Set during the Cultural Revolution, “Wolf Totem” describes the education of And, especially in its depictions of wolf hunts, Jiang Rong’s novel. Ursula K Le Guin goes hunting on the Mongolian plains with Jiang Rong and his Chinese bestseller Wolf Totem. Wolf Totem. Jiang Rong, Author, Howard Goldblatt, Translator, trans. from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt. Penguin Press $ (p).

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I don’t know what it means to sell four million copies of a book in China – that’s a lot of books, but there are a lot of Chinese. At any rate, four million of them have bought copies of Wolf Totem since it was published inand that must mean something, since the book’s clear moral agenda doesn’t fit smoothly with the policies of a “corporate Communist” state that has set economic growth and productivity above all other considerations.

The author, Jiang Rong, escaped the excesses of the cultural revolution in the 60s to live with the nomad peoples of Mongolia, shepherds and horsemen; the novel is based on his 11 years’ experience there.


What he saw was a millennial lifestyle, a human “climax culture”, rough and without luxury, always near the edge of survival but always surviving, and highly sophisticated in its conscious maintenance of the complex cycles, the natural balance of the vast grasslands.

The sky is the god of these people, the wolf their totem and tktem teacher. The rather naive style of the book recalls Jack London much admired in China: The set-pieces are painted with a broad brush. The first is a hunt, carried out by the wolves and profited from in moderation by the tribesmen: The Mongols, tote, their custom, will scavenge enough for their needs and leave the rest for the wolves’ winter larder.

Wolf Totem

A young Chinese man from the city, shocked at the slaughter, declaims about cruel wolves and innocent grass-eaters. Old Bilgee turns on him with a fine rant: All else is little life that depends on the big life for survival.

Even wolves and humans are little life So the grass isn’t to be pitied? Grass is the big life, yet it is the most fragile, the most miserable. wllf

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong – Reading Guide – : Books

Anyone can step on it, eat it When they graze the land, isn’t that killing? When you kill off the big life of the grassland, all the little lives are doomed.


This scene is followed by a powerful one, the long, appalling massacre of a horse herd by wolf-packs totwm into a frenzy of hunger.

The wolves are starving because the Chinese, not listening to the old Mongol’s warning, have taken all the dead antelope for their hides, leaving none for the wolves.

The great cycle has for the first time been broken by human greed. And that is the sorrowful theme of the tktem of this long book.

Keep off the grass

An epilogue takes us back to the grasslands 30 years later. There are no wolves.

There is no grass. A “yellow-dragon sandstorm” rises, yellow dust blowing away on the wind to choke the air in the distant cities of China.