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Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

Wolf Totem (2004)

by Jiang Rong

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (19)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (21)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Importance of wolves in steppe culture; importance of steppe culture to China. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
What a wonderful book! I loved it!
The combibation of the events that occur in general in nomadic life in Inner Mongolia, combined with almost life like descriptions of the environment and the development of the students and the wolf.

It a great book, that depicts the end of an era. A sad book too, because nomadic life and mechanisation do not go together, they clash.

It's a pity the book is finished, but I'm so happy to have read it! ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Nov 25, 2015 |
Chen Zhen is a Chinese student, volunteers to spend some time in the countryside at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Sent to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live and work among the nomadic people whose way of life hasn't changed in centuries. Taken under the wing of Bilgee, a tribal elder, Chen learns of a natural order of balance that has successfully provided for the existence of these people which is now under threat from the new way of doing things that the Chinese have brought with them. The intended destruction of the wolves, the largest predator in the region could have devastating effects on the ecology. Who is it that keeps the gazelle's from stopping in one place until that area of grass has either been consumed or trampled into oblivion so there will be none left for the Mongols own herds of sheep, cattle and horses? Who keeps the marmot and rabbit population in check so that their burrows won't proliferate across the land causing untold devastation? Chen's fascination with wolves grows with the more he sees and learns of these creatures and formulates a plan that may have dire consequences. He wants to get hold of a cub and raise it so that he can study it at close quarters. Raising a natural predator within a camp surrounded by livestock, what could possibly go wrong?

This is a semi-autobiographical novel based on the author's own experiences of the time. It explores the socio-political expansionism of the Chinese at the expense of their neighbours as well as providing a very strong ecological message where removing one part of a delicately balanced ecosystem could spell disaster that may be impossible to recover from. It's not a subtle book and does bang you over the head with its message at times. Its also not an easy book to read, I personally couldn't just sit and read large chunks of this novel reading just one or two chapters at a time before having to set it down. It's not that it isn't a fascinating tale, it is, but the narrative doesn't flow and I'm not sure whether that's the fault of the author or the translator or possibly a combination of both. What most appeals about this book though is the way in which the grasslands existence is brought to life for the reader. It's quite an insight into an often brutal reality. An epilogue chapter, where Chen Zhen returns to the grasslands some thirty years later, is quite damning on what has happened in those intervening years. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Jul 23, 2015 |
Wolf Totem is the story of a Chen Zhen, a young Beijing student who is sent to the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967. He lived with the nomadic Mongols, who are a proud, brave, and ancient race of people, exploring the harmony, beauty and also cruelness of nature. As well as learning the philosophy the Mongols have towards nature and their attitudes towards the wolf; who keep the ecological balance.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows an experience that the author, Lü Jiamin (writing under the pseudonym Jiang Rong) had during the height of China’s culture revolution. This revolution was a social-political movement that took place within the People’s Republic of China between 1966 and 1976. The communist chairman Mao Zedong’s goals were to preserve the true communist ideals within China. This meant the purging of capitalism and even traditional culture.

In the height of this purge, the protagonist is exploring the folk traditions, rituals, and life on the Steppe, looking into the culture and traditions of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and the Han Chinese farmers. These traditions were at risk of being purged under Chairman Mao’s rule, allowing the author to talk about the importance of keeping ancient traditions alive.

Also within Wolf Totem there is a whole obsession Chen Zhen has with wolves. They are seen to keep nature in balance. He fears and respects the wolves but he also questions their role in nature. A connection could be made between the wolves and the Communist party but that is up to the reader to decide.

I found this book to drag on a bit too much; there is a lot of information about wolves and agriculture that seemed to just go on and on. However, Wolf Totem explored some unfamiliar cultures to me and gave me great insight into one man’s opinions about the culture revolution. I think I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it did not drag on so much; could have purged at least a hundred pages. Having said that, I am glad I read it and I think it is worth exploring different points of view.

This review originally appeared on my blog; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/05/30/wolf-totem-by-jiang-rong/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | Jun 1, 2015 |
Although the ending is no surprise, tears still welled up. The view of life on the grasslands of Mongolia was fairly unsentimental most of the time, despite the narrator's infatuation with the wolf totem. ( )
  leslie.98 | Mar 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jiang Rongprimary authorall editionscalculated
Goldblatt, HowardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hasselblatt, KarinÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Now he understood how the great, unlettered military genius Genghis Khan, as well as the illiterate or semiliterate military leaders of peoples such as the Quanrong, the Huns, the Tungus, the Turks, the Mongols, and the Jurchens, were able to bring the Chinese (whose great military sage Sun-tzu had produced his universally acclaimed treatise The Art of War) to their knees, to run roughshod over their territory, and to interrupt their dynastic cycles.
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An epic Chinese tale that 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.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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