Bringing Attention to Kazakh Culture

June 23, 2014
By Xu MingEditor: Amanda Wu
Aynur Maolet [Courtesy of Aynur Maolet]

If it wasn't for the recently announced 6th Bingxin Prose Prize in Jinan, east China's Shandong Province, Aynur Maolet, a female Kazakh writer from northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region may have remained some obscure editor. However, winning the prize has enabled her work to be brought to the attention of readers nationwide, while also gives them the chance to learn more about Kazakh culture.

"I want to thank the Chinese Institute of Prose for giving such an important prize to me, a descendent of shepherds and a writer who writes in a second-language. This is without a doubt the best recognition and encouragement I could receive," said the writer, who won the prize for her prose work titled Apa (the Kazakh word for old mother or grandmother) written in Chinese .

Ode to Motherhood

Among the Kazakh ethnic group, to which the author belongs, there is a custom known as "returning a child." According to the tradition, people will send their first son or daughter back to their own parents as a way to show their gratitude. Grandparents then take care of the "returned child" as their own.

According to Maolet, in traditional society, particularly among nomadic groups, sending newborns to experienced grandparents was a way to improve the odds of the child's survival. At the same time, by the time the child reaches maturity the grandparents have gotten old, so this tradition also serves as a kind of social security.

Maolet's Apa illustrates such a relationship and the complicated emotions between the author and her grandmother, and how this special maternal love dramatically affected her growth and personality.

In her writing, Aynur starts from her childhood, vividly portraying to the reader the extraordinary deep love her grandmother developed for her as her mother through the years. This fierce and protective love made her grandmother treat her like a princess while also causing the author to become extremely attached to her grandmother.

Although the love between mother and daughter is a fairly common topic, Maolet's writing manages to delicately depict a Kazakh girl's boundless love and yearning for her grandmother against the special background of this "returned child" tradition.

Her prose was first published in October magazine last year, and later she posted it to her blog. "It was a big sensation at the time. Many readers contacted me through the blog and told me that they were in tears after reading it," Maolet said.

"I found understanding among them. That's probably why I was confident enough to take part in the Bingxin Prose Prize," she added.

A Natural Writer

Maolet's grandfather had five sons, which led to her grandmother having a great desire for a daughter. So after Maolet was born in 1974, her birth-parents "returned" her to her grandparents. According to Maolet, she began living with her grandparents long before she could remember and stayed with them all the way up until they passed away.

"It is difficult for a child in this situation as it is embarrassing when you face your natural parents," Maolet said. As she wrote in her story, due to her attachment to her grandmother, she found it difficult to call her birth-mother "mom."

"I returned to my parents as an adult, but was unable to restore any feelings for my mother. Even now there is still an inaccessible gap between us," Maolet said. "The experience is probably why I'm such a sensitive person."

Maolet explained that this tradition is seldom practiced nowadays as there are fewer children per family.

Although she is now the author of dozens of poems and prose writings, Maolet still doesn't consider herself a professional writer. Majoring in philosophy at college, she later worked in an unrelated field for 12 years before going back to study ethnology.

"I tried in vain to do academic research and for a long time writing was not my job but a hobby. I never bothered to collect my works, which are published and scattered here and there," said Maolet, who is now an editor for a literature magazine in Xinjiang.

Minority Writers

A member of the regional literature association in Xinjiang, Maolet's creative work mainly focuses on poems. A master of Putonghua (standard Chinese), Kazak and Uyghur, she does a lot of translation work in order to enhance the exchange of literature among different ethnic groups living in China.

With a more open environment and deeper communication, a number of Xinjiang writers and works originated from the region have started gaining recognition nationwide in recent years. Many bilingual writers have emerged as well, such as Uyghur writer Arati Aski and Kazakh writer Yerkesy Hulmanbiek.

Maolet attributes the development of literature in Xinjiang partly to the increasing attention that the rest of the country has been paying to the area over the years. "There is persistent concern about and high expectations for literature in Xinjiang," she said.

"However, due to the geographical limitations, it receives relatively less recognition and attention from the mainstream literary world. This is a time containing both challenges and opportunities for writers from this area."

Established in 2000 to honor renowned writer Bingxin, the Bingxin Prose Prize is an important literature prize in China for discovering excellent prose writers and stands as an equal to the Mao Dun Literature Prize and Lu Xun Literature Prize. To date, about 100 writers have won the prize, including big names such as Jia Pingwa, Chi Zijian and Tie Ning.

(Source: Global Times)

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