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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

Synopsis: “Confessions of a Jade Lord”

My co-translation of Uyghur author Alat Asem’s novel set in Xinjiang has now been published.  Here is a brief synopsis of sorts, taken straight off the book’s back cover:

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》(阿拉提·阿斯木  著)

“Tell Eysa that he cannot live by drifting in the wind.

He should return and live in his own skin.

Only then will he be my son.”  

To get his greedy hands on nine hefty chunks of priceless creamy white, “mutton-fat” jade, Eysa and his gang administer a merciless beating to Xali, a fellow trader. Fearing arrest, Eysa flees Xinjiang for Shanghai where a plastic surgeon fits him with a state-of-the-art mask that allows him to return home, initially undetected even by his kin. But as his feud with Xali deepens — it emerges Xali was only maimed, not killed — Eysa gradually realizes the futility of attempting to amass a fortune under Time’s mute gaze.

Decades of double-digit growth have spawned a generation of nouveau riche in the booming 21st-century metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, spurring desire for fine jade, a traditional badge of wealth, and kick starting a modern-day “jade rush.” But supply is jealously guarded by the Turkic-speaking, Muslim Uyghur whose homeland — Xinjiang in China’s far northwest, a land of oases and massive desert once crisscrossed by camel caravans — remains the ultimate source for milk-white suet jade.
Confessions of a Jade Lord immerses us in an underworld peopled by gangsters with their penchant for firewater-fueled storytelling and philosophical reverie, appetite for Uyghur delicacies such as laghman hand-pulled noodles and whole roasted lamb, fierce loyalty to family and aghines, and a willingness to unsheathe their daggers when honor, brotherhood or jade require.Alat Asem’s fiction is a Uyghur universe where Han Chinese rarely figure. His hallmarks are serial womanizers — real hanzi who piss standing, not squatting — monikers that belittle, and a hybrid lingo with an odd but appealing Central Asian flavor.Alat Asem is Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, Writer of the Month (Jan 2019)


Two reviews are also up online now: One that ran in Turkey’s Daily Sabah, and another by a bilingual reviewer who read both the English and Chinese novels. To access the latter, you will need to go here, scroll down and click on the reviewer’s name, Cuilin Sang.

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸) Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) My Literary Translations (本人的译著)

Extract: Alat Asem’s Novel “Confessions of a Jade Lord” (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

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Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) Guo Xuebo's "Moŋgoliya" (蒙古里亚)

Altaic Storytelling: What We’re Reading Now (2017.5)

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.

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

Uyghur Author Alat Asem: Backgrounder in French

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

Alat Asem’s 《时间悄悄的嘴脸》: Guide to Related Links

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

Junma Literary Prize: Winners of National Award for Writing by non-Han Authors

Uyghur mafiosa: Alat Asem takes us into the colorful world of Xinjiang's Uyghur jade traders
Uyghur mafioso: Alat Asem takes us into the colorful world of Xinjiang’s jade traders

The winners of the Junma Literary Awards for Ethnic Minority Writers (骏马奖)  — handed out every three years since 1981 — have just been announced. The competition is designed to promote writing by authors who belong to one of China’s non-Han peoples. Entries are permitted in all indigenous languages. Eight of the 24 winners were written in a minority language, and three were translated into Mandarin, one each from Mongolian, Tibetan and Uyghur.

Of particular interest — to me — is the award to Uyghur author Alat Asem for his novel, 《时间悄悄的嘴脸》(Zuilian). I am currently co-translating this book from the Chinese with Jun Liu.

 

 

第十一届(2012—2015)全国少数民族文学创作 “骏马奖” 获奖名单

长篇小说奖

 

《白虎寨》 李传锋(土家族)
《破荒》 袁仁琮(侗族)
《时间悄悄的嘴脸》 阿拉提·阿斯木(维吾尔族)
《信仰树》(蒙古文) 乌·宝音乌力吉(蒙古族)
《昨天的部落》(藏文) 旦巴亚尔杰(藏族)

 

For full list that includes award-winning novels, short stories, reportage, poetry, essays, and translation, see 骏马奖.

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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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Chinese Fiction by & about Ethnic Minorities (中国少数民族文学)

2015 Mao Dun Prize: Who Will Snare Award for Unofficial “Ethnic-themed” Category?

Hong Ke's longlisted novel 《少女萨吾尔登》 interweaves Xinjiang, Mongolian and Shaanxi motifs
Hong Ke’s long listed novel “The Fleet-footed Sawadeng Dancing Girl”  interweaves Xinjiang, Mongolian and Shaanxi motifs

The longlist for what is arguably China’s most prestigious award for novels has just been published (第九届茅盾文学奖参评作品目录). I write “arguably” because, like virtually every literary competition in the PRC of late, even the reputation of the Mao Dun Literature Prize — sponsored by the very official Chinese Writers Association — has been questioned. See 2014: Year of the Chinese Literary Prize (Scandal)? for a wrap-up.

Awarded every four years to between three and five long works of fiction (at least 130,000 hanzi), they will be handed out again this year (2015). China-based publishers have nominated some 252 works distributed in hard copy form between 2011-2014.

Naturally, there are plenty of works by famous mainstream authors on the list, such as Ge Fei (江南三部曲), Jia Pingwa (古炉, 老生) and Han Shaogong (日夜书).

But here at Ethnic ChinaLit, our focus is on “writing by & about non-Han peoples of China.” And it is my understanding is that there is a tradition — albeit an unwritten rule — that each set of Mao Dun awards include one “ethnic-themed” work (民族题材的作品). In the past, winners included Huo Da’s Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼), Alai’s Red Poppies (尘埃落定), and Chi Zijian’s The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸).

By my count, there are at least 20 contenders for the prize that fall into the unofficial ethnic-themed category, i.e., the novel has major “non-Han” components in terms of characters and storyline. My impression is that the Chinese literary establishment has also become acutely aware of the need to identify and promote authors who not only write about ethnic minorities, but are themselves “ethnic” writers. That may give certain nominees a bit of an edge this time around — after all, winning titles and authors must definitely meet the prevailing standards of political correctness. Model writers, particularly hailing from restive border regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, are likely to be particularly in demand.

The recent brouhaha over Wolf Totem, the movie, is a good example of the pent up frustration among peoples

Mongolia: Guo Xuebo's explores the Shamanistic past of his people and his family
“Mongolia”: Guo Xuebo explores the Shamanistic roots of his people . . .  and his family

who are unhappy at seeing their culture commercialized for great profit —and possibly misinterpreted — by Han authors like Jiang Rong. See Breakthrough for Mongolian on the Screen for details of one author’s critique of the very idea that the wolf represents a totem for the Mongolian people.

I’ve gone through the list of 252 novels and done my best to identify non-Han authors and their works. No doubt I’ve missed some, and I welcome your additions and corrections. Interesting to note that this list is dominated by members of ethnicities located in northern China that traditionally speak an Altaic language such as Mongolian, Daur, Uyghur or Kazakh:

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木). For an excerpt of his writing, click on his short story Sidek Golden MobOff . I recently read the nominated work (a novella, actually), which I enjoyed. Asem’s fiction is a Uyghur world where Han just don’t figure; his hallmarks are womanizers, insulting monikers and a hybrid Chinese with an odd but appealing Turkic flavor.

《艾多斯 · 舒立凡》 by young Kazakh writer Aydos Amantay (艾多斯·阿曼泰) who won the Aksay New Writer’s Award for this work.

《忽必烈大汗》Kublai Khan by Mongolian writer Bagen (巴根)

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸) Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事)

July 2014: Update on Uyghur Writers and Writing as Crackdown Gains Momentum

In the wake of two high-profile and deadly attacks reportedly carried out by Uyghurs outside of their traditional homeland, the Chinese

Signatures of writers and translators on "Open Letter to our Uyghur Compatriots"
Signatures of writers and translators on “Open Letter to our Uyghur Compatriots”

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.

Alat Asem, Bilingual Uyghur author
Alat Asem, Bilingual Uyghur author

Meanwhile, how is the crackdown impacting the “official” literary scene? Here are a few May-June factoids for your reference:

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Alat Asem's "Confessions of a Jade Lord" (时间悄悄的嘴脸) Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) My Literary Translations (本人的译著)

Excerpt: Uyghur Writer Alat Asem’s “Sidik Golden MobOff”

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.”