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Guo Xuebo's "Moŋgoliya" (蒙古里亚)

Backgrounder: Mongolian author Guo Xuebo

February 17, 2019

Author’s Bio

Although he writes in Chinese, Guo Xuebo (郭雪波) is fiercely proud of his Mongolian heritage and was raised in Inner Mongolia’s Khorchin Grasslands (Hure Banner). Now 71 and bilingual, he spoke Mongolian at home and school until he was 13. He graduated from Beijing’s prestigious Central
Academy of Drama (Department of Literature and Drama) in 1980, and in the same year, passed the entrance exam to Hohhot’s Institute of Literature under the Inner Mongolia Academy of Social Sciences. Since 1984, he has held the post of Assistant Researcher at this institute, undertaking research in various aspects of Mongolian history, culture and drama.

In  2018, he participated in Symposium – Space to Speak: Non-Han Fiction and Film in China and Beyond, held at the University of Leeds in the UK. In fact, as a popular indigenous author of borderland fiction and scholar of Mongolian culture and history, over the years he has frequently been invited overseas. In 2004, he took part in France’s Salon du Livre as a member of the China Writers Association delegation. He attended the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair when China was the Country of Honor, participated in literary salons in Munich and Düsseldorf, and was interviewed by Deutsche Welle in Bonn. He delivered a speech, The Mongols: Religion, Culture & Nature Worship, at Canada’s University of Waterloo in 2016, and was invited as a visiting scholar by New Zealand’s University of Auckland, where he delivered a lecture on Mongolian folk culture in 2017.

Major Works, Motifs & Awards

Guo Xuebo is a prolific writer who has published seven novels including Moŋgoliya (《蒙古里亚》2014), over a dozen collections of novellas and short stories, and authored three screenplays for Chinese-language films, including those based on his novel Wolf Child(《大漠狼孩》a best-seller in China) and short story Desert Fox (《沙狼》translated into several languages).

Foreign Language Editions

A collection of 4 of his short stories (The Desert Wolf, The Sand Fox, Sand Rites, Sand Burial) has been published in English (The Desert Fox), French (La renarde du désert), Japanese (砂漠の物語) and German (bilingual). Several of his novels are currently in translation, including The Wolf Child (Korean), and Hero of Inner Mongolia, Gada Meiren (《青旗·嘎达梅林》Mongolian). An excerpt from his novel Moŋgoliya, The Mongol Would-be Self-immolator, has been published online by Asia-Pacific Journal.

His writing strongly reflects his upbringing in the grasslands of northern China and his Mongolian roots and culture. Themes include wildlife on the steppe and in the desert, often recounted from an animal’s perspective; animism, and the role of Shaman as both a spiritual mediator and a community leader; and the history of interaction — and sometimes violent friction — between the indigenous Mongolian herders, the ruling Manchu during the Qing dynasty, and the Han who came to exploit the land as miners and sedentary farmers.

Guo Xuebo’s fiction has won significant recognition outside mainland China. His Desert Foxwas chosen for inclusion in a volume of short stories, part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works (a translation project, 1948-2005). His novella, The Desert Soul, won Taiwan’s United Daily News 18th Literature Prize, and his novella, Stepfather, was awarded the Religious Literature Prize co-sponsored by Taiwan’s Central Daily News and Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society.

For a one-stop view of Guo Xuebo’s published works in Chinese, visit douban (豆瓣).

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Latest News (最新信息)

Nuosuo Poet Aku Wuwu: Striving for a New Language Born of Cultural Fusion

Aku Wuwu (阿库乌雾), a bilingual poet who writes and
performs in both Mandarin and Nuoso (a language of the Yi people), advocates a new-fangled form of Chinese that more fully expresses his people’s non-Han culture. This

reminds me of the attitude of Uyghur author Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木) and the Turkic-flavor of his Confessions of a Jade Lord (《时间悄悄的嘴脸》). As Aku recently said in an interview at ThePaper.cn:

。。。针对多民族作家,我提出过从“文化混血”到“文学混血”的趋势,这是不可抗拒的时代历史潮流。我还提出“第二汉语”的主张,即不再是原来意义上的汉语,或者说不再是汉文化意义上的汉语,而是一种经过了彝族汉语诗人们全面变构后用以表述和承载彝民族文化发展体系的新的汉语,对建构多民族一体多元的富有中国特色的中国文学理论做出贡献。

For the full interview in Chinese, click here.

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African Literature in Chinese Translation (非洲文学: 中文译本) Latest News (最新信息)

African Literature: On China’s Cultural Radar Yet?

Can Literary Imports Change Chinese Perceptions of Africa? : My piece on AfroLit in Chinese is up now at Sixth Tone:

Since the founding of the modern Chinese state in 1949, there have been three waves of African literary imports. The first, which emerged in the 1980s, was ideologically driven. Empowered by

Nigeria’s Chimamanda Adichie is hot in China: Her “Dear Ijeawele” (亲爱的安吉维拉), is due out in 3Q 2018 — her sixth book to appear in Chinese.

Beijing’s policy of promoting solidarity with the Third World and newly independent nations, state-run imprints like the Foreign Literature Publishing House translated and published a substantial number of African works such as those by the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka, the Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the Senegalese poet (and former president) Léopold Sédar Senghor, and the Algerian writer Mouloud Mammeri. Anthologies of translated African folktales for children even appeared.

To learn about the 2ndand now the 3rd— most recent wave — click here.

For more about African writing in China, read Feminist: A Dirty Word in Xi Jinping’s China?, or check out my bilingual database of African writing in Chinese translation (非洲文学:中文译本).

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Latest News (最新信息)

The New Xinjiang: Traveling when Uyghur

In Navigating Xinjiang’s Security Checkpoints, Darren Byler, anthropology PhD candidate at the University of Washington, relates his recent experiences in northwest China:

Over the course of a week in cities across Xinjiang, I went through dozens and dozens of checkpoints. I saw young Uighur officers berate elderly Uighurs for not showing their IDs. I saw numerous checkpoints at the sides of roads, where officers appeared to target young Uighur men and women. During my entire trip, I did not see a Han individual produce his or her ID, or even pause for a moment to wonder if they should.

At some checkpoints, officers also asked young Uighurs to give them the passwords to open their smartphones. At these checkpoints, the officers looked at the spyware app Clean Net Guard (Jingwang Weishi) that all Uighurs are now required to install on their phones. The officers matched the registration of the phone to the ID of the person, and they also checked if any alerts had been issued by the app. The app scans the content on the phone and content sent from the phone for any material deemed “extremist” or “separatist.” These types of checkpoints are particularly harrowing for young Uighurs. Evidence from these scans can be used to detain them indefinitely in the reeducation camps.

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Quote of the Week (本周精彩语录)

Altaic Storytelling Quote of the Week: Culture as “backroom bric-à-brac”

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China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译) Tibetan Topics (藏话题)

English Excerpt from “Prayers in the Wind” (祭语风中) by Tibetan Author Tsering Norbu

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Oral Literature (口头文学、史诗)

“Manas” Onstage: Ongoing Moves to Sinicize China’s Three Great Oral Epics

A large-scale, colourful rendition of the Kyrgyz epic Manas (玛纳斯史诗) was staged March 22-23 in Beijing’s ultra-modern Poly Theater. This performance came just two days after the newly anointed President Xi Jinping, speaking at the People’s Congress, cited two of the three great oral epics of non-Han peoples, Manas and the Tibetan-language King Gesar. While he
mangled the title of the latter (Xi Jinpingian Sager), their mere mention shows their importance in the Party’s current multiethnic-is-good narrative.

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 — primarily the Oirat Mongols and the Khitan —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.

Experts don’t agree on the epic’s history, but it has undoubtedly been around in oral form for at least several centuries. Composed in Kyrgyz, a language spoken by the Kyrgyz people in northwest Xinjiang and neighboring Kyrgyzstan, it was not available in full in Kyrgyz script until the mid-90s, and only then translated into Chinese. For details on the tribulations of the master manaschi, Jusup Mamay (居素普·玛玛依), who recited his 232,500-line version for prosperity (and was sentenced to a long stint of “reform through labor” during the Cultural Revolution for his efforts), see A Rehabilitated Rightist and his Turkic Epic.

For some time now, scholars at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the state media have been busy “re-packaging” these three epics in a way that emphasizes their Chineseness, while playing down their non-Han origins. The trio, which includes the Mongolian epic Jangar, are now frequently referred to as “China’s three great oral epics” (我国三大史诗), despite the fact that all three were composed in languages other than Chinese by peoples (Kyrgyz, Mongols and Tibetans) in territories that were not then firmly within the Chinese empire.

Media coverage of the Poly Theater production of Manas arguably takes this repurposing one step further.  Entitled Manas Epic Reenacted on the Opera Stage (史诗《玛纳斯》再现歌剧舞台), in the first two-thirds of the widely shared article, there are no mentions whatsoever of the word “Kyrgyz,” or references to the Kyrgyz people or language, or their homelands in Xinjiang or Kyrgyzstan. The opera, it reports, “recreates the magnificent, relentless struggle of the Chinese people [中国人民] for freedom and progress . . .”

Granted, “Kyrgyz” (柯尔克孜) does appear three times in the remaining third of the article, but it appears at the bottom in what is essentially a sidebar that describes the storyline of the opera; far from the eye-catching photos of the opera characters in exotic garb and the opening text that follows those colorful vignettes. Nowhere in the article is it noted that the epic was composed in a Turkic language (Kyrgyz) or that it is still considered by Kyrgyz speakers — on both sides of the border — to be the very incarnation of their identity as a nation.

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China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译)

Quick Guide to China’s Contemporary Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

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Talking Translation (翻译话题)

徐穆实受访:人民日报海外版转载 “建立驻地翻译基金” 的建议

Humes Proposes Translation-in-Residence Fund莫言获诺贝尔文学奖、麦家小说在海外畅销,外国翻译家功不可没。他们以优美的本国语言、适合西方人阅读的视角进行翻译,将中文图书接引到彼岸并焕发出神秘光彩。

最近,美国中文翻译家徐穆实(Bruce Humes)在个人网站上刊出公开信,就中国有关机构近年来推动的文学外译提出若干具体建议,将中国文学“走出去”的战略落到实处:

建立“驻地翻译”基金,积极征募外国翻译家到中国短期居住,体验中国文化,结识中国作家、翻译家和出版人(受惠对象应注重国别和语言的多样化,避免过度集中于英、法、德等欧洲语言);

放宽签证条件,以使翻译家工作期间合法居留中国;

办好网站,多搞活动,帮助中外翻译家们沟通和交流。

他的建议,不仅在海外的中国文学翻译圈内引起了共鸣,还让国内业界又一次正视“外国翻译家”这一文学出口生产线上的关键环节。

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China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译) Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸) My Literary Translations (本人的译著)

Author’s Afterword: “Last Quarter of the Moon”

 Afterword:

From the Mountains

 to the Sea

 

Birch trees in Greater Khingan MountainsThe birth of a literary work resembles the growth of a tree. It requires favorable circumstances.

Firstly, there must be a seed, the Mother of All Things. Secondly, it cannot lack for soil, nor can it make do without the sunlight’s warmth, the rain’s moisture or the wind’s caress.

In the case of The Last Quarter of the Moon, however, first there was soil, and only then was there a seed. For this land that turns muddy as the ice thaws in the spring, shaded by green trees in the summer and covered by motley leaves in the autumn and endless snow-white in the winter, is very familiar to me.

After all, I was born and raised on this land.  As a child entering the mountains to fetch firewood, more than once I discovered an odd head-shape on a thick tree trunk.  Father told me that was the image of the Mountain Spirit Bainacha, carved by the Oroqen.

I knew the Oroqen were an ethnic minority who lived on the outskirts of our mountain town. They resided in their open-top cuoluozi (teepees) where they could spy the stars at night.  In the summer they fished in their birch-bark canoes, and in the winter they hunted in the mountains wearing their parka and roe-deerskin boots. They liked to go horse riding, drink liquor and sing songs. In that vast and frigid land, their small tribe was like a pristine spring trickling deep in the mountains. Full of vitality, yet solitary.

I once believed that the masses of forestry workers, those loggers, were the genuine masters of the land, while the Oroqen in their animal hides were aliens from another galaxy.  Only later did I learn that before the Han came to the Greater Khingan Range, the Oroqen had long lived and multiplied on that frozen land.

Dubbed the “green treasure house,” the forest grew thick and animals abounded before it was exploited. There were very few roads and no railroad. Most paths in the wooded mountains were trodden by the nomadic hunting peoples, the Oroqen and the Evenki.

After large-scale exploitation of the forest began in the sixties, bevies of loggers were stationed in the forest and one road after another—for timber transport—appeared, along with railroad tracks.  Whizzing along those roads and tracks each day were trucks and trains laden with logs bound for destinations beyond the mountains. The sound of trees falling displaced birdcalls, and chimney smoke displaced clouds.

In reality, the exploitation of nature is not wrong; when God left man to fend for himself in the mortal world, wasn’t it to force him to find the answer to survival within Nature? The problem is, God wished us to seek a harmonious form of survival, not a rapacious, destructive one.

One, two, three decades passed, and the sound of tree felling quieted but didn’t cease. Continuous exploitation and certain irresponsible, reckless actions made the virgin forest begin to display signs of aging and decline. Like an apparition, dust storms suddenly appeared at the dawn of the new century.  At last, the sparse tree coverage and decimated animal population alerted us: we have exacted too much from Mother Nature!