But it is foreign readers who are being stung. Suggesting that Wolf Totem is about nature being a bit unkind is like saying that Animal Farm is a country tale for children. This is no ecological fable, but a nationalistic tract in fictionalised form, backed by incoherent theorising of a quasi-racist kind. If the People’s Liberation Army and big businessmen are encouraging their staff to read it, it is not for its story about our furry friends, or its concerns over the Inner Mongolian grasslands, but for its brute political message.
Not that the reviewers are entirely to blame. Large chunks of the Chinese text — including many a wacky, racialist reflection — have been silently axed in a way calculated to make the work more appealing to a kidult generation, for whose attention all publishers now strive. The result is less about how the Han Chinese and Mongolians are descended from the same blood line, and how today’s China should show the Genghis Khan spirit, and more about the rescue of horses trapped in ice, or fetching descriptions of gazelles gambolling on the sunny steppe.
What Jiang is saying in his book, often explicitly, is that the Han Chinese have degenerated into a bunch of sheep, who have allowed domestic and foreign wolves to gobble them up without complaint. He is not alone in his call for a more vigorous China. A decade ago, a book called China Can Always Say No proved another shock bestseller. (The title is an echo of the famous Japanese essay of 1989, The Japan That Can Say No, which called for a more independent Japanese foreign policy.) Just as the British Foreign Office is said to exist for the protection of foreign interests, so Waijiaobu, the Chinese Foreign Relations Ministry, is called Maiguobu — “the Sellout China Ministry” — by its critics. Since bits of the country were literally sold off to the Russians or Japanese by bribe-taking Chinese politicians, generals or officials in the early 20th century, the charge has historical bite.
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