Sales of Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著), Huo Da’s classic saga of a Hui family in Beijing that spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution, have now topped three million copies, according to a press conference held in the capital on September 11 (突破).
This arguably makes the tale, which won the Mao Dun Literature Award in 1991, the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever written by a non-Han writer — Huo Da is a Hui, who are principally ethnic Muslims numbering around ten million.
From the synopsis at Paper Republic:
If the novel is not well known in the West, neither are the Hui, the “other” dominant Muslim people in China who actually number over ten million. Unlike the Turkic-speaking Uyghur of Xinjiang, the Hui are descendants of Silk Road travelers — Arab, Persian and Central Asians — who married Han Chinese and converted to Islam, itself introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Arab traders.
Apart from its power as a tale of love and history, Funeral of a Muslim has played a unique role in introducing Islam to Chinese readers, many of whom know little about the Muslim communities that have made up a part of Chinese society for
centuries. Apart from descriptions of Muslim customs and rituals, the novel was instrumental in launching public discussion of the essentially multi-cultural nature of China, even stirring up controversy for its direct address of latent ethnic tensions.
It continues to be a favorite with readers for its depiction of the ways in which the strictures of history, culture, and religion influence the courses of individual loves: guiding, shaping, curbing, destroying.
Like to read an English excerpt from the novel? Click here.
Several news items reported that at the news conference, Huo Da revealed she is negotiating the rights for a TV series to be based on her novel. The promotion of her novel and the possibility of a regular TV progam come at a time when China is at pains to highlight the fair treatment of Muslims, given the negative publicity generated by the 2014 Kunming train station attack, reportedly carried out by Uyghur separatists, and the government’s fierce crackdown on Uyghur culture in Xinjiang. By comparison with Uyghur, Hui are widely regarded in China as law-abiding, “good” Muslims who are better integrated into mainstream Chinese society.
On the literary translation front that targets international audiences, both Hui and Uyghur writers are getting a helping hand from the authorities. Since 2013, the China Writers Association has subsidized an ongoing project to enable translation and publication of fiction by ethnic writers (当代少数民族文学对外翻译工程), according to Li Jingze, Secretary of the China Writers Association (Export Strategies). Some 54 “projects” were undertaken in 2013-14, and “almost half have been published.”
I requested and received a list of those titles that have been published so far — 26 out the total 54. They include 6 by Hui and 2 by Uyghur writers:
A She (Uyghur): 奔跑的骨头 into Arabic, 阿舍著
Bao Dongni (Hui): 问题非儿 into Korean, 保冬妮著
Chen Cun (Hui): 象 into Farsi, 陈村著
Li Jinxiang (Hui): 换水 into Arabic, 李进祥著
Perhat Ilyas (Uyghur): 楼兰古国奇幻之旅 into English, 帕尔哈提·伊力牙斯著
Shi Shuqing (Hui): 灰袍子 into Arabic and 西海固的事情 into Japanese, 石舒清著
Zha Shun (Hui): 风流云散 into Arabic, 查瞬著
(2020.4 update: As I understand it, Rachel Hanson has been commissioned to translate the full novel into English)
A children’s literature exhibition and copyright exchange for countries along the Silk Road were two of the major focuses of the just-ended Beijing Int’l Book Fair, reports the Global Times (Book Fair):
Children’s book publishers from 15 Arab countries and 18 domestic publishers signed deals that will see the best of children’s literature from China and the Middle East be shared between the two regions.
Given the increasing number of culture exchanges between China and Arabian countries, the China
Publishing Group, China’s largest publishing company, has worked on expanding cooperation with over 20 countries in the Middle East. At the fair, the publisher announced it closed a deal with Middle Eastern publishers to bring Maodun Literature Prize winner Zhou Daxin’s Requiem [安魂] to the region. The publishing house’s Mottos of Modern Chinese previously sold more than 10,000 copies in the region — a record for Chinese books sold in the Middle East.
This will come as no surprise to you, assuming you’ve been following the developments about China’s far-reaching One Belt, One Road campaign (一带一路), a development strategy and framework that seeks to foster connectivity and cooperation between China and the countries along the ancient Silk Road.
At the moment, the Silk Road Economic Belt is getting a lot of press coverage for its grandiose proposed infrastructure projects, and the fact that it is making Moscow and Washington rather jittery. But there’s a more subtle side to it. The “Silk Road Fragrant Books Project” (丝路书香工程) is effectively the cultural component of the campaign. Given the stamp of approval by China’s Ministry of Propaganda, it is designed to stimulate the translation and publication of great literary, historical and cultural works that are grounded in the cultures of peoples along the ancient Silk Road.
The project plan for 2014-20 includes translation subsidies, translations between Chinese and various foreign languages, international exhibitions, and a database of Silk Road publications. The definition of “silk road” is quite broad, including both the original land-based caravan routes from Xi’an through Central and West Asia, the Middle East and Europe, as well as the so-called Maritime Silk Road that linked the South China Sea, South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
As I reported in Slice of the Pie, the Silk Road Fragrant Books Project already claims a number of achievements. Agreements were inked in 2014 to set up “mechanisms” to facilitate mutual silk road translation projects with countries such as Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Nationalities Publishing House (民族出版社) has reportedly undertaken to publish 17 books in Kazakh, including Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems (唐诗三百首) and the contemporary classic The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政) by none other than President Xi Jinping.
Hui author Li Jinxiang (李进祥), born in the 1960s, recently introduced Ningxia writers of fiction and poetry in an article entitled 纯净朴诚的宁夏少数民族文学. I haven’t read most of these authors and hope to write about them in detail in the future, but for now, I’ll just cite some authors and works for reference.
Major Ningxia-based writers since the 1960s to our day include 马知遥 (Ma Zhiyao), 石舒清 (Shi Shuqing), 查舜 (Cha Shun), 郎伟 (Lang Wei), 金瓯 (Jin Ou), 李进祥 (Li Jinxiang), 白草 (Bai Cao), 单永珍 (Shan Yongzhen), 马占祥 (Ma Zhanxiang), 了一容 (Liao Yirong), 马金莲 (Ma Jinlian), 平原 (Ping Yuan), 阿舍 (A She), 曹海英 (Cao Haiying), and 马悦 (Ma Yue).
Almost all write in Chinese. Ethnicities include Dongxiang, Hui, Manchu, Mongolian, Salar, and Uyhgur. Many are Muslim and religious motifs are common.
Over the last few months a number of reporters have e-mailed to ask about the state of Chinese literature in translation, particularly in light of Mo Yan’s winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. But most cite just a handful of authors and works in their questions— and Shanghai Baby, translated by yours truly over a decade ago!—is often one of them.
My advice to them is simple: do your homework, please! For starters, check out Paper-Republic. All sorts of goodies over there, including a list of translated Chinese fiction (and poetry) published in 2012, Chinese fiction published in 2013, and a Translator Directory too.
Here at Altaic Storytelling, we focus on writing by & about non-Han peoples, particularly those which speak an Altaic language, but not exclusively. And it is interesting to note that translated fiction with an “ethnic” twist has been building up steam for a while, pre-dating the Mo Yan craze, in fact.
To my mind, the impetus for the increased profile of Chinese literature in the outside world began when China was named “Guest of Honor” at the 2009 Frankfurt Int’l Book Fair. Chinese authors and publishers socialized with their European counterparts—many for the first time—and important contacts and contracts resulted, with the books born of this schmoozing finally hitting the market 2-3 years later.
In China is Focusing on the Fringes published in March this year, literary translator Nicky Harman presciently pointed out that “independent–minded Chinese writers are becoming seriously interested in the geographical fringes of ‘China proper’, drawing on its people, their traditions and conflicts at work.” And as you can see below, foreign publishers are interested. When you consider that over the last few years just 15 or so Chinese novels have appeared in English each year—ethnic or no—this table looks a bit more impressive.
Indeed. So, to show this more graphically—and perhaps even to save myself a bit of hassle in recreating the wheel for the next journalist who wants to pick my brains—I’ve put together this table. If you know something I should add to it, including current projects that will be published in 2014, please let me know!