To know the ethnic groups, read their prose

Updated: 2013-08-27 06:51

By Liu Jun (China Daily)

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To know the ethnic groups, read their prose

Aydos Amantay, a young Kazak writer who grew up in Beijing, pulls the reader's heartstrings with his passionate confession about the loss of his cultural roots.

In his novella titled Loser, a university dropout returns to his hometown in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region as a temporary volunteer teacher. The students offer him buttered naan bread dipped in milk tea, then they sing folk songs, holding hands in a tight circle.

Still, the teacher finds it hard to get back to his cultural roots, just as it is hard for him to pick up Kazak, or for his students to learn Mandarin.

But when an outsider sneers at them, the teacher finally stands up for his people.

Distinctive characters like these draw readers like a magnet to the 14th issue of the Chinese-English literary journal Chutzpah!

"Chutzpah" is a Yiddish word for audacious behavior. With the Chinese name Tian Nan, the bimonthly funded by Modern Media Group in April 2011 features original fiction, poetry and essays with sample translations in the section Peregrine.

The June issue presents 12 authors seeking their cultural roots including Amantay and Uygur author Alat Asem. Except for Shanghai-based Ren Xiaowen, whose novella Balcony is translated by Eleanor Goodman, all the others come from ethnic groups, telling stories from folklore, childhood and present life.

Mongolian author Baoerj Yuanye stands out with a superb sense of humor in the short tale of a wrestler's ritual on the grassland.

Ye Fu depicts his family and neighbors in diaojiaolou (a wooden building propelled on columns to keep the rooms dry) of the Tujia people; Na Zhangyuan recounts the plague looming in an unsuspecting Yi village; Shi Qinghui sends the narrator to bring justice to an uncle who died mysteriously in a Dong village.

Such stories are full of color and smell, sound and taste, for they are dipped in the happiness and sadness of the authors' real lives.

There are quite a few young writers who show a great gift in storytelling.

Pema Tseden, a Tibetan film director, proves himself just as gifted with the pen in the tale of a stranger looking for a woman named Choma. He never explains why, but pays anyone 100 yuan ($16) if they find Choma.

"On the surface, globalization can cause cultural assimilation, but the world's true nature lies in difference," says Ou Ning, editor-in-chief of Chutzpah!, in an e-mail interview.

An established poet and artist, Ou has traveled around the world as curator of many art exhibitions.

"In the context of China, the value of non-Han writers is that they construct difference through writing in minority languages, thus making the ethnic groups they represent a common subject of history."

(China Daily USA 08/27/2013 page 9)