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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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Guo Xuebo's "Moŋgoliya" (蒙古里亚) My Literary Translations (本人的译著)

Borderland Fiction: “The Mongol Would-be Self-Immolator,” Excerpted from Guo Xuebo’s “Moŋgoliya”

Asia-Pacific Journal has published an excerpt I selected and translated from Guo Xuebo’s contemporary work, Moŋgoliya《蒙古里亚》:

Set in China’s 21st-century Inner Mongolia, the novel is a semi-autobiographical tale by Guo Xuebo, a Mongol who grew up speaking the language of his people. It comprises three distinct but intertwined narratives: a spiritual journey, in which the author — ostensibly the narrator — seeks his Shamanic roots, long obscured in post-1949, officially atheist China; vignettes from the Mongolian adventures of Henning Haslund-Christensen, born to a Danish missionary family in 1896, and real-life author of the anthropological masterpiece Men and Gods in Mongolia; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu, a modern-day fictional Mongol herdsman, considered by many to be the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by desertification and coal mine truckers running roughshod over his tiny plot of land.

The excerpt that follows craftily satirizes what might be dubbed “wéiwěn paranoia,” the mania around implementing the central government’s “stability maintenance” policy (维稳), and unexpectedly manages to touch on two taboo topics: the exploitation of traditional Mongolian pasture lands by ruthless coal mining firms, and self-immolation, a horrific yet galvanizing form of protest heretofore largely limited to regions inhabited by Tibetans.

To read the introduction and full excerpt, click here. 

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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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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)

Inner Mongolian Artists Speak Up as Mining and Logging Encroach on Traditional Grazing Lands

Protests over land have occurred in several herding communities in Inner Mongolia during May and early June, according to RFA (Grassland Protests Spread). Ethnic Mongolian herders say access to traditional grazing land is increasingly being curtailed or permanently denied in favor of mining and logging projects, or highway construction. Inadequate or total lack of compensation for the land is also an issue.

Among the communities where protests have taken place are Tulee Gachaa, Mingren Som Township, Zaruud Banner and Ar-Horchin Banner. Arrests have been made, cell phones used by onlookers to shoot videos of police actions have been confiscated, and in one instance in Zaruud Banner, one herder was reportedly beaten unconscious by police and is “still receiving emergency medical treatment in the Zaruud Banner People’s Hospital,” according to the RFA report.

Unrest due to government-supported exploitation of Inner Mongolian natural resources is not a new phenomenon. Back in June 2011, a Han truck driver was found guilty of running over a Mongolian herder who was “blocking a road to protest environmental damage by trucks hauling coal,” and — in a move that shows how seriously the authorities viewed the large-scale protests at the time — the driver was sentenced to death (Truck Driver).

Angered by the news blackout that followed the herder’s violent death, and the way official propaganda has long sought to blame desertification of the grasslands on the Mongol’s traditional way of life, a young Mongolian rapper composed an emotional song in memory of the unfortunate herder — in Chinese — that went viral before it was deleted and/or firewalled by the authorities (献给草原英雄莫日根的歌):

Yo, I am a Mongol even if I sing my rap in Chinese
No matter what you say I am a Mongol
Mongol blood flows in my veins

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Other (其他)

Writers React to Comrade Xi Jinping’s Foray into Literary Criticism

It has taken a bit of time, but Chinese authors have begun to publicize their reaction to Xi Jinping’s speech at the Beijing Oct 15 Forum on Literature and Art Work. While slavish praise has been appropriately abundant, a handful of Art Workers do not appear to be singing in unison. We’ll skip the former and focus on the latter because they’re more fun.

Tellingly, some well known authors have chosen to express their views online in op-eds at the New York Times, first in English, then in Chinese. Both sites are blocked in the PRC, ever since the NYT ran its muckraking report on the massive wealth acquired by the family of then-premier Wen Jiabao.

Yan Lianke’s essay (bilingual version) opens with a reference to his childhood, when “China’s efforts to promote socialism in the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in what is euphemistically known as the three years of natural disasters, during which more than 30 million people starved to death.” This experience, in particular his mother’s stark explanation of what kind of clay and tree bark one should or should not eat in order to survive, led him to recognize that “darkness is not the mere absence of light, but rather it is life itself. Darkness is the Chinese people’s fate.”

In a nod to Xi Jinping’s call for China’s artists to “use light to disperse darkness,” Yan Lianke (阎连科) asserts that it is indeed “a writer’s job to find life within this darkness.” But in his closing sentence, he clearly opposes Xi Jinping’s insistence — consistent with Mao’s — that literature and art “must persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism,” and implies that the writer does not need The Party’s guidance to perform his mission:

. . . only the pursuit of true art, unencumbered by anyone, can help us find the delicate light, beauty, warmth and love that are hidden in the darkness.