Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Chinese literary sensation wins Man Asia Award

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Monday November 12, 2007 writing in The Guardian

A controversial Chinese tale of environmental destruction, spiritual freedom and the threat modernity poses to the nomadic way of life has won the first Man Asia literary prize. Wolf Totem was written by a retired professor under the pseudonym Jiang Rong, because of its sensitive subject matter and the author's chequered history, which includes a spell in jail after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
The novel, which will be published in English next year, was chosen to win the inaugural award from a shortlist of works by five Asian authors.

Adrienne Clarkson, the chair of the judging panel, called Wolf Totem "a passionate
argument about the complex interrelationship between nomads and settlers,
animals and human beings, nature and culture. The slowly developing narrative
is rendered in vivid detail and has a powerful cumulative effect. A book like
no other. Memorable."
The novel is based on the author's experiences as an intellectual in the inner-Mongolian grasslands during the 1966-76 cultural revolution. It extols the virtues of Mongolian
nomads, who find a balance in living with nature, even with the wolves that prey
on their herds. This way of life is threatened by the materialism of the Han
ethnic majority, who bring environmental destruction and an oppressive
political culture that is the antithesis of the free nomadic and wolf-like
spirit. Jiang, 61, whose real name is Lu Jiamin, was unable to attend the ceremony in Hong Kong because of ill health, but in a statement he said he had spent 30 years thinking and six
years writing the novel.

Wolf Totem is a publishing phenomenon in China, where it has sold two million legal copies, along with an estimated 10 times that number of pirated books. It has been the subject of
literary debates, management motivation courses and military training
lectures. Even the propaganda minister has praised its style, something which may
have saved it from a ban.

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