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World Poetry Day 2023: Indigenous-Minority Poetry from China

Posted in China by lyrikline on 21. March 2023

In the one-hundred-year history of Chinese modern poetry, there have been many efforts made for a new breakthrough, such as using vernacular language, new formal writing, avant-garde writing, dialect writing, new nature poetry, etc. but nothing has been more successful (as a breakthrough) than Mother Tongue Writing and Bilingual Writing by ethnic minority poets in recent years. It embodies regional poetry 地方诗歌 vs. official poetry 官方诗歌, periphery vs. center, oral vs. written literature, local writing vs. Western influences, long narratives vs. short lyrical poems, eco-poetry vs. nature poetry, among many other literary and aesthetic dualities and conflicts. Aku Wuwu 阿库乌雾 is the first poet writing in Yi that has transformed ancient religious Yi rhyming epics into modern free verse since 1984; Shadette Gamarie 萨黛特·加马力 is the first Kyrgyz poet of modernist poetry since 1985; Bukun Ismahasan Islituan卜袞·伊斯瑪哈單·伊斯立端 wrote the first ballad in Bunun in 1977 and started writing poetry in Bunun in 1987; Gebu 哥布, the first Hani poet ever, publishing Chinese poetry since 1985 and modern Hani epics in Hani since 1989; A Su 阿苏, one of the few bilingual Xibe poets that blends avant-garde elements into folk poetry; Nie Le 聂勒, the first Wa poet ever, with bilingual publications since 1996; Luruo Diji 魯若迪基, the first Pumi poet, reciting his Pumi poems around the country; Kongno 坤努, one of the very few bilingual women poets in the Jingpho community; Wolfman 人狼格, one of the rare Naxi poets that speak Naxi and as a Naxi singer promoting Naxi through his bilingual lyrics; Li Hui 李輝 who has identified his ethnicity and mother tongue as Dônđäc (not one of the 56 officially identified ethnic groups in China) through field investigation and research work, to name just a few outstanding ones.

Ethnic minority poets have been continuously emerging in the last forty years but booming in recent five years. The Grand Exhibition of China’s Marginalized Ethnic Poetry (independently compiled by Fa Xing in 2009) was actually in Chinese. The 2010 edition of Ten Outstanding Minority Poets (Writer’s Union Press) was exclusively of minority poets writing in Chinese. The 2018 bilingual edition of Ten Outstanding Young Tibetan Poets (Sichuan People’s Press) was translated into Tibetan by ten professional translators. Soon after that, a large number of bilingual Tibetan, Uyghur and Yi poets appeared on the internet, changing the landscape of minority writing in China.

The fifty-five officially recognized minority groups consist of less than 9% of the total population in China but they occupy 64% of the land (mostly in the peripheral regions). 117 out of the 129 minority languages are classified as endangered languages. It was due to the awareness of the endangered status that many poets such as Aku Wuwu, Gebu, A Su, Nie Le, Luruo Diji and Kongno started Mother Tongue Recitation and Mother Tongue Writing to save their ethnic languages. Many other poets have made various efforts to promote their literature and cultures: Shadette Gamarie has compiled an anthology of literature from Kyrgyz and translated authors of several languages such as Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Uyghur into Chinese; Samarkand 撒玛尔罕 has compiled an anthology of poetry from Salar nationality; Ha Sen 哈森 has translated many Mongolian poets into Chinese and Aynur Mawltbek 阿依努尔·毛吾力提 from Kazakh into Chinese; Wolfman as a popular singer sings bilingual songs to promote Naxi; Li Hui, as a molecular anthropologist, has written enthusiastically about Dônđäc as an ethnic minority speech rather than a Shanghai dialect; Bukun Ismahasan Islituan from Taiwan has been tirelessly promoting indigenous Bunun by writing and performing his bilingual poetry in Bunun and Chinese; and Puchi Daling 普驰达岭, who is familiar with classical Yi and modern Yi as well as classical Chinese poetry and modern poetry in general, has devoted much of his time introducing Yi literature and doing research work in addition to his literary career as a prolific poet and scholar of Tibeto-Burman studies. 

History of China’s literature has been the history of Han Chinese literature. There has been a separate history of ethnic minority literature in China. The grand thirty volumes of One Hundred Year Chinese Poetry (Changjiang Wenyi Press, 2013) included less than ten minority poets (Shen Congwen, Niu Han, Xi Murong, Jidi Majia, Aku Wuwu, He Xiaozhu, Na Ye and Meng Yifei). Poets such as Gebu, Nie Le and Luruo Diji who have received the Junma (Gallant Horse) Literature Awards 骏马奖, the highest award for minority writers in China, are very often neglected by “mainstream” poetry circles.

Some of these minority poets, bilingual or monolingual, have become a vital part of contemporary Chinese poetry. He Zhong 贺中 was a member of the Lhasa School of Literature from the 1980s, a term used by critics in the subsequent years. Meng Yifei 梦亦非 is a representative of the post-70s generation and a major promoter of regional poetry as opposed to the central official poetry. Feng Na and Zhong Xiuhua are new voices of women’s writing in China. But many others have been sheltered or underestimated, such as Dilmurat Talat 狄力木拉提•泰来提, Gebu, A Su, Anaer 阿娜尔, Aynur Mawltbek, Na Sa 那萨, Xi Chu 西楚, Yungdrung Gyurmè 永中久美, Jike Bu 吉克·布, Tenzin Pelmo 丹增白姆, etc. which is part of my motivations to conduct this project.

—Excerpts from “The Other Mother Tongues and Minority Writing in China” by Ming Di, a chapter from Mother Tongues and Other Tongues: Creating and Translating Sinophone Poetry, edited by Martina Codeluppi and Simona Gallo, forthcoming.

Authors in the order of appearance in the video collection “World Poetry Day 2023—Indigenous-Minority Poets from China 世界詩歌日 多民族詩人母語朗誦”:

1. Bayin Hehe (b.1985, Machu nationality from Jilin)
2. Nimei Nami (b.1974, Naxi nationality from Yunnan)
3. Qin Shuxia (b.2000, Zhuang nationality from Guangxi)
4. Lama Itzot (b.1987, Nuosu Yi from Sichuan)
5. Li Xingqing (b.1993, Li nationality from Hainan Island)
6. Hai Yan (Miao-Hmong from Guizhou)
7. Feng Maojun (b.1974, Lisu nationality from Yunnan)
8. Aili Munuo (b.1970, De’ang nationality from Yunnan)
9. Aynur Abdukerim (b.1975, Uyghur from Xinjiang)
10. Suolang Ciren (b.1992, Luoba from Tibet)
11. Wang Mei (b.1973. Tai nationality from Yunnan)
12. Zhan Jiayu (b.1982, Dong from southern Guizhou)
13. Pan Nianying (b.1963, Dong from northern Guizhou)
14. Tong Qi (b.1993, Yi nationality from Yunnan)
15. Huang Xiufeng (b.1974, Pan Yao from Guangxi)
16. Shung Shuang (Landian Yao from Yunnan)

Compiled by: Poetry Across the Oceans
Video editing: Xi Chu, Ming Di, Jiwu Wuxiamo
English Translation: Poetry Across the Oceans
Partially supported by DJS Art Foundation, a partner of Lyrikline

Another video collection of “32 Ethnic Minority Poets from China” for the International Mother Language Day 2022-2023

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