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Novels of Ming, Qing dynasties brought new narratives to Mongolian oral literature

By Feng Wenkai, Wei Yonggui | 2016-06-03 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Artists perform Huren Wulige’er, a form of Mongolian storytelling that is accompanied by a four-stringed instrument called a sihu.


In the mid-to-late Qing Dynasty, increasingly frequent exchanges between Han Chinese and ethnic groups, like Manchus and Mongols, spread Ming and Qing literature throughout eastern Inner Mongolia.

These novels greatly enriched Mongolian forms of storytelling, including ballads, holboo and Huren Wulige’er. Holboo is a variety of Mongolian storytelling in which the first syllable of each line of a poem has the same sound. Wulige’er in Mongolian means “storytelling,” and Huren Wulige’er is a form that is accompanied by a four-stringed instrument called a sihu. Huren Wulige’er is the main form that contains elements from Ming and Qing novels.


Mongolian storytelling
Huren Wulige’er is a recreation of the Mongolian scripts translated from novels of the Ming and Qing dynasties by combining the storytelling art of Han Chinese with Mongolian narration. Storytelling materials focus mainly on stories from a series of full-length novels about the history of the Sui and Tang dynasties.


In Mongolian, the storytelling narrator is called a huurch. These narrators played a crucial role in disseminating novels of the Ming and Qing dynasties. So far, the artists have adapted more than 300 historical romances and Zhanghui novels, a type of traditional Chinese novel in which each chapter is headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content. Notable works include a series on the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, novels on the Western and Eastern Han dynasties, works on the Sui and Tang dynasties, and on the Northern and Southern Song dynasties as well as the Four Great Chinese Classics.

Huren Wulige’er is the result of exchanges between Mongolian and Chinese cultures and arts. Its development is closely related to the popularization of Ming and Qing novels in eastern Inner Mongolia. In addition to enriching social and cultural life, Huren Wulige’er brought different aesthetic perspectives on narrative literature to Mongols in the area. In the process of adaptation, artists applied the storytelling arts of Mongolian heroic epics.


Appearance, development
Thus, research on the dissemination and influence of Ming and Qing novels can offer insight into the creation and development of Huren Wulige’er. Moreover, such research promotes the development of comparative literature, which will offer an accurate portrait of Mongolian-Chinese literary and cultural relations within the context of the pluralistic integration of the whole nation.

Such research can help explain cultural differences between Mongolians and Han Chinese. By exploring the conflict and communication between nomadic and agricultural cultures, this area of study can shed light on the history of how different ethnic groups learned from and influenced one another. At present, oral forms of literature have not been studied extensively as written forms.

The dissemination and acceptance of Ming and Qing novels in Huren Wulige’er was a complicated process. At the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, many Han people migrated to eastern Inner Mongolia and lived together with native people. The plots of Ming and Qing novels were orally passed on to Mongolian people, who made a living through herding and farming.

In the later period of the middle Qing Dynasty, Ming and Qing novels were translated into Mongolian, and the natives learned about these novels through the translations. Some Mongolian people who had a good knowledge of Han literature introduced and interpreted the stories directly with the Chinese versions. However, it should be noted that some novels were first translated into the Manchu language before they were translated into Mongolian by Mongolian literati proficient in the Manchu language.

Ming and Qing novels spread among Mongolian people by word of mouth and were naturally used as materials for Huren Wulige’er. In particular, Mongolian translations of Ming and Qing novels played a key role in the formation of Huren Wulige’er.

To study the dissemination and acceptance of Ming and Qing novels in Huren Wulige’er, it is important to track the spread and translation of these novels in eastern Inner Mongolia, identify relevant Huren Wulige’er scripts related and locate corresponding Mongolian translations based on the scripts.

In addition, the social history and lifestyle changes in eastern Inner Mongolia at the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century should be taken into consideration as well as the spread of the Manchu translations. Doing so will provide more scientific and reasonable answers to questions on the origin and development of Huren Wulige’er, including why it appeared in eastern Inner Mongolia, how it came into being and what are the laws of its development.


Comparative study
For Ming and Qing novels and Huren Wulige’er on the same subjects, comparative studies can cover content, including characters, plots, religion, values and ethics, as well as forms, such as narrative language, modes of expression and aesthetics. The process can elaborate on distinctive ethnic and regional characteristics while offering a window into the interactions, conflicts, communication, absorption and identification between Mongolian and Chinese cultures.

To be specific, scholars must observe general patterns about how Huren Wulige’er artists copied, excerpted or combined the stories in Ming and Qing novels as well as how they abridged, supplemented or rewrote original images, expressions and verses. Furthermore, materials about narrators and audiences should also be investigated to comprehensively display the entire process of creation, performance and spread of Huren Wulige’er.

In turn, this study also provides a new perspective for the research on the dissemination and acceptance of Ming and Qing novels. As an outcome of Mongolian-Chinese cultural exchanges, Huren Wulige’er has inherited performance forms of Mongolian oral literature while at the same time absorbing concepts of stagecraft from Han storytelling and drama. In music, it has adopted Mongolian folk songs while borrowing melodies from Han folk arts.

This branch of study covers a variety of disciplines, including classics, oral poetry, cultural anthropology, sociology, folklore, musicology and communications. Therefore, an interdisciplinary approach is needed to integrate multiple paradigms, theories and methodologies.


Feng Wenkai and Wei Yonggui are from the College of Liberal Arts and Journalism at Inner Mongolia University.