. . . independent–minded Chinese writers are becoming seriously interested in the geographical fringes of “China proper”, drawing on its people, their traditions and conflicts at work. Just look at Ou Ning’s Chutzpah!, which recently devoted a whole issue to Uighur and Kazakh writing – a first for any Chinese literary magazine. Or – now out in English – which is about the demise of reindeer-herding nomads on the China–Russia border. An essay in Memory, Remains has the dissident Liao Yiwu writing with uncomfortable honesty about the hostility he met as a Han Chinese in Xinjiang. And there is a (no doubt intentionally) provocative new novel from Chan Koonchung, The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver, about Tibet. Unlike the others, this book has already fallen foul of China’s censors with its torrid sex scenes and references to Tibetan self-immolations.
March 22 Update:
Expect to hear a lot about “cultural projects” out of Gansu Province in the near future. The State Council has just approved the establishment of a “Chinese Civilization Inheritance & Innovation Zone”—甘肃华夏文明传承新区—in this province that borders Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, and Ningxia to the north, Xinjiang and Qinghai to the west, Sichuan to the south, and Shaanxi to the east.
The new zone will highlight silk road “culture,” the Jiayuguan Pass (嘉峪关), the Hexi Corridor (河西走廊) with its Buddhist-themed Mogao Grottoes (see photo), and sites and museums in metropolitan Lanzhou on the Yellow River.
This is a national project supported by the central government, and that could mean big investment. Some 7 billion yuan (US$1.1b) has reportedly already been invested in related projects (see Poised to Cash in on Cultural Assets).
In the last few days four publishing projects proposed by the Gansu authorities have been approved by the China Publishing Fund (国家出版基金管理委员会) to the tune of US$726,000 (甘肃出版项目). They include one for the publication of the second volume in a collection of orally transmitted Tibetan folk culture (第二辑 《藏族民间口传文化汇点》).
In <四成少数民族语言临危,> Wang Bo at Chinanews.com reports that up to four of ten languages native to minorities in China are threatened with extinction.
Here are a few numbers that appear in the report:
- Non-han languages: 55 officially designated “peoples” (民族) speak an estimated 130 languages
- Scripts in use: 40, including Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Kirghiz, Korean, Yi, Dai, Lahu, Jingpo and Xibe
- Populations: one-half of non-Han languages are spoken by groups that number under 10,000 members, of which 20+ have 1,000 speakers or less
- Endangered languages: Manchu, Tatar, She, Hezhen can no longer be used for conversation; another 20 percent, such as Nu, Yilao, Pumi and Jinuo are approaching that state; and a total of 40 percent are in danger of extinction in the mid-term.
- Manchu: 11 million ethnic Manchus, but only 100 or so can speak fluently and less than a dozen read and write well.
- Jing (京族): with a population of 20,000 in Guangxi, one-half can still speak their mother tongue.
Wang Bo notes that fluency in seven non-Han languages continues to be passed on to the next generation fairly well: Mongolian, Tibetan, Uighur, Kazakh, Korean, Zhuang and Yi. He attributes this partly to the fact that they have a written script, and interpreting services are often offered at official meetings.
What he doesn’t note—like many PRC-centric writers—is the fact that except for Zhuang and Yi, these other languages are spoken and written by large numbers of native speakers outside China.
The International Summit on Epic Studies: Toward Diversity, Creativity, and Sustainability, organized by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was held Nov 17-18 in Beijing (中国社会科学论坛 2012 史诗研究国际峰会：朝向多样性、创造性及可持续性).
Keynote speakers were Gregory Nagy (Harvard University), Karl Reichl (Bonn University), Lauri Harvilahti (Finnish Literature Society) and Chao Gejin (朝戈金, Institute of Ethnic Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). Attendees numbered 71, and came from 20 countries such as the US, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and Uzbekistan.
Topics included the sustainability of epic traditions, how to document them, challenges in mobilizing collaboration between researchers and indigenous communities, and the practicality of establishing an international association for epic professionals and institutions.
For a video report on the summit with a few cameo appearances by master singers of some of these epics, click here.
Several years ago, UK publisher Canongate commissioned contemporary ethnic Tibetan writer Alai to pen his own creative version of the King Gesar saga. The plan: to launch Alai’s King Gesar (格萨尔王, 阿来著) as part of its global Myth Series, joining other creatively re-told tales including The Penelopiad (Margaret Atwood’s take on Penelope of The Odyssey), Baba Yaga Laid an Egg (Baba Yaga as per Dubravka Ugresic), and Binu and the Great Wall (by China’s Su Tong).
The traditional Epic of King Gesar (Tibetan: གེ་སར་རྒྱལ་པོ), believed to date from the 12th century, relates the heroic deeds of Gesar, the fearless lord of the legendary Kingdom of Ling. It is recorded variously in poetry and prose, and is performed widely throughout Central Asia. According to Wikipedia, besides versions of the tale conserved by PRC-based minorities such as the Bai, Naxi, the Pumi, Lisu and Yugur peoples, other variations are also found among the Burushaski-speaking Burusho of Hunza and Gilgit, the Kalmyk and Ladakhi peoples, in Baltistan, in Sikkim, Bhutan, Nepal, and among various Tibeto-Burmese, Turkish, and Tunghus tribes. The first printed version was a Mongolian text published in Beijing in 1716.
When I wrote Canongate in 2010, they told me December 2012 was the likely publication date of Alai’s work in English. Now August 2013 is apparently the new target date. Why the delay? I don’t know the inside story. But perhaps it’s because they eventually recruited the hottest duo in the world of Chinese-to-English literary translation—Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Lin—to render King Gesar in English. It’s public knowledge that Goldblatt and Lin are the first choice of many publishers, and they are so busy that each new Chinese novel they translate has to (patiently) wait its turn. . .
‘My dear nephew, with so many people around, sometimes the gods simply cannot take care of us all, and that is why you feel out of sorts. When that happens, think about this syllable.’ Read the rest of this entry »
“Imperial China was a heterogeneous and at times extremely diverse place,” writes The Atlantic in its Nov 8 online edition, “with some Chinese emperors feeling more comfortable on a horse or in a tent rather than on the Dragon Throne.” But in 21st-century China:
. . .diversity remains something for the museum or the frontier, rather than the halls of power at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing. When the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announces its new leaders at the 18th Party Congress next week, ethnic uniformity will once again reign supreme: Seven to nine cookie-cutter men in dark suits and black-dyed hair, each representing the Han ethnic majority that officially comprises 91.5% of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Click here to read the full article.
The next time you whip out your handy iPhone to record a traditional Uyghur ballad or film a minute or two of a folk dance at a festival in Yunnan, think twice.
Those rubber-stampers at the National People’s Congress are currently considering a draft law that “stipulates that individuals from outside China must report to local authorities at the county level or above about their plans to carry out a survey on intangible cultural heritage and obtain approval before they
begin.” So reports a news item on the China Ethnic Literature Network (Draft Law to Close Loophole).
Exactly what constitutes a “survey” was not addressed in the item that I read.
Apparently, the new draft law is in reaction to behavior such as described further on in the news item:
When Wang Yunxia, a law professor at Renmin University of China, last year visited mountainous areas of Wenchuan County in Sichuan Province, which is inhabited by the ethnic Qiang people, she was surprised to learn that ‘friendly local villagers told all they know about the endangered and highly protected Shibi (shamanic) culture to inquisitive foreign researchers’.”
The 10th Junma Ethnic Literary Awards (骏马奖) have been announced. Open to works published in the PRC during 2008-11 by members of ethnic groups other than the majority Han, the competition is a politically correct affair co-organized—predictably—by the state-sponsored Chinese Writers Association, which claims more than 1,000 non-Han writers among its 8,000+ members, and the State Ethnic Affairs Commission. One of the judges is the omnipresent Li Jingze, editor-in-chief of People’s Literature (人民文学) and the new quarterly of Chinese literature in translation, Pathway (路灯), and also a long-time judge for China’s most prestigious literary competition, the Mao Dun Literature Prize (矛盾文学奖).
Here’s the list of the winners:
*** Novels ***
*** Short Stories ***
*** Essays ***
|《乡村里的路》||钟翔 (Dong Xiang)||作家得奖发言|
*** Reportage ***
|《非洲小城的中国医生》||钟日胜 (Zhuang)||A Chinese Doctor in a Small African Town (my translation of the title, but not actually published in English.) Penned by a Zhuang doctor working in the Comoros Islands. 作家得奖发言|
*** Poetry ***
*** Translations ***
|查刻勤 (Mongolian)||Mongolian to Chinese||Translator of poetry by the contempoary Mongolian poet Altai (阿尔泰诗选). 译者得奖发言|
|沈胜哲 (Chaoxian)||Korean to Chinese||Translator of biography of Cui Cai who led a division of Chaoxian soldiers in the fight against the Japanese during WWII (不朽的英灵：崔采). 译者得奖发言|
|伍·甘珠尔扎布 (Mongolian)||Chinese to Mongolian||译者得奖发言|
|苏德新 (Han)||Uighur to Chinese||译者得奖发言|
Xinhuanet reports (Minority Language Translation Software) that the China Ethnic Languages Translation Bureau has announced the development of several software programs for non-Han languages in China:
These programs include electronic dictionaries for the characters of the Yi and Zhuang ethnic groups [彝文电子词典及辅助翻译软件 and 壮文电子词典及辅助翻译软件], a proofreading tool for the Zhuang ethnic language [壮文校对软件], and transcoding applications [编码转换软件] for the languages of the Tibetan, Uygur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz ethnicities, according to a statement released Friday by the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.
A Xinhua journalist’s recent visit with primary school teacher and Tujia scholar Chu Yongming (储永明在课间与孩子们进行土家对话) highlights a man with a mission—to ensure that the next generation of Tujia have the tools they need to speak the language of their people.
Working out of a primary school in Hubei’s Feng county, the 59-year-old has taken part in compiling two published works for language instruction (<土家语“原生态”土家语言校本教材> and <土家语言>), and is in the middle of editing a Dictionary of the Tujia Language (土家语辞典).
A few factoids re: the present state of the Tujia language cited in the article:
- 7.38m: Number of Tujia people in the PRC
- 0.67%: Portion of Tujia who can actually speak the language
- Distribution: Tujia are concentrated in Hubei, Guizhou, Chongqing and Sichuan