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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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Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸)

“Duobukuer River”: Daur Writer Paints Brighter Future of One Who Left the Greater Khingan Range Behind

Dealing with life in the city for new generation of formerly nomadic aborigines forced off their land by Han loggers and China’s “ethnic” policies

Ever since I completed my translation of Han author Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, set in the Greater Khingan Range (大兴安岭) that divides the Manchurian plain of northeastern China from the Mongolian Plateau of Inner Mongolia, I’ve been wondering: How would one of the indigenous nomadic peoples, an Evenki, Oroqen or Daur for instance, recount the tale of how they lost their mountains, rivers and shamans, only to face modern life in “fixed settlements,” or even as migrants to big cities where the Han dominate?

With Sa Na’s new untranslated novel 《多布库尔河》 (literally, Duobukuer River), we have one answer, according to a book review that appeared recently on the web site of the China Writers Association (鄂伦春族的心灵秘史).

Sa Na (萨娜) is a Daur (达斡尔族) born in Yakeshi in the northern part of the Greater Khingan Range, although her story’s protagonists are Oroqen (鄂伦春族), a people related to the Evenki (鄂温克族) featured in Chi Zijian’s novel.

I haven’t read Sa Na’s novel, so my impressions are based solely on the review. But the similarities between Duobukuer River and Chi Zijian’s 2006 novel are striking:

Categories
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!