Seminar probes ethnic literature and epics

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2021-06-28


A recent seminar on Chinese ethnic literature and epics in Beijing Photo: Guo Cuixiao/CSST

A seminar on ethnic literature studies was recently held by the Institute of Ethnic Literature at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in Beijing, in efforts to enhance the innovative development of northern China’s ethnic literature research, strengthen the construction of ethnic literature’s disciplinary system, academic system, and discourse system, while deepening research on creating a strong sense of community for the Chinese nation.

Pluralistic integration

China’s ethnic literature studies, with the purpose of building ethnic culture and reconstructing national spirit, applies theories and approaches from different disciplines into specific investigation. Resulting from the rich diversity of economic life and cultural traditions in China’s ethnic minority areas, Chinese literature displays diverse features and forms. According to Chao Gejin, director of the Institute of Ethnic Literature at CASS, ethnic literature has taken the lead in conducting interdisciplinary research, and widely absorbed nutrients from cultural anthropology, folklore, ethnology, and information technology, yet still remains based on the literary discipline. Ethnic literature has greatly widened its research methods and dimensions, exerting extensive influences on its adjacent disciplines.

The rich connotations and value of ethnic literature internally support the disciplinary construction of ethnic literature, said An Deming, deputy director of the Institute of Literature at CASS. The country’s basic national policies have always treated all ethnic groups equally. Meanwhile, great efforts have been made to construct and maintain the concept of “ethnic minority literature,” improving pertinent theories under the framework of ethnic literature in pluralistic integration. Such behavior recognizes the diversity and differences in literature belonging to each ethnic group, and, at the same time, guards the basic disciplinary rights of different types of literature and their identities under general literary concepts. This has played a foundational role in enriching the Chinese nation’s literary treasures and has developed literary concepts and theories.

Pioneering epic studies

The creation and research of ethnic literature has multi-faceted significance in the new era. In particular, the project of rescuing China’s three major epics—the Epic of Manas, the Epic of King Gesar, and the Epic of Jangar, is essential in national ethnic and folk literary circles, which has driven the construction of Chinese and even international epic studies.

The solid foundation laid by pioneering scholars such as Lang Ying, who has long engaged in investigating the Epic of Manas, began the study of the Epic of Manas in the PRC, said Qiu Yunhua, secretary of the branch Party group of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Association.

Lang’s thinking on the Epic of Manas has two major characteristics, Qiu continued. Lang views this epic as an integral part of China’s holistic national culture, and she consciously integrates her research with a consolidated sense of community for the Chinese nation, which gives the field a lofty academic status. In addition, Lang regards it as a living epic with its heritage in an active state that closely links the Kyrgyz ethnic group’s past to their present life.

Proceeding from translating the Epic of Manas, Lang has entered a broader research scope of northern ethnic heroic epics and related ethnic minority literature, said Liu Daxian, a research fellow from the Institute of Ethnic Literature at CASS. Lang’s research career has witnessed the evolution of Chinese ethnic and folk literature research paradigms from “folk literature and art” to “Chinese literature” between the 1960s and the beginning of the 21st century. Lang’s research objects have developed from epic translation and dissemination to the aesthetic analysis and historical origins of texts. Research topics she focused on have shifted from the comparison of regional epics to the formation of a general history view of Chinese literature. Methodologies have turned from theoretical discussions around themes and forms, to the cultural consciousness of dynamic fieldwork.

Lang and other scholars have made great strides in investigating and translating the Epic of Manas, and have long tracked the performance and creation process of epic artists, expanding and enriching epic texts. These efforts contribute pioneering and inspirational theoretical findings to reveal the living attributes and diverse features of Chinese epics and to clarify dynamic relationships between personal creativity and ethnic traditions in folk literature, bettering the construction of Chinese and even international epic studies.

Without contributions made by pioneering scholars in cultivating talent for ethnic minority literature and in studying various forms of ethnic literature, today’s achievements of intergenerational academic inheritance and disciplinary layout would not exist, Chao said.

Having gone through an arduous entrepreneurial phase, domestic studies on the Epic of Manas have gradually grown into a fresh force with global influence and led disciplinary development. Undoubtedly, results are jointly produced with the pioneering courage of generations of scholars from various ethnic groups, concluded Adil Jumaturdi, a research fellow from the Institute of Ethnic Literature at CASS.




Editor:Yu Hui

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