Space to Speak: Non-Han Fiction and Film in China and Beyond

Emerging from the work of the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, headed by Dr Frances Weightman at the University of Leeds (and which itself grew out of the AHRC-funded 'Writing Chinese' project), this project broadened the focus of the Centre's work to engage more deeply with China's complex multilingual contexts, and to give a space to voices from beyond the Han Chinese mainstream. This project is particularly important at the current time, in which Chinese government-funded policies are subsidising the translation and publication of non-Han authors, yet the crackdown on minoritized languages and people in regions such as Xinjiang is critically affecting the ability of people in these areas to tell their own stories and experiences.

The project's key element was a symposium, held in September 2018, which brought together authors, translators, academics and publishers, providing an opportunity for dialogue and discussion between those working in different areas and linguistic contexts, including Mongolian, Uyghur, and Tibetan. The symposium provided the foundation for building up a network of practitioners and academics working in different aspects of non-Han fiction and film, as well as broadening the existing network of the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, which, previous to this project, had been limited to standard Chinese contexts. This is a vital critical intervention at a time when popular and academic interest in translated Chinese fiction is growing, but at which the work of non-Han authors is still under-represented.

                                                                                                                                              Author Guo Xuebo and translator Bruce Humes


                                                            Tibetan scholar Yangdon Dhondup discusses her work


The creation of this network led directly to the organising of a public event, in February 2019, on new writing from Tibet, featuring three Tibet scholars, and a collaboration with Columbia University Press, focusing on their publication of a collection of Tibetan short stories. The event drew an audience from the University and the general public, allowing for an opportunity to engage with broader audiences in Leeds and beyond.

The focus on fiction beyond the Han context and the Chinese mainland has been continued in a translation competition based around Hong Kong fiction, the winning translation of which will be published in Pathlight, a well-established magazine of new writing from China. A number of non-Han authors have also been featured on the Centre's book club, which provides a valuable and sustainable resource for scholars and teachers of Chinese, and for a general public keen to discover the variety of contemporary writing from China.

Leading on from these events, the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing has begun working with the White Rose University Press to publish a new academic journal, which will focus on contemporary fiction from various linguistic contexts from around the Chinese world. The journal, alongside the Centre's website, will provide a sustainable resource for the creative and critical work which this project has explored.

Dr Sarah Dodd, University of Leeds (MEITS Flexible Funding Awardee)

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