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Two Thousand Zhuang Proverbs from China with Annotations and Chinese and English Translation


Zhou Yanxian

China is home to one of the largest and oldest societies in the world, and presently contains fifty-six ethnic groups. Among them is the Zhuang, the largest of the minority populations, which partakes in a very long history of preliterate oral traditions. This volume presents an introduction to Zhuang language and culture in Zhuang proverbs. The two thousand proverbs explored in this text bear the weight of Zhuang history and culture, and embody the wisdom collected from publications, manuscripts, and the speeches of the people who live in Zhuang villages. These proverbs are grouped into nine sections: Truths; Morality; Family; Everyday Life; Social Life; Labor; Nature; Customs; and Politics. Together, they form an essential distillation of the Zhuang history, tradition, philosophy, and most importantly, its legacy. This accessible introduction – which includes translations in Zhuang Pinyin letters, Mandarin, and American English for each proverb – provides an important corpus for the study of the Zhuang ethnic group by scholars, students, and others who are interested in Zhuang language, culture, folklore and oral traditions, and proverbs.

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It is an honor to offer my preface to this superb collection of 2,160 Zhuang proverbs assembled by my colleague Zhou Yanxian, Ivy as she is known to us in the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition, with the assistance of her Chinese colleagues at the School of Foreign Languages, Baise University, and scholars in the United States and Europe. During Ivy’s yearlong residence in the Center, she has accomplished her objective of translating the Zhuang proverbs into English and compiling them with scholarly apparatus in this book. Let me review its contents before turning to proverbs and my experience of learning about Zhuang proverbs with Ivy.

Ivy’s introduction offers a comprehensive overview of the genesis of this monograph. She includes a definition of the proverb, a thorny matter, together with characterizations of proverbs’ various themes and functions, such as weather lore, agricultural practices, and ethical advice. She points towards the widely held tenet that proverbs constitute indices of a society’s worldview (Mieder and Dundes, 1994, x; Finnegan, 1981: 31, 34) and mirror cultural beliefs and expressions of attitudes related to festivals, customs, taboos, and religious rituals. She underscores how certain proverbs compress a complete anecdote or story into two concise balanced clauses (Abrahams, “Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions,” 120). If, as Ivy contends, Zhuang ← vii | viii → proverbs’ capacity to sustain longer phrases marks them as different from English proverbs, both exemplars make use of the poetics of parallelism and metaphor, hallmarks of the and essential...

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