) for 정률성평전 (郑律成评传)
For the full list that includes children’s books, poetry and other categories, see here.
Over the last few years, the veil has been partially lifted on what has been China’s most coveted literary prize for the novel, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, which is awarded just once every four years. You can bone up on the scandals behind this and other awards here if you like.
The Beijing Daily has just published an interesting article (茅奖销售) which details “before and after” sales figures, queries authors on how winning the award has affected their work, and concludes with a brief overview of 1982-2015 winning titles by literary critic Bai Ye (白烨).
Over the years the competition has evolved, if painfully slowly, with voting becoming more transparent, for instance. Sadly, this didn’t prevent staunch servant of the state Wang Meng from winning this year with his — in my eyes at least — virtually unreadable The Scenery Over Here, which is set in Xinjiang in the 70s.
But the standards are apparently in flux too. Reports the Beijing Daily, citing author Bi Feiyu:
“Beginning with the 8th Mao Dun Prize , this national-level award has undergone a revolutionary change. Most importantly, the aesthetic standards tend to be freer and more inclusive.” In his eyes, it’s precisely because of this change in direction that his Massage [推拿] could win. “After all, in the past only writing such as epics and those with grand themes could get the prize.”
The article, though interesting, isn’t short. So here are the key factoids:
White Deer Plain by Chen Zhongshi (白鹿原, 陈忠实著)
- Censored as part of tit-for-tat deal behind the awarding of the prize in 1997. See here for a few juicy details.
Funeral of a Muslim by Huo Da (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著)
- Recent news conference reported total sales have topped 3m copies. Awarded in 1991.
Ordinary World by Lu Yao (平凡的世界, 路遥著)
- Over 3m copies total, including 400,000 in 2014 alone. Awarded in 1991.
Frog by Mo Yan (蛙, 莫言著)
- Award date: 2011
- Pre-award sales: 160,000
- Post-award sales: Now totals 1m+. Probably more due to his winning the Nobel . . . than the Mao Dun prize!
Massage by Bi Feiyu (推拿, 毕飞宇著)
- Award date: 2011
- Pre-award sales: 48,000 copies over 4 years.
- Post-award sales: 150,000+ just in 2011 when awarded, and nearing 400,000 total within 2015.
Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)
- Award date: 2008
- Pre-award sales: 40,000-50,000. Post-award sales: 300,000+ to date.
Chinese Ethnic Minority Oral Traditions: A Recovered Text of Bai Folk Songs, a new work in the Cambria Sinophone World Series, was published recently. A brief backgrounder on how it came into being:
In 1958 while conducting fieldwork in Yunnan, a professor came across a rice paper booklet with strange script created from Chinese characters. This turned out to be a folksong booklet in Old Bai script. She safeguarded it carefully through the tumultuous Mao years until the 1990s, when the political environment had relaxed enough for her to conduct full-scale ethnographic research. Very few such texts remain, and what makes this booklet even more valuable is that it records songs that have already disappeared, including some with sexually explicit content.
One of the features of the book is how it delves into the use of “created characters” that were used in the Chinese-character based “old Bai script” to capture vocabulary or concepts that apparently did not exist in standard written Chinese.
But from my point of view, the most noteworthy aspect of the work is how the folk songs have been transcribed and translated. “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,” according to the summary at Cambria Press.
The great majority of similar works available in China are often virtually monolingual — in a fluent Chinese translation only — which leaves the reader unable to get a feeling for the imagery or rhythm of the original, and on a more subtle level it reinforces the perception that the written Chinese version is “genuine” while the (unseen and undocumented) original oral version is somehow less so.
The book “Customs of Zhuang People” describes a remote village where people feel more comfortable singing to stranger than talking to them. So if you got lost in the mountains, you are better off singing your inquiries if you want to get directions from the locals.
『壯族風情錄』裡說，在壯山裡問路，要用唱的人家才回答你。 這不是為難人嗎？ 我好不容易背了簡單的句子問路。這麼看來，練說的不夠，要練唱！ 所以，我寫了首相見歌，等我壯文再多學點，可以用壯文來唱。
The longlist for what is arguably China’s most prestigious award for novels has just been published (第九届茅盾文学奖参评作品目录). I write “arguably” because, like virtually every literary competition in the PRC of late, even the reputation of the Mao Dun Literature Prize — sponsored by the very official Chinese Writers Association — has been questioned. See 2014: Year of the Chinese Literary Prize (Scandal)? for a wrap-up.
Awarded every four years to between three and five long works of fiction (at least 130,000 hanzi), they will be handed out again this year (2015). China-based publishers have nominated some 252 works distributed in hard copy form between 2011-2014.
Naturally, there are plenty of works by famous mainstream authors on the list, such as Ge Fei (江南三部曲), Jia Pingwa (古炉, 老生) and Han Shaogong (日夜书).
But here at Ethnic ChinaLit, our focus is on “writing by & about non-Han peoples of China.” And it is my understanding is that there is a tradition — albeit an unwritten rule — that each set of Mao Dun awards include one “ethnic-themed” work (民族题材的作品). In the past, winners included Huo Da’s Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼), Alai’s Red Poppies (尘埃落定), and Chi Zijian’s The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸).
By my count, there are at least 20 contenders for the prize that fall into the unofficial ethnic-themed category, i.e., the novel has major “non-Han” components in terms of characters and storyline. My impression is that the Chinese literary establishment has also become acutely aware of the need to identify and promote authors who not only write about ethnic minorities, but are themselves “ethnic” writers. That may give certain nominees a bit of an edge this time around — after all, winning titles and authors must definitely meet the prevailing standards of political correctness. Model writers, particularly hailing from restive border regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, are likely to be particularly in demand.
The recent brouhaha over Wolf Totem, the movie, is a good example of the pent up frustration among peoples
who are unhappy at seeing their culture commercialized for great profit —and possibly misinterpreted — by Han authors like Jiang Rong. See Breakthrough for Mongolian on the Screen for details of one author’s critique of the very idea that the wolf represents a totem for the Mongolian people.
I’ve gone through the list of 252 novels and done my best to identify non-Han authors and their works. No doubt I’ve missed some, and I welcome your additions and corrections. Interesting to note that this list is dominated by members of ethnicities located in northern China that traditionally speak an Altaic language such as Mongolian, Daur, Uyghur or Kazakh:
《时间悄悄的嘴脸》by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木). For an excerpt of his writing, click on his short story Sidek Golden MobOff . I recently read the nominated work (a novella, actually), which I enjoyed. Asem’s fiction is 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.
《忽必烈大汗》Kublai Khan by Mongolian writer Bagen (巴根)
The creation epic of the Yi people, Meige (梅葛), was translated and published in Korean in 2014 by Seoul-based 民俗苑, according to a news item from the bimonthly Forum on Folk Culture (彝族创世史诗《梅葛》在韩国出版). There are some 8 million Yi (彝族) living in China, Vietnam and Thailand, of which over 4.5 million reside in Yunnan Province.
As is so often the case in news relating to literature in the non-Han languages of China, the item neglects to mention salient details of the “original” text. It appears — I cannot confirm — that the Meige source text used for translation was in fact one published in Chinese in 1959 by Yunnan People’s Publishing House.
Given that there are two Yi scripts, one classical and one 20th century using the Latin alphabet, this begs the question: Why use a monolingual Chinese text to tell a primordial Yi tale?
The synopsis of a piece of scholarly research by National Chengchi University Dept. of Ethnology lecturer Huang Chi-ping (黃季平), Memories from Meige, the Epic Poem of Creation: Traditional Songs of Chuxiong Yi and Their Re-presentations, appears to explain the choice of Chinese, and points to its usefulness in promoting tourism: