An excerpt from Bloodline ,
a novel by Uyghur author Patigül set in Xinjiang
Translated from the Chinese
by Natascha Bruce
From childhood, it was drilled into our minds together with our mother tongue: if you start an idea, take it to the finish line ! This is because the Uzbek language’s
structure is such that until you get to the end of a verbal phrase, in order not to miss the meaning of the verb, whether the sentence is a question, a supposition or an exclamation, or a sizeable exposition, you won’t know what it means.
Authorities in the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region have banned the sale of books by an ethnic Uyghur who served as the region’s first chairman, reports Radio Free Asia (Ban):
Observers said the ban — part of an internal party order issued in April last year, but only recently learned of by RFA’s Uyghur Service — highlights the Chinese government’s mistrust of Uyghurs, regardless of their professed loyalty to the party and state, and suggests an official effort is underway to “erase” Uyghur history from the region and the collective national conscience.
Books by the late Seypidin Aziz, including “A Collection of Poetry,” his memoir “The Epics of Life,” and a biographic memoir of Abdulkeri Abbasof “The Eagle of Tengritagh,” have been removed from bookstores in Urumqi following a “special directive” by authorities, sources at several shops in the Xinjiang capital recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service, although they were unable to explain the reason for the ban.
The directive came despite years of service to the Communist Party by Azizi, who served as the first chairman of Xinjiang from 1955-1978 and as vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) National Committee from 1993-1998 before his death in 2003.
I have not read any of Seypidin Aziz’s writing. But one scholar based outside the PRC had this to say about him:
“He is widely regarded by Uyghurs as the first and last Uyghur politician to hold real power in the CCP . . . My sense is that he is now being recast as a Uyghur nationalist/separatist because of the way he pushed back against power and fought for minority rights.”
For more information on Seypidin Aziz (aka Saifuddin Azizi, 赛福鼎·艾则孜, سەيپىدىن ئەزىزى), see: His biography on Wikipedia in English; several Chinese editions of his books on Douban; and a YouTube video (narrated in Uyghur with Chinese subtitles) about his early life, politics and crucial role in the establishment of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
First enfeoffed by Qing Emperor Qianlong in 1758, this Uyghur dynasty in northeastern Xinjiang eventually boasted a line of eleven monarchs, popularly known as the “King of Kuqa” (库车王). Kuqa was an ancient Buddhist kingdom located on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the northern edge of the Taklamakan Desert, but to most Chinese today, the term signifies the city of Kuche. The last in the line, Dawut Makosuti (达吾提·麦合苏提), passed away in 2014.
Over the centuries, the various sovereigns met with different fates depending upon palace
intrigue and politics of the era. According to Chinese-language Wikipedia (庫車回部多羅郡王), for instance, the 9th sovereign (買甫思) reportedly died in prison in 1941.
Dawut Makosuti himself, a member of the government during the 1940s, was officially dethroned in 1949 with the establishment of the People’s Republic, and demoted to the more humble position of “translator.” Things got worse during most of the fifties, when he was posted to Aksu and underwent “Reform through Labor” (劳改). His fate in the Cultural Revolution is not annotated in Wikipedia — hopefully Patigül’s novel will shed some light on those years! — but in 1984 he was rehabilitated, and designated Deputy Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. In 2004, his palace (库车王府) was refurbished by the government, and he lived there briefly before his death.
A seminar to promote discussion of the soon-to-be published novel (柯卡之恋) will be held in Yuyao, Zhejiang (浙江余姚) on September 11. It was previously partially published in Jiangnan magazine (江南) under the title, 最后的王. In attendance will be the female author, Patigül (帕蒂古丽), who was raised in a multiethnic Xinjiang village by her Hui mother and Uyghur father, and speaks fluent Uyghur, Kazakh and Mandarin. Her tumultuous, semi-autobiographical family saga, portrayed in moving detail in One Hundred Year Bloodline (百年血脉), has been translated into English by Natascha Bruce, and should be published within 2017 by Chinese Translation & Publishing House.
Patigül’s piece on leaving Xinjiang for life in Zhejiang, Life of a Mimic, also touches boldly on sensitive interethnic issues in China today in a way that simply cannot be matched by mainstream Han authors.
With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic
marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.
Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.
The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them. See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.
Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.
But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.
In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.
A few years back I read a longish, semi-autobiographical novel by Guo Xuebo (郭雪波), who was raised in the Horchin Grasslands of Inner Mongolia (科尔沁草原) and is a native speaker of Mongolian. Entitled 《蒙古里亚》— an attempt to replicate the sound of “Mongolia” in Chinese, I assume — it comprises three distinct narratives that are intricately intertwined as the novel progresses: A spiritual journey, in which the narrator/author seeks his Shaman roots; various “scenes” from the journey of a real-life, early 20th-century Scandinavian explorer among the Mongols; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu (特勒约苏), a modern-day Mongolian herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and the machinations of a greedy coal mining company. I just finished my draft translation of an excerpt from the novel (The Mongol Would-be Self-immolator), in which Teelee is jailed for threatening to self-immolate (自焚). The excerpt all takes place in jail, as a bevy of reporters, Banner honchos and a mysterious security official alternately congratulate, chide and interrogate him, the latter out of fear that — heaven forbid! — he has been inspired by Tibet’s self-immolating Buddhist monks.
I’ve just started reading Manas Resurrected, a short story by Xi’an’s Hong Ke (《复活的玛纳斯》红柯 著). As far as I know, it has not been translated yet. I’m intrigued for two reasons: The reference to the ancient Kyrgyz epic Manas, and the fact that it is set in the early 60s when the Soviet Union’s Kazakhstan did its best to lure Xinjiang residents (mainly Kazakhs and Uyghurs) across the border. Apparently as many as 60,000+ did actually leave China. I don’t know much about this mass movement or the politics behind it, but it has not been forgotten in the PRC. The exodus came up in a short story (Sidik Golden MobOff) and again in a novel (Zuilian) by the Xinjiang-based Uyghur author Alat Asem, both of which I translated. He repeatedly refers to the attraction a new life in Kazakhstan exercised on many Uyghurs during that period, and at times his protagonists speak of the émigrés with great disdain.
There are only 30,000 or so Evenki (鄂温克族) on the Chinese side of the Sino-Russian border. But this Tungusic-speaking, reindeer-herding people — particularly the group known as the Aoluguya Evenki — has been the subject of several award-winning documentaries and even a novel that won the Mao Dun Literature Prize in 2008. According to an article on the China Writer’s Association web site (最后一位萨满之女), a new novel featuring the Evenki will launch end April.
During 2007-14, Gu Tao (顾桃) shot five films documenting the twilight of the Evenki way of life, including Yuguo and his Mother (雨果的假期) and The Last Moose of Aoluguya (犴达罕). (For an excellent backgrounder on his works in French, click here) Chi Zijian’s novel, The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), is based loosely on the same tribe’s often reluctant interactions with outsiders, first with the Japanese invaders under “Manchukuo,” and then the rapacious Han loggers and Marxist cadres of post-1949 “New China,” and has been translated into English (my version), Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, and will soon be available in French.
But take note: Neither Gu Tao and Chi Zijian are Evenki, though the former’s mother is Manchu (according to BBC’s web site). As far I know, their works have largely been well received in China, but they are not without potential controversy. I have watched several of Gu Tao’s documentaries on a set of CDs (not sure if these are final versions shown at film festivals abroad), and at times they are disturbing, the raw footage of some hard-drinking Evenki in particular. Chi Zijian’s novel is a bold experiment in its own right, as she, a monolingual Han writer, puts herself inside the head of the female Evenki narrator and recounts the entire tale in the first person.
In both cases, I can’t help wondering how these works of art would be viewed by indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada or the US, where “reclaiming the narrative” back from one’s colonizers is nowadays considered absolutely imperative.
A while back I stumbled upon a short Chinese news item about a newly discovered handwritten manuscript of the Kyrgyz Epic of Manas (玛纳斯史诗). This centuries-old trilogy in verse recounts the exploits of the legendary hero Manas, and his son and grandson in their struggle to resist external enemies and unite the Kyrgyz people. Along with heroic tales such as Dede Korkut and the Epic of Köroğlu, Manas is considered one of the great Turkic epic poems.