Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (Translated by Howard Goldblatt) - review by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky

Leading the Pack

Wolf Totem


Hamish Hamilton 526pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Wolf Totem is the best Chinese book I've read for many years and the only really good novel. It is enlightening, poignant, mysterious – and a miracle.

It is a miracle because it is an onslaught – as the author has stated elsewhere in so many words – on Chinese culture, more particularly in its modern form: ‘sheep-like’, materialistic, insensitive, ecologically stupid, ignorant, and chauvinist. How Wolf Totem was permitted publication by the official censors, and how Jiang Rong remains at large, beats me. I'm not surprised, however, that Wolf Totem has sold many thousands of copies in China: readers there are just as eager for good literature as anywhere else and like all subjects of authoritarian regimes they search for anything that lifts the curtain hiding the realities.

Jiang Rong (apparently a nom de plume) gives us a profound look into a ‘barbarian’ culture. That is what the Chinese have, for centuries, called non-Han (that is, non-ethnic Chinese) ‘minority peoples’, whom the Hans, throughout their rule over China and its non-Han regions, have admired, scorned, misunderstood and violated.


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