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Cultural Authenticity Within Adaptation: Two Gesar Themed Children’s Books


Gesar (ge sar) is a warrior-like king in the realm of Ling (gling) and the protagonist of a voluminous folkloric poem that many Tibetan bards have performed for centuries. With Gesar’s increasing fame in modern times, the orature has become a quintessential representation of Tibetan culture. This paper compares two children’s books that draw on the Gesar tradition, Tibetan Heroic Epic: Gesar Children’s Literature Collection (gling ge sar sgrung gi byis pa’i rtsom rig dpe tshogs) and Gesar Epic: Hor-Ling Battle (ge sar rgyal po’i sgrung hor gling gyul ‘gyed). The two books approach the relationship between adaptation and authenticity differently, with Tibetan Heroic Epic adhering to textual renditions of the orature, while Gesar Epic significantly transforms the ancient tradition. The latter is more accessible for children. As much as the editors of Tibetan Heroic Epic aspire to present an authentic Tibetan tradition to children, their method of literal transcription is unappealing and unsuccessful. The problem of Tibetan Heroic Epic mainly lies in a flawed understanding of cultural authenticity. Culture, when alive and thriving, is mobile and fluid. Hence, the authenticity of culture is not about keeping a tradition unchanged from the past to the future. With Gesar’s adaptation in children’s literature as an example, the author argues that cultural authenticity is not an imagined reservoir of immutability. Instead, authenticity is generated from changes made by people who know and own that particular culture.

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  1. References from Chinese and Tibetan sources are indispensable for this research. This paper uses Chinese Pinyin and Tibetan Wylie transliteration for the two languages.

  2. All translations from Tibetan in this article are mine. Original text: “kha shas dar bzo can la dga’ ba dang yang kha shas sho sbag rgyan ‘dzugs byed rgyur dga’ ba tha na sa gnas de dag gi slob chung slob phrug rnams kyang za khang du ja ‘thung ba dang dar bzo che ba’i glu gzhas nyan nas nyi ma ‘khyol thabs byed rgyur dga’ ba zhig red ‘dug deng rabs dar bzo rig gnas kyis mi rabs gsar pa’i dga’ zhen tshogs pa khag cig ‘phrog bcom byas dang byed bzhin yod pa red ces gsungs yod.”

    Regarding the in-text citation, names are shortened for convenience, as Tibetan names do not differentiate between first and family names.

  3. Original text: mig mdun nas rim bzhin yal dang yal bzhin du mchis.

  4. The Tibetan and Chinese names of the books are gling ge sar sgrung gi byis pa’i rtsom rig dpe tshogs. zangzu yingxiongshishi gesa’ertong wenxue congshu.

  5. Original text: “byis pa’i klog deb nyin ma’i skar ma bzhin shin tu dkon.”

  6. Horse Racing for the Throne is one of the most well-known stories from the Gesar tradition. It tells the story of how the ordinary boy Choru becomes King Gesar by winning the horse racing.

  7. Tibetan scholars Manxiu Renqingdaoji and Banma Zhaxi provide information about tribal conflicts. For instance, the “demon place” (bdud yul) in Conquering the Demon refers to Damshong county (‘dam gzhung), a nomadic area 170 km removed from Lhasa, the capital city of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Scholars infer that the depiction of Hor in Hor-Ling Battle might be inspired by the ancestors of the Yugu people, the Tu people, Mongolians, and nomadic Tibetans who live in the north of the Tibetan plateau. Gesar bards use colour (e.g. the King of White Tent, the King of Yellow Tent, the King of Black Tent) to differentiate between allied tribal groups who shared the name hor. According to the ancient Tibetan archives from Dunhuang, Jang is the kingdom of Nanzhao and Dali, which roughly overlaps with the Yunnan province. However, the people who Ling Gesar fights in Jang-Ling Battle are ancestors of the Naxi people. The mon in Mon-Ling Battle refers to the place where the Monpa people live.

  8. This paragraph was first translated from Yugur into Chinese by Zhong Jinwen. I have translated it into English. The original Chinese text that appears in Zhong’s paper goes as follows (in pinyin): “xiang riyue yiyang zungui de ke ren, qing yunxü wo jiang yiduan gushi— yingxiong de ge sa’er. ge sa’er shi shidai chuanshong de yingxiong, ta qiasi shanzhong menghu, youru haidi jiaolong pengqi haizi shui ban de meijiu, ye wufa biaoda dui ge sa’er de chongjing. dan ta shasi le yaohu’er (yugu zu) de kehan, zai women zuxian de xinzhong, yeceng chansheng chouhen. xiangchuan zai guoqu, danfan yaohu’er zisun, zai ge sa’er miaomen qian dou yao tingbu: chouchu daojian duita huiwu; haiyao yong tuomo cuitu— zheshi yao hu’er zaoxian de fengsu.”

  9. In Khampa dialect, women are called nagmo (nag mo). Its literal meaning is “black female,” and it refers to crows. The Tibetan term for crows is porug (pho rogs), which literally means “helpers of males.” Thus, the poem uses the double meanings behind crow and links the crow with women.

  10. Original text: “dzam gling la grags pa’i rang rgyal gyi dpa’ bo’i lo rgyus snyan rtsom zhig yin”; “an essence of Tibetan folklore” (bod rigs dmangs khrod rtsom rig gi nang bcud yin); “the Eastern Iliad” (shar phyogs yis li the), and “a shining pearl [on the crown of] world cultures” (‘dzam gling rig gnas khrod na ‘od du ‘tsher ba’i mu tig rdog cig red).

  11. Original text: “rnam p.a. gsar ba zhig gi dbu slong ba bod kyi ri mo ba nyi ma tshe ring.”

  12. Original Tibetan text: “nyi ma tshe ring […]khong ni bod rigs shig pas bod yig la mkhas pa dang […]bod kyi lo rgyus dang rig gnas chos lugs/sgyu rtsal sogs la rgyus lon zab mo yod nub phyogs kyi ri mo sbyangs myong na yang rus rkang du zug pa ni mi rigs las gzhan ci khos bod mi rigs kyi ‘tsho ba rgya che’i spun zla kun kyi spyan lam bstar yod de ni mi rigs rang gi srol rgyun rig gnas la phyi lugs rig gnas kyi zur brgyan byas te mi rigs kyi shes rig ‘phel bar byas yod.”


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Qimei, Z. Cultural Authenticity Within Adaptation: Two Gesar Themed Children’s Books. Child Lit Educ (2022).

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  • Cultural authenticity
  • Gesar
  • Children’s literature
  • Adaptation
  • Tibet