YANG ZHIJUN (1955— )
YANG ZHIJUN (1955— ). Fiction and prose writer. Yang Zhijun’s literary career is built upon his many years of experience living and working in the Tibetan region of Qinghai. Although he has written extensively on the western frontier and its rich cultures, it is Zang ao (The Tibetan Mastiff) that won him national fame. The novel personifies the canine species famous for its ferocity and loyalty. The central characters are two packs of mastiffs, each belonging to a Tibetan nomadic tribe, who are civilized by their masters but still maintain their primordial nature. The brutal world of animals vividly portrayed in the novel resonates with the time-honored customs, including religious practices, of the Tibetan nomads. The mastiffs’ fights among themselves for supreme leadership mirror tribal conflicts in the grassland and human relationships. Zang ao 2 (The Tibetan Mastiff: Part 2) and Zang ao 3 (The Tibetan Mastiff: Part 3) focus on the deep bond between the narrator’s father, a Chinese who is a principal and teacher in a Tibetan nomadic community, and the mastiffs he rescues and raises. Through the description of the mastiffs’ battles with wild wolves, who are despised in the Tibetan grassland for being greedy and selfish, and their heroic deeds during blizzards to protect their masters and herds of sheep and cattle, the novels foreground the spirit of loyalty and courage. The triology ends with the narrator’s father leaving the grassland to return to Xining during the Cultural Revolution when the struggle for power in the human world brings devastating destruction to the mastiff population. In these novels, the mastiffs are endowed with humanlike intellect; the line between humans and animals is indistinguishable. Yang also makes liberal use of magic realism when he portrays Tibetan religious practices and traditional beliefs.
Yang is also known as an environmental activist with a series of writings on the devastation afflicting the Tibetan Plateau and the heavy price humans pay for their ambition to conquer nature. These works include “Huan hu bengkui” (The Collapse of the Lakeside), “Hai zuotian tuiqu” (The Ocean Receded Yesterday), and Wu ren buluo (A Tribe without Human). Like Ernest Hemingway, Yang examines the everlasting struggle of humankind with nature, through which to explore the meaning of life. The Tibetan Plateau, with its unique natural environment and rich cultural traditions, has been his inspiration. Whether he will continue to write about China’s western frontier or find a new muse, now that he has settled in the modern coastal city of Qingdao, remains to be seen.