The writer's name was spelled Jasƅl Sƅvazƅ in the Latin-based Dungan alphabet that was in use in 1932-53, and Ясыр Шывазы in the modern Cyrillic Dungan alphabet. According to Rimsky-Korsakoff (1991), his family name, Shivazy (Шывазы), has the meaning 'the tenth child'; the expression could be written in Chinese as 十娃子 (Shiwazi). This kind of three-syllable family name is common among the Dungan people of the former Soviet Union.
Iasyr Shivaza was born on May 18, 1906 in the village of Sokuluk (Dungan: Сохўлў; Russian: Сокулук) some 30 km west of Bishkek, in what today is the Chuy Province of Kyrgyzstan. His parents and grandparents were born in China's Shaanxi province, and came to Kyrgyzstan (at the time, part of Russian Empire) from the Ili region in the early 1880s, after the defeat of the Dungan Rebellion and the return of the Yining (Kulja) area to China.
In 1916, when he was 10 years old, he was sent to study at the village's Koranic school, and, as he mentioned later, it was only by luck that he has not become a mullah, like the other three students who reached the graduation.
After the October Revolution of 1917, Shivaza's father, Dzhudzhuza Shivaza (Dungan: Шывазы Җюҗюзы, Shiwazi Jiujiuzi) participated in establishing Soviet power in the region, joining the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1919, and later becoming the chairman of the village Soviet.
Seventeen-year-old Iasir Shivaza was chosen, by drawing lots (there were no volunteers), to go study at the Tatar Institute for Education of the Minority Group in Tashkent. During the six years (1924–30) that he spent there, Shivaza, together with other Dungan students (Yu. Yanshansin, Kh. Makeev, etc.) started working on designing a suitable alphabet for the Dungan language, and writing poetry in Dungan.
After graduation, he spent two month in the fall of 1930 teaching at a Dungan school in Frunze (now Bishkek), participating in the creation of the first Dungan spelling books and readers. He was then transferred to an editing job at Kirgizgosizdat (Kyrgyzstan State Publishing House), where he worked until 1938, and then again in 1954-57. He continued both to work on textbooks for his people and to write poetry. At least three of his textbooks were published in 1933, and at 1934 he was admitted to the prestigious Union of Soviet Writers. He started translating Russian classics into the Dungan language as well, his translation of several Pushkin's poems being published in Frunze in 1937.
He worked for the Union of Kyrgyz Writers in 1938-1941, and then again in 1946-54. When the Nazi Germany invaded the USSR, he started to do war work, in Moscow and sometimes on the front lines, primarily writing and translating materials for the Kyrgyz-language news-sheets published for the 100,000 or so Kyrgyz soldiers in the Red Army.
The after-war period was a productive one in Shivaza's writing career. He also participated in the committees designing the new, Cyrillic-based Dungan alphabet, which was eventually introduced in 1953. In the 1950s he was finally able to meet Chinese writers from China, who would visit the Soviet Union at the time, and he made a trip to China himself in 1957 with a Soviet Dungan delegation.
As the Soviet Dungan newspaper resumed publication in 1957, Shivaza was appointed its editor-in-chief, holding that post until his retirement in 1965. The newspaper appeared for a while as "Сўлян хуэйзў бо" (i.e. 苏联回族报, Sulian huizu bao, 'Soviet Huizu Paper'), and was renamed "Шыйўэди чи" (i.e. 十月的旗, Shiyuede qi, 'The October Banner').
Iasir Shivaza died on June 18, 1988.
Shivaza's literary production was ample and versatile. Along with politically loaded poems and stories, expected from any author who was to survive in Joseph Stalin's era, he wrote love poetry, poems out the past and present of his people and his land, about China, children's literature. Some of his poetry addressed to China, the land of his ancestors, welcoming the Communist revolution that was happening, or had just happened there.
Soviet Dungans being largely separated from China's written culture, the language of Shivaza's poetry and prose - and the Dungan literary language in general - is closer to the colloquial, sometimes dialectal Chinese than to the traditional written Chinese. He was, however, familiar with some of the modern Chinese literature, such as works of Lu Xun, but, since he never had opportunity to learn Chinese characters, he read them in Russian translation.
Poem sample: "White Butterfly"
Following is Shivaza's short poem, "White Butterfly", originally published in 1974, along with its morpheme-by-morpheme "transcription" into the Chinese characters and the English translation by Rimsky-Korsakoff (1991), p. 188-189.
The poet writes of a butterfly, who is happy in the here-and-now of the spring, but who is not going to see the fall with its golden leaves. He appears to make a botanical error, however, mentioning a variety of chrysanthemum (Chinese: 毛菊花) among spring flowers, even though in reality they bloom in the fall.
Having participated in the creation of the Dungan alphabet and bringing literacy to the Dungan people, Shivaza also did a large amount of work in making literary works from other languages available in Dungan. He rendered a number of classical and modern works of Russian poetry into the Dungan language. He has translated a number of works by Pushkin, Lermontov, Nekrasov, Mayakovsky. He translated song lyrics by Lebedev-Kumach and prose works by Leo Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Maxim Gorky.
Being fluent in Kyrgyz, Shivaza also translated some of his works into Kyrgyz.
Following are the first two stanzas of Shivaza's translation of Pushkin's The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda, its morpheme-by-morpheme "transcription" into the Chinese characters, and an English translation.:
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- Viz. a Chinese paper that spells the poet's names as 雅斯尔·十娃子 (Pinyin: Yasier Shiwazi) in Chinese and Yaser Shiwaza in the English translation of the title: "世界华语诗苑中的奇葩--中亚东干诗人雅斯尔·十娃子论" (On the Poetry of the Donggan Poet Yaser Shiwaza from Central Asia)
- Cyrillic Dungan quoted as per The Dungan text and its "transcription" into Chinese characters is as per Rimsky-Korsakoff (1991) (p. 230); the Cyrillic Dungan text is back-transliterated with the help of the text in Sushanlo an Imazov (1988) (p. 119), who appear to give a somewhat different edition of this translation. The English translation is based on Rimsky Korsakoff's, with minor changes.
- Russian: Балда: 'a silly fellow'
- Svetlana Rimsky-Korsakoff Dyer, "Iasyr Shivaza: The Life and Works of a Soviet Dungan Poet". Verlag Peter Lang GmbH, 1991. ISBN 3-631-43963-6. (Contains a detailed bibliography and ample samples of Shivaza works', some in the original Cyrillic Dungan, although most in a specialized transcription, with English and sometimes standard Chinese translations).
- Сушанло Мухамед, Имазов Мухаме. "Совет хуэйзў вынщүә". Фрунзе, "Мектеп" чубаншә, 1988. (Mukhamed Sushanlo, Mukhame Imazov. "Dungan Soviet Literature: textbook for 9th and 10th grade". Frunze, 1988). ISBN 5-658-00068-8.