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Wolf totem art wolf totem by liyinnb on DeviantArt

Wolf Totem is narrated by the main character, Chen Zhen, a Chinese man in his late twenties who, like the author, left his home in Beijing, China to work in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. Through descriptions of folk traditions, rituals, and life on the steppe, Wolf Totem compares the culture of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and the Han Chinese farmers in the area. According to some interpretations, the book praises the “freedom, independence, respect, unyielding before hardship, teamwork and competition” of the former and criticizes the “Confucian-inspired culture” of the latter, which was “sheep-like”. The book condemns the agricultural collectivisation imposed on the nomads by the settlers, and the ecological disasters it caused, and ends with a 60-page “call to action” disconnected from the main thread of the novel.

Ruth Brooks

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