In the wake of two high-profile and deadly attacks reportedly carried out by Uyghurs outside of their traditional homeland, the Chinese
authorities have launched a multi-faceted campaign to crush what they see as a terrorist movement that aims at founding an independent state in the Xinjiang autonomous region covering one-sixth of Chinese territory.
I am referring here to the Beijing “2013 Tian’anmen Square Attack” in which a 4 x 4 crashed into a crowd and burst into flames near Mao’s famous portrait, killing the passengers and two tourists, while injuring 38. And on March 1 this year, eight knife-wielding attackers appeared at the Kunming train station in Yunnan Province, and reportedly slashed 29 people to death while injuring 140 others.
As we enter Ramadan (June 28-July 27), when pious Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, Radio Free Asia (Anti-Terrorism Measures) reports that the authorities in Ürümqi are taking the strictest measures ever to ensure that there are no “incidents” during this, the most important month in the Muslim calendar. They include: newly installed surveillance cameras in mosques; preparation for “sudden-strike” searches of Uyghur households to break up unauthorized gatherings; requiring halal restaurants to remain open during the hours of the fast; and Muslim students at university will attend “patriotic study” classes and eat in the school canteen during the day so that they cannot practice fasting.
It should be noted, however, that some of RFA’s information about the crackdown comes from a spokesperson for the World Uyghur Congress, an organization of exiled Uyghur groups that is based outside China.
Meanwhile, how is the crackdown impacting the “official” literary scene? Here are a few May-June factoids for your reference:
It began back in 2008 with Penguin investing heavily—$100,000 is the rumored price—to purchase Jiang Rong’s tale based in Inner Mongolia, Wolf Totem. In 2013 two newly translated novels joined China’s “borderland fiction” category: Fan Wen’s Une terre de lait et de miel, located in the gateway to Tibet straddling Yunnan and Sichuan, and Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, which features the reindeer-herding Evenki whose lives revolve around the Argun River that demarcates the Sino-Russian border.
Penned in Chinese, these novels are the creations of Han authors who have consciously chosen to set their tales among non-Han peoples who have historically resided at the fringes of the Middle Kingdom. Ran Ping’s Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事), a fictionalized biography of Genghis Khan that was short-listed for the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2008, also falls into this category, but it has not been translated into any European language.
Of course, there are popular novelists of various ethnicities who choose to write about their people using Chinese. Part-Tibetan Alai, author of The Song of Gesar (格萨尔王) and Red Poppies (尘埃落定), comes to mind, for instance.
But what about ethnic writers who not only speak two languages native to China, but write in both? Two have recently come to my attention, one who writes in Tibetan and Chinese, and another who uses both Uyghur and Chinese.
Here’s an excerpt from my translation of Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》) by the bilingual Uyghur author, Alat Asem (阿拉提 · 阿斯木), that is published in full in Issue 14 of Chutzpah!:
IN A WORLD of snow and ice, buses began to budge and Muslims began to discuss Sidik Golden MobOff in hushed tones.
One comment reached my ears from a bus seat behind me. “In summary, this deceased mate of ours was a rather odd fellow, and the words at my disposal are insufficient to dissect his temperament.”
An old gentleman seated in front of me, sporting a modest, not fully white beard with intermingled deposits of grey (like the striped skin of a Xinjiang cantaloupe), had an amiable look about him. He sighed at length, and pronounced: “Folk good and bad both die, but the bad all die in wintertime.”
I didn’t speak out immediately, because the people in this place live according to long- standing custom. If someone has a beard, you bite your tongue and offer up a smile, even if you are the one endowed with heavenly wisdom.
I once remarked to Sidik Golden MobOff that this is the kind of place where bearded men aren’t friendly, and friendly men don’t wear beards. He said that beards represent time, and friendliness is greed, and it’s all one and the same.
But at the time I couldn’t help myself. “Esteemed Elder Brother,” I said, “pardon me, for I’m young and unbearded. But hearing what was just said, the heart itches and the mouth is hot, and I also want to say a word or two.
“As young as I am, I count not a few friends among Elder Brothers, and know truckfuls of knowledgeable Gentlemen and lesser types, and I’ve chewed on my share of ancient books and works by current authors, but I’ve yet to hear this adage: ‘The bad all die in the wintertime.’ Pray tell, Elder Brother, are you a university genius, or an Immortal from a seat of learning in the Heavens?”
Elder Brother turned around and looked me straight in the eye. “Whom do you take yourself for?”
“A person complete with a nose, ears and eyes.”
“You’re still young,” said Elder Brother. “When you’ve lived to my age, come look for me again.”
Good news from the bimonthly Chinese literary magazine Chutzpah! (天南): the latest edition (Issue 14) is devoted entirely to writing by authors of non-Han descent. Several languages are involved here—most are published in Chinese, but some were written in other tongues and then translated into Chinese, while one has been rendered in English.
The latter deserves a special mention because . . . I translated it. It’s a marvelous short story by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), entitled Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》). If you want to read it in full, you’ll have to purchase the magazine in hard copy form, but here’s an excerpt. But for more information on the author, see China’s Bilingual Writers: Narrative with a Difference. And if you can read Chinese, check out this very informative interview with the author, 地域化、全球化和双语写作.