China & “King Gesar”: Challenges of Putting an Oral Epic to Paper

In a Q & A (艺人及其抢救) with Dr. Yang Enhong, Yao Hui of the Institute of Ethnic Literature (China Academy of Social Sciences) succeeds in extracting fascinating details about how Drakpa (གྲགས་པ།,扎巴), a master storyteller (说唱艺人) of the Tibetan oral epic King Gesar was discovered, and his performances preserved in audio recordings and in written form --- … Continue reading China & “King Gesar”: Challenges of Putting an Oral Epic to Paper

The Redundant Hakawati: Syrian Chaos and WhatsApp Marginalize Traditional Storytellers

AP's Diaa Hadid reports on a bit of collateral damage generated by the Syrian civil war (Life Upended by War): For more than 20 years, the Storyteller of Damascus entertained crowds in a centuries-old cafe in the Syrian capital with long, poetic tales of Arab warriors and lovers, acting out scenes with his fists thumping … Continue reading The Redundant Hakawati: Syrian Chaos and WhatsApp Marginalize Traditional Storytellers

“King Yalu”: Miao Oral Epic Published in Chinese

For the first time ever, the Miao historical epic King Yalu (亚鲁王), has been rendered in a written form: Chinese.  The first part, consisting of 1,089 lines, has been published by Zhonghua Book Company (中华书局). Traditionally sung over several days at a funeral, King Yalu is the epic story of war, defeat and migration of … Continue reading “King Yalu”: Miao Oral Epic Published in Chinese

Manchu Ulabun: A Hot Research Topic in China

Apparently known as ulabun in Manchu and Shuō bù (说部) in Chinese, this is a storytelling tradition—involving song and recital—among the Manchu of northeast China. These tales naturally center around folk heroes, indigenous religious beliefs and history of the Manchu, but some Chinese experts argue that it has long been influenced by the Han tradition … Continue reading Manchu Ulabun: A Hot Research Topic in China

King Gesar Update: Academics Congregate, but Septuagenarian Bard Struggles to Pass on the Tradition

One-third of the extant written versions of the Tibetan epic King Gesar (格萨尔王) make a reference to Maqu County in Gansu (玛曲), leading Chinese experts to believe it may be the historical birthplace of the epic. But according to a report on Chinanews.com (说唱传承人), only one bard residing there is capable of performing the saga. … Continue reading King Gesar Update: Academics Congregate, but Septuagenarian Bard Struggles to Pass on the Tradition

“The Shepherd’s Dream”: An Excerpt from Alai’s “King Gesar”

Several years ago, UK publisher Canongate commissioned contemporary ethnic Tibetan writer Alai to pen his own creative version of the King Gesar saga. The plan: to launch Alai's King Gesar (格萨尔王, 阿来著)  as part of its global Myth Series, joining other creatively re-told tales including The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood’s take on Penelope of The Odyssey), Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Baba Yaga as … Continue reading “The Shepherd’s Dream”: An Excerpt from Alai’s “King Gesar”

“Pamir Kyrgyz Traditional Song Conference” Held in Xinjiang’s Akto County

Just a few weeks after 40 Uyghur masters of the rhymed epic tales known as dastan gathered in Hami to stage and talk about their threatened art form (Dastan Training Session), some 60-plus performers of traditional Kyrgyz songs have gathered for a similar get-together in Xinjiang’s Akto County (阿克陶县) bordering on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. According … Continue reading “Pamir Kyrgyz Traditional Song Conference” Held in Xinjiang’s Akto County

Tibetan Epic “King Gesar” Published in 8-volume Chinese-language Edition

A comprehensive 8-volume, 2-million word translation of the Tibetan classic “King Gesar” (格萨尔王传) has just been published in Chinese by Higher Education Press (高等教育出版社), according to a report carried on China Ethnic Literature Network (中国民族文学网). The traditional Epic of King Gesar (Tibetan: གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ), believed to date from the 12th century, relates the heroic deeds of Gesar, … Continue reading Tibetan Epic “King Gesar” Published in 8-volume Chinese-language Edition

Scholar Critiques Media Coverage of Newly Published Miao Classic “King Yalu”

China media’s recent high-profile reportage of the launch of volume one of the first-ever bilingual version of King Yalu (亚鲁王), a Miao historical epic passed down orally, has been labelled “unscientific” (媒体对 《亚鲁王》报道不科学) by an academic whose views carry weight. Traditionally sung over several days at a funeral, King Yalu is the story of war, defeat … Continue reading Scholar Critiques Media Coverage of Newly Published Miao Classic “King Yalu”

“Butterfly Mother” and “Dragon-Eagles”: Processing Folklore in Southwest China

In the latest edition of Oral Tradition (Processing Epics), Mark Bender explores—via highly readable notes on his field-work—how the Miao myth-epic Mai Bang (Butterfly Mother) and the Nuosu’s creation-epic Dragon-Eagles have gradually been rendered in written form: My title also contains the word “processing”—and by that I mean the process through which traditional texts are performed … Continue reading “Butterfly Mother” and “Dragon-Eagles”: Processing Folklore in Southwest China