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An epic Chinese tale in the vein of The Last Emperor Wolf Totem depicts the dying culture of the Mongols the ancestors of the Mongol hordes who at one time terrorized the world and the parallel extinction of the animal they believe to be sacred the fierce and otherworldly Mongolian wolf Published under a pen name Wolf Totem was a phenomenon in China breaking all sales records there and earning the distinction of being the second most read book after Mao's little red book There has been much international excitement too to date rights have been sold in thirteen countries Wolf Totem is set in 1960s China the time of the Great Leap Forward on the eve of the Cultural Revolution Searching for spirituality Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen travels to the pristine grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live among t. I read the Chinese edition original of this novel and posted my review on June 18 2008 on Asia Sentinel s website I m re posting it hereBefore dwelling on the good points let me just uickly point out the one thing that I found hardest to accept and that is the author s tendency to explain away the weak disposition of the Chinese ethnic race with a simplistic rationale that it is due to the traditional sedentary agricultural lifestyle since the ancient times and then to attribute all glory and success in certain historic periods to the venturesome nomadic characteristics of China s hunter gatherer tribes who came to be the rulers during those periods Based on this premise he came to the conclusion that in order for China to become once again a power to be reckoned with Chinese people ought to discard their submissive character and assume a aggressive or wolf like outlook on life and the world at largeThere may well be a million factors and nuances that can help explain Chinese racial characteristics and the traditional farming lifestyle may be only one of them But this is a subject that is outside the scope of this review Bo Yang s The Ugly Chinaman may be a good way to start exploring the subjectDespite that the author penned in one scene a poignant and sad analogical description of a typical character weakness of the Chinese which is valid and sobering It is the scene where a herd of sheep was being attacked methodically by a pack of wolves and where those sheep that luckily escaped just stood and watched as others were being slaughtered This scene reminded him of what Lu Xun wrote in an essay some Chinese imbeciles stretched their necks and eagerly watched the Japanese soldiers behead Chinese prisoners it is exactly the same scene now No wonder the nomadic tribes regard the Hans as sheep The wolves are devilish to devour the sheep But it is those selfish callous and craven sheep like people who are even loathsome and disheartening As for the strong suits of the book there are plenty Not least is the honest warning about the urgent need to protect the environment Reckless farming of natural grasslands in Inner Mongolia has had the devastating effect of letting the soil dry up and turn into sand resulting in freuent severe sandstorms that have been plaguing cities like Beijing for years This farmers invasion along with their deliberate purging of the grassland wolves entirely skewed the natural cycle that had gone on peacefully for centuries a stinging reminder to the whole world that humans have been destroying the natural environment with their own handsJiang Rong has nothing but praises for the natural cycle that had maintained the ecological balance in the Mongolian grasslands with the wolves playing a key part in the cycle Nobody knows the importance of letting nature take its course better than the nomadic people view spoilerThey roam with their herds of sheep and cattle because there s a need for grasses in the grazed areas to grow again so that they can rotate among the patches of grasslands The wolves who feed on gazelles mountain beavers rabbits and field rats are doing the nomads a great favor because these animals are unwelcome grazers But if the wolves grow to such a number that these can no longer fill their stomachs they would threaten to feed on the domestic herds and even horses So the nomads in turn would when occasion calls for it hunt down wolves just to keep their numbers in check but never to eliminate them completely because they are the natural grassland protectors Unfortunately this ecological balance is destroyed when the farmers begin to invade the grasslands hide spoiler

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N reverence After many years the peace is shattered with the arrival of Chen's kinfolk Han Chinese sent from the cities to bring modernity to the grasslands They immediately launch a campaign to exterminate the wolves sending the balance that has been maintained with religious dedication for thousands of years into a spiral leading to extinction first the wolves then the Mongol culture finally the land As a result of the eradication of the wolves rats become a plague and wild sheep graze until the meadows turn to dust Mongolian dust storms glide over Beijing sometimes blocking out the moon Part period epic part fable for modern days Wolf Totem is a stinging social commentary on the dangers of China's overaccelerated economic growth as well as a fascinating immersion into the heart of Chinese cultur. I loved it Heartbreaking and pertinent Setting aside any reservations one might have about style one reads for many things style being only one of them I enjoyed the book most for its depiction of the social and bureaucratic processes of the Great Leap Forward and how these brought about the destruction of a culture and of an ecology The story has an urgent poignancy with its lessons wrapped in a nice little tale along the lines of Born Free but with a less happy ending Chen s love for his Little Wolf and his agony at what he has done gripped me For those who think that the ecological destruction wrought is a uniuely communistChinese problem instead of communal farming think large corporation for section head think Director and the parallels with rampant capitalism are clear When we seek to increase short term profit with little thought for long term sustainability our children suffer Interestingly the book triggered a strong debate in China for its view of the Chinese people as sheep like read agricultural and hence doomed to be defeated by wolf like read nomadic cultures Its popularity stemmed from this controversy This was a perspective that I found less interesting and too much of a simple dichotomy Life is rarely that simple An Aside on the Language I am not sufficiently well versed in Chinese to read the text in its original language so I d be interested to hear from someone who has I read the English translation and I would agree with reviewers who have remarked that the English text is somewhat plodding and pedestrian If this is something that elicits strong negative reactions from you then you have been warned However it is probably somewhat unfair to judge this novel on that basis The uestion of translation is always thorny in any work but the problem is perhaps acute in a language like Chinese which is both tonal and highly compressed This is most evident in its poetry but is also the case in ordinary prose Here s one very rudimentary illustration A very common phrase in Chinese used to describe a large crowd is ren2 shan1 ren 2 hai3 rendered into pinyin with the numbers representing the tonal pitch used when pronouncing the word A literal translation would be people mountain people sea A somewhat liberal translation would be to say There was a veritable sea of people in the plaza looking like a mountain of flesh had been crammed in This translation gives you the sense of the meaning but you lose the musicality of the phrase the pitches disappear as does the balance of the symmetry and the compression of the imagery 18 words instead of four This phrase is ordinary school boy Chinese by the way and any primary school child will know it Literary Chinese is ten to a hundred fold musical and imagistic How much of that was lost in the translation I can t say but I suspect uite a lot

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He nomadic Mongols a proud brave and ancient race of people who coexist in perfect harmony with their unspeakably beautiful but cruel natural surroundings Their philosophy of maintaining a balance with nature is the ground stone of their religion a kind of cult of the wolf The fierce wolves that haunt the steppes of the unforgiving grassland searching for food are locked with the nomads in a profoundly spiritual battle for survival a life and death dance that has gone on between them for thousands of years The Mongols believe that the wolf is a great and worthy foe that they are divinely instructed to contend with but also to worship and to learn from Chen's own encounters with the otherworldly wolves awake a latent primitive instinct in him and his fascination with them blossoms into obsession the. OK yesterday I finished it I have to give it 5 stars but I really NEED someone to answer one uestion Did the author really raise a wolf cub This is the one thing that is terrible about historical fiction being unsure what exactly is fiction and what is not I know that this has no real significance in this book but I need to know If somebody reads this and knows please send me a message The preface by the translator says this is a uasi autobiographical novelI have to say this to somebody I just finished chapter 18 and I was so impressed with the ability of some to talk straight One should read this book if only to meet Bilgee Then in the last two pages of the chapter everything turned around I should like the way Bao allowed Chen Zhen to continue raising the wolf cub but I don t Trouble is brewing and sometimes it is better to take misery sooner rather than later I cannot help but think that Chen Zhen and the book although fictional depicts true life experiences of the author There is a lot to be learned from this book on many different issues I am truly impressed How and from whom did Ghenghis Kahn and his Mongolian consorts learn their war techniues Most probably at least to some extent from the Mongolian wolves This book is very exciting and intellectually gripping A book about Inner Mongolia the cultural revolution and ecology all in one Ok I have only read two chapters but so far I really like itFrom the back cover Wolf Totem has been a sensation ever since it shot to the op of the Chinese bestseller charts in 2004 There are now well over a million copies in circulation and the book has been awarded several literary prizes A beautiful and moving portrayal of a land and culture that no longer exists it is also a powerful portrait of modern China and a fascinating insight into the country s own view of itself its history and its people

10 thoughts on “狼图腾

  1. says:

    This has been a reading experience unlike any other for me Through the eyes of a Chinese student sent to Inner Mongolia as part of a volunteer

  2. says:

    I read the Chinese edition original of this novel and posted my review on June 18 2008 on Asia Sentinel's website I'm re posting it hereBefore dwelling on the good points let me just uickly point out the one thing that I found harde

  3. says:

    I finished this book 2 days ago after having my head buried in it for 4 days and I just can't stop thinking about it It is the most wonderful book and has shot straight into my Top 5 of all timeFrom the very first page I was hooked Jiang Rong creates such a vivid and compelling narrative that I found myself similtaniously gripped with the story yet trying to slow down and savour every word so beautiful was each sentence Wolf To

  4. says:

    First of all thanks to GR friend Alice for mentioning this book to me I would never have heard of it if not for our chats and it would have been such a shame to miss the experience of reading Wolf TotemThis is a novel based on the author's experiences as a student worker in Inner Mongolia from 1967 to 1979 While

  5. says:

    OK yesterday I finished it I have to give it 5 stars but I really NEED someone to answer one uestion Did the author really raise a wolf cub? This is the one thing that is terrible about historical fiction being unsure what exactly i

  6. says:

    I really like this book but its translation is a problem I have both the Chinese and the English versions and uite a bit of the original is left untranslated in the English releaseIn the Chinese edition there is a uote from a famous person both Western and Eastern before each chapter that sort of sets the theme for the chapter gives further insight into the political ideas in the story etc These uotes are completely omitted in the translate

  7. says:

    Old longings nomadic leap
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strainThe Wolf Totem like The Call of the Wild a book that it is often compared to calls for a return to unfettered nature with its indiv

  8. says:

    I loved it Heartbreaking and pertinent Setting aside any reservations one might have about style one reads for many thing

  9. says:

    I consider this to be one of the most important books I've ever read I also think I need to make a GR shelf titled 'books that have made me cry' and put this one on it because despite some of my past posturing to the contrary I'm apparently just a gigantic Koosh ball made of tears and snot At least I don't cry

  10. says:

    Apparently moving to China has slowed down my reading considerablyWolf Totem was a massive best seller here in 2005; despite being somewhat lite

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