Brief Report on the International Symposium on World Minority Literature and Manifesto of World Minority Literature
By Mark Bender (The Ohio State University)
The International Symposium on World Minority Literature was held on the campus of Southwest University for Nationalities (西南民族大学; SWUN), Oct. 29, 2016 in Chengdu, Sichuan. The sponsoring units were Southwest University for Nationalities and the China Ethnic Literature Society (中国少数民族文学学会). Over 40 speakers delivered papers under the headings of Oral Tradition and World Ethnic Minority Literature, Multiple Narratives and World Ethnic Minority Literature, Cross-ethnic Interaction and World Ethnic Minority Literature, and General Topics.
The chair of the meeting was Prof. Luo Qingchun (aka Aku Wuwu), dean of the Yi College at SWUN. Speakers included Prof. Wang Feng, Vice-chair of China Ethnic Literature Society, Prof. Xu Xinjian of Sichuan University, Ai Lian, Director of Sichuan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and Secretary General of the association of Literary Critics, Native American scholar John Low of The Ohio State University, and others. The keynote speakers included Prof. Xu Xinjian and Prof. Gulina’er Wufuli from Kashgar.
Chinese participants included scholars from universities and research units in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Taiwan, etc. Foreign participants included Prof. John Low, The Ohio State University, Prof. Vuong Van Toan, Vietnam Thai Studies Programme, Prof. Matsuoka Tadasu from DOKKYO University, Japan, JA Kasuka, University of Niigata, poet/Prof. Juan Carlos Galeano (originally from Amazonia and now at Florida State University, USA), and Mark Bender, The Ohio State University.
The operative concept for the conference was “world ethnic minority literature” (世界少数族裔文学); the choice of “zuyi” was made explicitly to differentiate the focus from “shaoshu minzu wenxue” (少数民族文学), which is a term applied to the literature of China’s ethnic minorities/nationalities. Among the papers were, “What is ‘World Ethnic Minority Literature,’” by Prof. Liang Zhao of Sichuan University. The paper argued that, “In the frame of ‘World Ethnic Minority Literature,’ every ethnic group’s literature is equal in spite of its population; and the form and character of [these] ethnic groups’ literatures (including oral tradition) will change the meaning of ‘world literature.” A number of papers engaged similar topics, as well as studies on individual writers and oral traditions. A summary of the proceedings was Prof. Liu Daxian, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The Manifesto for World Ethnic Minority Literature
A significant part of the symposium entailed the drafting and issuing of a Manifesto for World Ethnic Minority Literature. The entire contents of the Manifesto in Chinese and English (translation by Prof. Wen Peihong, SWUN) are as follows:
文学是爱的。人类文学的核心母题是爱。爱是世界少数族裔文学的本源和流脉。我们的文学爱大地、爱自然、爱生命，爱邻里 —— 爱每一座山、每一条河、每一棵树，每一个人。
Equality, Justice, and Love: The Manifesto for World Ethnic Minority Literature
From the Himalayas to the Andes, from the Alps to Kilimanjaro, from the Mississippi River to the Murray River, from the Eurasian Prairie to the Indian Ocean Coast, the groups of people who are designated by the term “ethnic minority,” with great vitality and wisdom, have created long traditions of indigenous civilizations on vast landscapes. They’ve produced unique spiritual wealth in their own mother tongues, and have made great contributions to the emergence and development, the spread and evolution, the inheritance and innovation of human civilization.
However, in the discourse of colonialism and hierarchy since the inception of the modern age, ethnic minority people were treated as backward, ignorant, or even barbarous communities. Under political dominance, military control, economic restrictions, and cultural discipline, ethnic minority people were exiled to the margins of “civilization.” All this has endangered mother tongues, literatures, and cultures of ethnic minority people, creating a global crisis that in some cases means rapid cultural decline and even extinction. Human civilization is also faced with serious challenges. To protect and promote cultural diversity, to inherit and highlight diverse cultural heritages, and to build a new cultural ecology of co-existence and co-prosperity of human civilization, we are here to issue “The Manifesto for World Ethnic Minority Literature.”
We hold the following beliefs:
Literature is unrestrained. Literature should be liberated from the bondage of foreign hegemonic will and hierarchical institutions. With its aesthetic creations and artistic dignity, literature will win its own unique value and universal glory.
Literature is about equality. Equality signifies the universal justice of literature. Whatever forms of literature, oral or written; or in whatever position they are – whether enshrined in official status, or scattered among the people, literatures play the same role and carry the same values for human beings, regardless of rank, status, or skin color.
Literature is concerned about love. Love is the very core motif in human literatures. Love is the source and flow of world ethnic minority literature. Our literatures portray the love of the land, nature, life, and neighbors — the love of every mountain, every river, every tree, and every individual.
Literature is characterized by mother tongues. A mother tongue is the primary sign of the existence of any ethnic group. The life and death of an ethnic group’s mother tongue is closely related to its traditions and historical significance. Mother tongue writing embodies writings about individual senses of life and mental states, and thus explores the specific narrative principles and essential core values, which are vital for humanity. World ethnic minority literatures are embodied in the maintenance and persistence of mother tongues.
Literature is both ethnic and beyond ethnicity. That we appeal and speak out in the name of ethnic minorities is not merely because we are ethnic minorities. “Minority” and “majority,” “margin” and “center,” “tributary” and “main stream,” coexist relatively and their relationships keep shifting. The existence of ethnic minority literature, not only means the existence of a specific nationality, or a specific ethnic literature, but also the existence of the mutual relevance and reliance among literatures in the world.
Ethnic minority peoples’ desire liberty, equality, and justice. We are in pursuit of coexistence, conversation, and common prosperity. We are the most ancient and most strong-willed seeds ever sowed by any Deity. Ethnic minority literatures coexist with Heaven and Earth, dialog with the Sun and the Moon. In the name of the land, forests, and air, in the form of sweat, tears, and blood, with life, soul, and heart, ethnic minority writers have managed to compose huge volumes of great works, and have painted a splendid picture of the world shared by all human beings.
Here, we launch this initiative and resolve to stress the importance of:
- The principle of maintaining world peace and human cultural diversity;
- The principle of writing in mother tongues side by side with national common language;
- The principle of valuing both oral and written literatures;
- The principle of valuing indigenous, local, and ethnic writing, and also trans-national, trans-racial, trans-linguistic communication and dialogue;
- The principle of preserving unique imagination and spiritual creativity in harmony with universal humanity.
Let us defend every inch of the divine land under our feet with the power of the human soul, and cultural diversity; and with determination, intelligence, and confidence, rebuild a bright road to the development of world ethnic minority people in the future; and to pursue the ever-lasting value and significance of human life with friendship and song-poetry.
—— “The First Forum on World Ethnic Minority Literature”
October 30, 2016
Sponsors of the Symposium
The coordinating unit of the symposium was the Yi (Ethnic Group) College of Southwest University for Nationalities (Xinan minzu daxue Yixue xueyuan). The program lists co-sponsors as: China’s Multi-Ethnic Literature Studies Association (Zhongguo duo minzu wenxue yanjiu hui), Sichuan Association of Literary and Artistic Critics (Sichuan sheng wenyi pinglunjia xiehui), Sichuan Association of Comparative Literature (Sichuan sheng bijiao wenxue xuehui), Sichuan Association of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature (Sichuan sheng Zhongguo xiandai wenxue yanjiuhui), and Collaborative Innovation Center for Chinese Multinational Cultural Heritage and Cohesion (Zhongguo duo minzu wenhua ningju yu guojia rentong xietong chuangxin zhongxin).
–Report filed by Mark Bender, Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University (December 12, 2016)