Chinese Literature - Li-hua Ying 2010
JIANG RONG (1946— )
JIANG RONG (1946— ). Fiction writer. As one of the first group of educated teenagers sent from Chinese cities to the grassland of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, Jiang Rong learned to herd sheep, ride horses, and most important of all, love and respect the most feared and revered Mongolian wolf. He developed a fascination with the wild animal and came to understand why the Mongolian nomads worshiped wolves. Many years later, this extraordinary experience resulted in a novel. Lang Tuteng (Wolf Totem), published in 2004, tells the tale of Chen Zhen, a Beijing youth who comes to Inner Mongolia to escape the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, which is turning the capital into an inferno, uninhabitable for kids from educated families such as Chen. While learning to become a nomad from his Mongolian surrogate father, Chen attempts to unravel the secrets behind military conquests led by Genghis Khan and his troops. The novel evokes comparisons between agrarian and nomadic lifestyles and beliefs, questioning the myths of the Han Chinese culture whose staunch defenders have proselytized its “civilizing” conversions of the “barbarian” peoples. The narrator argues that the Han “sheep culture,” which depends upon farming, is meek and anemic when brought face-to-face with the vigorous “wolf culture” of the nomads. He proposes that the nomadic cultures have continuously injected fresh blood into the Chinese civilization, helping it maintain its vitality. In the novel, the protagonist learns to appreciate the wild wolves and uncovers the similarities between human nature and animal instincts, as the fearless wolves reflect the qualities that help the Mongols win wars and overcome the harsh environment. Reminiscent of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, the novel is a eulogy for the primordial spirit, a tribute to the myth of the hero who survives hardships and challenges by strength and courage as well as instinctual intelligence, which still appeals to the modern man. While London’s story centers on the “decivilization” of the animal, Jiang’s novel focuses on man’s return to the primitive. As the Mongolian grassland has been reduced to deserts, packs of wolves roaming the open space are scenes of the past. For that reason, the novel is also an elegy for the endangered ecosystems of our world.