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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)

Mapping Mongolian Music

In 蒙古音乐地图计划:如何面对外界错位的蒙古文化想象?Thepaper.cn reports on a young Chinese citizen of Mongolian heritage, Odon Tuya (敖登托雅) who has initiated her own “Mongolian Music Map Project” (蒙古音乐地图计划). Her aim: To document the current indie Mongolian music scene – including traditional musicians in Mongolian Music Mapplaces like Xinjiang – via published interviews and, eventually, to capture it on film. A writer and a music critic, she has already interviewed 150 musicians, agents, folk song scholars and fans, according to the report. Here’s an excerpt from the Jan 29 2016 interview conducted in Chinese (translation is mine):

Odon Tuya: Due to regional differences and local cultural history, there are many distinctions between musical categories. Differences in tribal culture exist not only in terms of language and dress; even music has been impacted. When you mention Mongolian music, many people think only of the horse-head fiddle [morin khuur or 马头琴], throat singing [hoomii or 呼麦 ] or long song [urtyn duu or 长调]. In fact, very few people have an understanding of the variety of musical types and instruments involved. Unity evolves and is based upon a foundation of collective characteristics and slight differences. Obscured cultural traditions and the Mongolian spirit [蒙古精神] are what is held in common; regional divergences are what has created such variety and richness . . . be it professional musicians or folk artists, and regardless of the musical genre or the instruments played, they represent the most intuitive manifestation of the Mongolian spirit.

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China's Ethnic-themed Fiction in Translation (中国民族题材文学的外译) My Literary Translations (本人的译著)

Excerpt: Hong Ke’s Xinjiang novel, “Urho”

Hong Ke’s novel, Urho (乌尔禾, 红柯著), is set during the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Gurbantünggüt Desert. This remote and rugged area of Xinjiang was once a favored hunting ground for the Mongol Khans when they ruled Cathay. A Han soldier back from the Korean front — dubbed “Hailibu” by the乌尔禾封面 locals after the legendary Mongolian hero graced with the gift of understanding animal speech — runs a sheep ranch for the Xinjiang Construction Corps.

** Excerpt **

It was the tail-end of summer, and Hailibu hadn’t imagined that the boy would grow so intimate with the lambs. This was Hailibu’s error. He had forgotten that Weijiang’s affinity with the animal world was rapidly deepening.

Before the traditional time for setting sheep free — late autumn — had arrived, Weijiang set free a pair on his own.

This caused Hailibu considerable consternation. It was one thing for an old man to perform such a ritual, but perhaps this act of charity was best not performed by a child. Alone deep in the wilderness, Hailibu pounded his head.

Hailibu spoke with Weijiang’s father, suggesting the boy leave the sheep ranch. The man imagined his son must have stirred up some trouble. Yet when Hailibu explained about the boy’s releasing sheep into the wild, Weijiang’s father just laughed.

Freein’ a sheep, is that such a big thing?” said the father. “When that boy’s momma had him in her belly, she let hares go. At our place, they used to come and go whenever they pleased. I don’t know how many hares we freed, me ’n her. Hedgehogs too. Like fresh meat delivered to our door, but we saw ’em off in fine health.”

So somebody let a pair of your sheep go, and you feel bad, right?” he queried Hailibu. “I’ll give you ’nother two to make up for it.”

The hell you will! Let’s have a drink.”

The pair sat down on the kang and finished off a bottle of liquor. Hailibu felt relieved.

* * *

Time passed, but Hailibu remained uneasy. Having made arrangements for the ranch, he mounted his horse and began roaming the steppe. He rode to Toli and Hoboksar in North Xinjiang. He listened wistfully to urtyn duu, the famed Long-Song of the Mongolians, and to folk songs sung by Aken, Kazakh minstrels who play the stringed dongbula.

Hailibu visited the most respected Elder on the steppe. A virtual encyclopedia of the grasslands, the old man could narrate ancient legends for months on end. Among these tales, however, few mentioned a child setting sheep free.

This weighty matter on Hailibu’s conscience didn’t escape notice. “Guest from afar,” said the Elder, “Speak what is on your heart. Otherwise it will freeze over.”

Hailibu explained that a boy at his ranch had freed a pair of sheep on his own.

The old man was unfazed. “How far can they go, sheep released by a youngster?” Before the old man could utter another word, Hailibu began to tremble and prepared to kneel.

They were released by one child, so they shall be taken in by another,” announced the Elder, matter of factly. At which point, Hailibu prostrated himself with a thud.

Fathers are like that,” chuckled the Elder. Two young Kazakhs lifted the visitor off the ground. Hailibu clambered into his saddle like a drunkard.

Can he ride that way?” asked one of the young men as Hailibu’s horse departed. “He’s falling asleep. Better bring him back!”

A horseman doesn’t sleep in a tent or on a prairie,” said the Elder. “For him, the steadiest bed is a saddle.”

Hong Ke wrote "Urho" in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)
Hong Ke wrote “Urho” in Chinese, but it has been translated into Uyghur (see cover, above)

Hailibu was indeed exhausted. On the steppe, there is a custom: When a man reaches the limits of his fatigue, in his stupor he climbs into his saddle, releases the reins and lets his steed take charge. Dreams know no boundaries, nor does sleep. This carefree, directionless rambling is a gift from the Heavens, when a Spirit takes brief possession of the body.

Like a bird, a gazelle, a deer or a wild stallion,” said the Elder to the young men. “That’s a life worthy of envy.” [end]

Like to read the full Chapter 3 from Hong Ke’s Xinjiang-based novel? Contact Ms. Wang Ting (wangting904@163.com) at Beijing October Arts & Literature Publishing House.