International Conference on Dungan Folk Literature

University of Oslo, Sept 15–17, 2014

In September 2014 scholars from seven countries met at the University of Oslo in order to explore textual, linguistic and narrative aspects of Dungan folk literature, as well as to discuss the wider cultural significance of these texts. While conferences and workshops on Dungan studies have been held in Central Asia, China, and Japan for a number of years, this conference in Oslo is probably the first such conference to have taken place in the West, and is certainly quite special in the history of the university.

From the left: I. Shisyr, D. Khakhaza, T. Zevakhina, I. Spira, T. Ivchenko, S. Jiménez Tovar, V. H. Mair, R. Ismaeva, M. Imazov, Chang Wenchang, Chang Lini, Lin Tao, Cui Fengying. On the grass: Ch. Harbsmeier. (Photo: Alexey Khudyakov)

While conferences and workshops on Dungan studies have been held in Central Asia, China, and Japan for a number of years, this conference in Oslo is to my knowledge the first such conference to have taken place in the West. It has been a special pleasure to have four Dungan researchers from the  Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic as guests in Oslo, two linguists (Corr. Member Mukhame Imazov and Rakhima Ismaeva), and two folklorists (Iskhar Shisyr and Dunlar Khakhaza). The special constellation of participants led to Russian and Mandarin Chinese being used as working languages, supplemented by English and Dungan.

The last time Dungan scholars visited a Western university was in the early 1980s, when the Dungan historian Mukhame Sushanlo, then head of the Department of Dunganology at the same academy, visited the University of Pennsylvania together with the illustrious Russian sinologist Boris Riftin. That meeting was organized by another famous sinologist, Professor Victor H. Mair, who also attended this year’s conference in Oslo.

At the present occasion, Professor Mair donated his valuable collection of Dungan heritage materials to the Digital Archive of Dungan Studies in Oslo. Other contributions of great value are a Chinese Russian Dungan trilingual dictionary co-edited by Professor Imazov and also Professor Chang Wenchang’s recent book on Dungan poetry.

Dungan folk songs, folk tales and proverbs constitute some of the most valuable sources for understanding Dungan language and culture. But while the typology and thematic composition of these texts has been studied to some degree, there are still no critical editions and linguistic work has been relatively limited. Since language never exists in a void, Dungan folklore texts must be studied as closely as possible in order to gain a firm understanding of the cultural context of the language and its history, not least because this is the earliest stage of the language that is accessible without going back to strictly Chinese sources.

In order to make full use of these materials, it is necessary to prepare scholarly editions that are built on sound textual and ethnographic methodology, and hence linguistically reliable. Previous editions by Jusurov (1958, 1960, 1981), Khasanov (1975, 1976, 1968) lack the necessary annotations. The Oslo conference was intended as a first step toward developing work on such editions. The following were the main topics of the conference:

  1. The linguistic, rhetorical and narrative properties of the texts 
  2. The sources and editions of Dungan folk literature, especially with regard to future critical editions
  3. The place of Dungan folk literature within Dungan culture, and, more generally, within the Central Asian and Chinese contexts

D. Khakhaza presenting interpretations of Dungan proverbs.(Photo: Alexey Khudyakov)

Already the update on the state of the art given by our Dungan folklorist colleagues I. Shisyr and D. Khakhaza represent a significant advancement of the field. A recurring leitmotif was the question of the relationship between Dungan culture and Chinese culture. This question is particularly acute not only because of the Dungans’ own sense of identity (are they ‘Chinese’? ‘Hui’?), but also because it has implications for methodology (to what extent can ‘Chinese’ culture legitimately ‘explain’ ‘Dungan’ culture or vice versa) and for how one views Dungan culture in relation to the rest of the world (Dungan literature in Cyrillic script as an independent achievement).

From the left: Ch. Harbsmeier, Chang Wenchang, T. Ivchenko in the lively discussion that Dr. Khakahza's presentation inspired.(Photo: Alexey Khudyakov)

 

In the linguistic sphere this leitmotif was evident in the question of how to best render Cyrillic Dungan texts in Chinese characters. Should there be an element of translation into Standard Mandarin? Should one use vernacular dialect characters? Or should one use the characters that philologists assert to be the ‘original’ way of writing a given morpheme in characters (so-called běnzì 本字)? And not least: what to do when Dungan informants have an understanding of a proverb that differs from a similar or even identical proverb in China? Can we, and should we, record the Dungans’ versions in Chinese characters? Do the Chinese interpretations represent a ‘key’ to Dungan ‘riddles’? There was general agreement on the need to do precise comparative work and the need to follow clear principles in producing editions with Chinese characters. While opinions diverged on exactly how to achieve this, the question was aired in a most lively way and everyone is now acutely aware of the problems involved.

 

Participants

Chang Lini 常立霓, Professor, Shanghai University of Political Science and Law

Chang Wenchang 常文昌 Lanzhou University

Cui Fengying 崔风英, Yinchuan

Harbsmeier, Christoph, Professor, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

Imazov, Mukhame Khusezovich, Head of the Department of Dungan and Chinese Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic; Corresponding Member of said Academy

Ismaeva, Rakhima Mukhameevna, Junior Researcher at the Department of Dungan and Chinese Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic

Ivchenko,Taras Viktorovich, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Confucius Institute of the Department of Oriental Languages at the Russian State University for the Humanities

Jiménez Tovar, Soledad, PhD, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology 

Khakhaza, Dunlar Mukhameevich, Senior Researcher at the Department of Dungan and Chinese Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic

Khudyakov, Alexey, student, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

Lin Tao 林涛, Professor, Northern Nationalities University

Mair, Victor H., Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania

Shisyr, Iskhar Suvazovich, Senior Researcher at the Department of Dungan and Chinese Studies at the National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic

Spira, Ivo Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, University of Oslo

Zevakhina,Tatiana Sergeevna, Senior Researcher at the Philological Faculty of the Moscow State University

Tags: Dungan, Chinese, conference By Ivo Spira
Published Sep. 23, 2014 1:17 PM - Last modified Feb. 20, 2018 10:15 AM