The success of Shen Wei's "A Dictionary of Xinjiang"

The 50-year-old was surprised to find the expanded edition of his collection of essays-A Dictionary of Xinjiang-sold out in months after it was published in October 2014, and that Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House had to reprint more copies for this year's book fair in the city.

In A Dictionary, Shen uses 111 entries to represent his experience and understanding of the region's history, geography, plants, animals, landscapes, products, arts and literature.

Eleanor Goodman, an American poet and Sinologist, says Shen has genuinely represented the "spiritual geography" of innermost Asia. Her selected translation of the book also won her a literary award in 2013 by the US magazine Ninth Letter.


# 1.   

Regardless of its readability, A Dictionary of Xinjiang is bound to get decent publicity in state-run media within China, because it belongs to a category of writing that is very politically correct: Xinjiang “migrant” literature. Xinjiang’s Han population in 1949 accounted for no more than ten percent of the total, but today as the result of official national policy that figure may well be about fifty percent. It is worth noting that, unlike Hong Kong — or Beijing or Shanghai for that matter — any Chinese citizen can relocate to Xinjiang and work and live there without restriction.

Other migrant authors hailed by the media include Li Juan (李娟) from Sichuan, who has recently figured in Read Paper Republic, and Xi’an-based Hong Ke (红柯) whose Kalabu Sandstorm was shortlisted for the 2015 Mao Dun Literature Prize.

I was at the Istanbul Book Fair in 2013 when China was the “Country of Honor.” For the event, Turkey and China subsidized the publication of two Chinese novels in Turkish. One of them was by Wang Gang (王刚), a Han born and raised in Xinjiang’s Ürümchi. His novel, English (英格力士), is a coming-of-age novel set in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution. Curiously, no mention is made of the Muslim faith, the famous mosques of Xinjiang, the halal restaurants where Uyghurs dine, or Ürümchi’s Erdaoqiao district (二道桥), traditionally populated by Uyghurs and other Turkic-speaking, non-Han residents. While one woman of mixed Han and Uyghur parentage does figure, there are no male Uyghur characters at all.

As Wang Gang delivered his brief but very well-received presentation in Chinese to the Istanbulites (Xinjiang Connections), I couldn’t help but ponder the symbolism of choosing a Xinjiang-born Han author and this particular work as an introduction to 21st-century Chinese literature, given that only a handful of Chinese novels are available in Turkish.

If you’re interested in an “alternative” view of the history and current status of Xinjiang that conflicts with the national media’s portrayal of it, you might find Wang Lixiong’s My Western Realm, Your Eastern Homeland educational.

(see comment cont'd below)

Bruce Humes, August 27, 2015, 3:03a.m.

# 2.   

(continued from above)

Of course, fiction and reportage written in Chinese by mainly Turkic writers born and raised in Xinjiang is on the market as well, but not too much has been rendered in English. Here are some links for interested readers: Pathlight Spring 2004 and Chutzpah! Issue 14, both of which are devoted to non-Han authors, including some from Xinjiang; Sidik Golden MobOff by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (excerpt); Life of a Mimic by Patigul, who is half-Uyghur, half Hui (excerpt); a post I wrote about Jueluo Kanglin, a descendant of the Tungusic Xibe who migrated in the 18th century to Xinjiang at the behest of Emperor Kangxi, and his two as-yet-untranslated thrillers based on Xinjiang legends (The Mysterious Realm of Lop Nur and Curse of Kanas Lake); and Chinese-language collections of Kazakh and Uyghur prose and poetry during the 1950s up to 2013 (维吾尔族卷and 哈萨克族卷).

Bruce Humes, August 27, 2015, 3:13a.m.

# 3.   

Here's an excerpt from A Dictionary of Xinjiang:

Bruce Humes, September 11, 2015, 1:49a.m.


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