China media’s recent high-profile reportage of the launch of volume one of the first-ever bilingual version of King Yalu (亚鲁王), a Miao historical epic passed down orally, has been labelled “unscientific” (媒体对 《亚鲁王》报道不科学) by an academic whose views carry weight.
Traditionally sung over several days at a funeral, King Yalu is the story of war, defeat and migration of the western Miao tribes in Guizhou from their traditional homes in places such as Anshun (安顺). Legend has it that King Yalu was the 18th in a line of Miao rulers.
The scholar in question happens to be Chogjin (朝戈金), Chair of the Department of Ethnic Minority Literature in the Graduate School of the distinguished China Academy of Social Sciences. He is an ethnic Mongolian and has an impressive résumé in oral literary research.
In particular, he rejects the assertion—proclaimed in the Chinese press and trumpeted in English by Chinadaily—that the origins of King Yalu doubtless go back more than 2,500 years. In his brief but informative essay, Chogjin also notes:
- Unlike most oral epics circulating among the southern peoples of China, King Yalu not only contains elements normally found in creation and origination epics, it also has aspects of traditional heroic epics for which northern ethnicities are known;
- Strictly speaking, King Yalu is not the story of an entire people. Its distribution is more narrow, and revolves around the folklore of the Miao now located in Mashan;
- Unlike many world-renowned classics passed down by traditional story-tellers, King Yalu is not recounted for its entertainment value. Rather, it is an integral part of funeral rites, a “spiritual road map” (指路经) that is intended to guide the deceased’s soul back, step-by-step, to the homeland of its ancestors (先祖故地).