Monday, January 11, 2021

Xinjiang's Ying and Yang

After the Decameron, at the rate of one story a day, and then Don Quixote, at the rate of one chapter today, we are now working through the Arabian Nights. I leave it up to you to guess the rate.

The Hunchback's Tale, comes quite early on.

In China a tailor and his wife meet a cheerful, drunk hunchback playing the tambourine. They're entertained and invite the hunchback over for dinner. When the tailor playfully stuffs the hunchback's mouth with fish, the hunchback chokes and dies. The tailor panics.

His wife convinces him to leave the body at the home of a Jewish physician. The physician believes the hunchback fell down his stairs and died; his wife tells him to leave the body with their neighbor, the king's Muslim kitchen steward. 

The steward sees the body on the doorstep and starts beating it, convinced it's the unknown thief who's been stealing his food. Fearing he killed the hunchback by accident, the steward leaves the body at a shop door. 

A Christian tradesman who works as the king's broker wanders by, drunk. The broker worries the hunchback will steal his turban and beats the body. A watchman stops and accuses a Christian of killing a Muslim.

Ultimately his execution is ordered. Before this can happen, however, the steward confesses to the murder. He doesn't want to burden his conscience with the death of a Muslim and a Christian. The steward takes the broker's place until the Jewish physician admits to the crime, fearing he'll cause the death of two Muslims. He takes the steward's place. Then the tailor confesses and takes the physician's place. It is almost funny as the executioner tires of the rapidly changing victims.

What we actually have here is a charming parable about religious tolerance and honour.

I was watching Prof Wen-chin Ouyang's lecture "The Curious Life of Objects in the Arabian Nights" on YouTube last night. About three quarters of an hour in ( she identifies where in China this story is set. It is Kashgar. Population 85% Uyghur.

Since 2017, a government crackdown in the far-western region of China known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has seen hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Turkic and Muslim minorities detained in a vast network of purpose-built detention facilities.

Ironic doesn't begin to describe it.

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