It began back in 2008 with Penguin investing heavily—$100,000 is the rumored price—to purchase Jiang Rong’s tale set in Inner Mongolia, Wolf Totem. This year two newly translated novels have joined China’s “borderland fiction” category: Fan Wen’s Une terre de lait et de miel, located in the gateway to Tibet straddling Yunnan and Sichuan, and Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, which features the reindeer-herding Evenki whose lives revolve around the Argun River that demarcates the Sino-Russian border.
Penned in Chinese, these novels are the creations of Han authors who have consciously chosen to set their tales among non-Han peoples who have historically resided at the fringes of the Middle Kingdom. Ran Ping’s Legend of Mongolia (蒙古往事), a fictionalized biography of Genghis Khan that was short-listed for the Mao Dun Literary Prize in 2008, also falls into this category, but it has not been translated into a European language.
Of course, there are popular novelists of various ethnicities who choose to write about their people using Chinese. Part-Tibetan Alai, author of King Gesar (格萨尔王) and Red Poppies (尘埃落定), comes to mind, for instance
But what about writers who not only speak two languages native to China, but write in both? How does their ability to move seamlessly between two tongues impact their choice of themes and their “narrative voice”? Two such authors have recently come to my attention, one who writes in Tibetan and Chinese, and another who has mastered Uyghur and Chinese.
Fortunately for you—if you read French—7 of Pema Tseden’s short stories originally in Tibetan (3) and Chinese (4) have just been released in one volume from Editions Philippe Picquier, Neige. Filmmaker and writer Tseden (པད་མ་ཚེ་བརྟན།) is a pioneer in the use of Tibetan, the first mainland director to ever shoot a film entirely in his native tongue (Old Dog). Read the rest of this entry »