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Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸)

Guide to Related Links: Chi Zijian’s “Last Quarter of the Moon” (额尔古纳河右岸)

Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon

《额尔古纳河右岸》(迟子建著)

A Multilingual List of Translations, Book Reviews,
Academic Papers & Related Info

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Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译) Latest News (最新信息)

Swedish Readers to Get First Glance into World of China’s Marginalized Reindeer Herders

With the upcoming launch of Ett brokigt band om renens horn, we have a rare instance of a member of China’s dwindling reindeer-herding Evenki telling her people’s story in a European language. Given the historic

“There are some things that, if I don’t record them, will truly be forgotten. I began collecting and collating our traditional handicrafts and legends. I want to use words to leave a record of everything about us Evenki.”

marginalization of Scandinavia’s own semi-nomadic reindeer-herders, the Sami, it is particularly significant to see that the first translation of the novel will appear in Swedish.

Translator and co-publisher Anna Gustaffsson Chen tells me that the book is being printed right now, and should be available “within a few weeks.” It is translated direct from the novel in Chinese, 驯鹿角上的彩带 (lit., colored ribbon on the reindeer’s horns), authored by Keradam Balajieyi, the daughter of the Evenki’s last Shamaness. See here for more about the novel.

The unique lifestyle and gradual 20th-century demise of the Evenki, particularly the Aoluguya Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains on the China side of the Amur, has actually been fairly well documented, but usually by outsiders. One of the first written records was penned by Gu Deqing (顾德清), a Han with an intense interest in the Evenki, who — despite efforts by the authorities to protect the isolated Evenki from contact with the outside world — hunted with them in 80s and wrote (the as yet untranslated) 猎民生活日记 (lit., Diary of a Hunting People’s Life). Gu Tao (顾桃), his son by his Manchu wife, has since gone on to shoot several renowned documentaries about them.  See Gu Tao’s Northern Hunting People for dozens of still photos featuring the Evenki lifestyle, handicrafts and their beloved reindeer.

Nor has the plight of the Evenki been neglected by foreign anthropologists. See Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer-Evenki of Inner Mongolia, by Richard Fraser.

But perhaps the best known tale of the Aoluguya Evenki is the one told in Chi Zijian’s much-translated novel, 额尔古纳河右岸, now available in Dutch, English (The Last Quarter of the Moon), French, Italian, Japanese, Korean and Spanish. See here for a multilingual list of related links.

In fact, Chinese-to-Swedish translator Chen is also slated to translate The Last Quarter of the Moon from the Chinese, but has apparently chosen to do Ett brokigt band om renens horn first. It will be interesting to compare the two, because Chi Zijian is a monolingual Han writer imagining herself as an Evenki woman in her 90s, while Balajieyi is writing about her own people.

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Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸)

“Le Dernier Quartier de Lune”: French version of Chi Zijian’s ode to the Evenki to launch in September

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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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Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸)

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Readers Speak Out

An admittedly quirky collection — selected by me — of unedited online reviews of my translation of Chi Zijian’s 额尔古纳河右岸 (Last Quarter of the Moon). Not to worry. They aren’t all glowing recommendations. . .

* * *

Beautifully written, but depressing as fuck. (full text)

* * *

It is an atmospheric modern folk-tale, the saga of the Evenki clan of Inner Mongolia – nomadic reindeer herders whose traditional life alongside the Argun river endured unchanged for centuries, only to be driven almost to extinction during the political upheavals of the 20th century. (full text) 

* * *

Don’t let anyone kid you that this is anthropology in fictional guise however. Last Quarter is a real novel and the personalities of each of the herders, their sorrows and their joys, shine through. What I found very moving was their stoicism. And that’s not the same as fatalism. They suffer just like us. (full text)

* * *

Favourite line: “They faced each other like weathered cliffs” (full text)  

* * *

The account of the end of the traditional way of life is sentimental. Chi Zijian has not said anything which is likely to offend the Communist party or the Chinese state, but she has not told the truth for the Evenki. There is a story to be told about the genocide of the foraging people worldwide. The Last Quarter of the Moon isn’t that. (full text) 

* * *

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

1982-2015 Mao Dun Prize: 43 Winners — But which Ones Truly Benefited Sales-wise?

Bi Feiyu's "Massage": Major sales bump immediately after 2011 award
Bi Feiyu’s “Massage”: Got major sales bump in China immediately after 2011 award

Over the last few years, the veil has been partially lifted on what has been China’s most coveted literary prize for the novel, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, which is awarded just once every four years. You can bone up on the scandals behind this and other awards here if you like.

The Beijing Daily has just published an interesting article (茅奖销售) which details “before and after” sales figures, queries authors on how winning the award has affected their work, and concludes with a brief overview of 1982-2015 winning titles by literary critic Bai Ye (白烨).

Over the years the competition has evolved, if painfully slowly, with voting becoming more transparent, for instance. Sadly, this didn’t prevent staunch servant of the state Wang Meng from winning this year with his — in my eyes at least — virtually unreadable The Scenery Over Here, which is set in Xinjiang in the 70s.

But the standards are apparently in flux too. Reports the Beijing Daily, citing author Bi Feiyu:

“Beginning with the 8th Mao Dun Prize [2011], this national-level award has undergone a revolutionary change. Most importantly, the aesthetic standards tend to be freer and more inclusive.” In his eyes, it’s precisely because of this change in direction that his Massage [推拿] could win. “After all, in the past only writing such as epics and those with grand themes could get the prize.”

The article, though interesting, isn’t short. So here are the key factoids:

White Deer Plain by Chen Zhongshi (白鹿原, 陈忠实著)

  • Censored as part of tit-for-tat deal behind the awarding of the prize in 1997. See here for a few juicy details.

Funeral of a Muslim by Huo Da (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著)

  • Recent news conference reported total sales have topped 3m copies. Awarded in 1991.

Ordinary World by Lu Yao (平凡的世界, 路遥著)

  • Over 3m copies total, including 400,000 in 2014 alone. Awarded in 1991.

Frog by Mo Yan (蛙, 莫言著)

  • Award date: 2011
  • Pre-award sales: 160,000
  • Post-award sales: Now totals 1m+. Probably more due to his winning the Nobel . . . than the Mao Dun prize!

Massage by Bi Feiyu (推拿, 毕飞宇著)

  • Award date: 2011
  • Pre-award sales: 48,000 copies over 4 years.
  • Post-award sales: 150,000+ just in 2011 when awarded, and nearing 400,000 total within 2015.

Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)

  • Award date: 2008
  • Pre-award sales: 40,000-50,000. Post-award sales: 300,000+ to date.
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Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事) Oral Literature (口头文学、史诗)

Mongolian Shaman Songs of Praise Rendered in Chinese

Two poets have collaborated to publish a book containing 29 renditions of songs of praise traditionally chanted by shaman. The original odes in Mongolian were first translated into Mandarin by Mongolian scholar Ni Ma (尼玛), and then polished by Xi Murong (席慕蓉), who also knows Mongolian but was educated in Taiwan. The book is published by the Ethnic Publishing House (北京民族出版社), according to a report in Chinawriter (萨满神歌).

Entitled 萨满神歌 (lit., sacred songs of the shaman), they offer praise mainly to mothers, and the spirits of mountains and rivers. Such songs are passed on orally and rarely written down.

Shaman and their lyrics do occasionally appear in 21st-century Chinese fiction, however. For example, here are three novels with key roles for shaman, the first below being Evenki (and a woman), while the latter two are Mongolian:

  • Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)
  • Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事, 冉平著)
  • Mongolia by Guo Xuebo (蒙古里亚, 郭雪波著). This is a powerful new semi-autobiographical work by an author who is the descendent of a line of shaman. I’m working now on an excerpt and hope to post in September.
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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)

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Evenki Odyssey Captured in Chinese Novel Set in the Greater Khingan Mountains

My translation of Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸) can be ordered — e-book, hard cover and paperback — online at various places, including Amazon. Read the opening for free here (click on the cover), or the author’s Afterword.

For information on other editions, see: Dutch (Het laatste kwartier van de maan), French,  Italian (Ultimo quarto di Luna), Japanese (アルグン川の右岸), Spanish (A la orilla derecha del Río Argún ), and Turkish. 

If you’d like to peruse a book review, choose your language: ChineseEnglish, French, or Spanish. There’s also an in-depth interview with me about the novel in Chinese (中文采访).

Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Right Bank of the Argun—as it is dubbed in Chinese — is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested mountains that border on Russia.

At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.

For an academic study of the ideologies behind the government’s official policy of resettling the Evenki—and an in-depth look at the psychological impact of divorcing them from their “reindeer lifeworld”— see Forced Relocation amongst the Reindeer Evenki of Inner Mongolia.

Visit Northern Hunting Culture for marvelous pictures of the Aoluguya Evenki, their lifestyle and handicrafts.

For a fascinating look at the etymology of names for rivers, mountains and forests in their homeland on either side of the Sino-Russian border, see Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì.

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Altaic Peoples & Tales (阿尔泰各民族及其故事)

Profile of Octogenarian Orochen: Folk Song Singer, Folk Tale and Dictionary Compiler

Among one of the first batches of young Orochen (鄂伦春) chosen to receive a formal Chinese-language education in Zhalantun in 1948, E’erdenggua (额尔登挂) was just 17 at the time. She had never been outside her village on the banks of Chuo’er River (绰尔河畔) in Inner Mongolia, and didn’t speak a word of Chinese. Now 84, she was recently profiled in Zhongguo Minzu Bao (老人的鄂伦春文化情缘).

Orochen songstress E'erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)
Orochen songstress E’erdenggua (Note the teepee at right, traditional lodging for the Orochen and Evenki)

Although she later held various jobs with the Bureau of Commerce in China’s first Orochen Autonomous Banner until retirement, she never lost interest in her native language or culture.  A brief list of her achievements as noted in the article:

Orochen dress: Personally handicrafted folk costumes and Shaman ritual attire that are now part of collections at the Beijing History Museum, Inner Mongolia Museum (Hohhot), Hulunbuir Ethnography Museum, Oroqen Museum (Hulunbuir) and Evenki Museum (Hulunbuir).

Folk songs: She compiled and sang Orochen folk songs. Designated as an expert regarding traditional hunting songs known as Zàndárén (赞达仁). Her collection includes love songs, narratives and shamanic chants.

Orochen dictionary: Spent 3 years compiling an Orochen dictionary using IPA. Unfortunately never published for lack of funding.

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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)

“Last Quarter of the Moon”: Evenki Place Names behind the Hànzì

I grew up in places with names like “Winnetka” and “Sewickley,” spellings no doubt based on mangled transliterations

1,800+ Evenki place names: many inspired by Russian, Mongolian and Manchu

of old, even ancient Native American words. I vaguely recall that Sewickley meant “sweet water,” but no one seemed sure.

How many cities, mountains and rivers in China, I wondered, hide their non-Han origins?