Rong Jiang Biography
Jiang Rong is the pen name of Lu Jiamin (in Chinese, the family name comes first). To protect himself from what he describes as "the least liberal country
in the world", he wrote Wolf Totem under a pen-name and carefully
hid his real identity. It was not until he won the Man Asia prize in 2007,
three years after the book was first published, that anyone outside a small
circle of friends knew what Jiang looked like. Before the Man Booker prize
he had given interviews but never allowed his photograph to be taken. Some
critics have dismissed this as a marketing gimmick but for Jiang it was a matter
of survival. Speaking after the Man Asia prize was announced he says:
"When the book came out three years ago, it was controversial. Critics called me
a liberal, a traitor, a fascist. They said the book was anti-communist, that it
should be banned by the propaganda department because it has evil political
aims, that it stands for liberalism and capitalism. That is why I thought it was
wise to hide my identity at the time. But now things have changed. We have
economic freedom, social freedom, literary freedom, internet freedom, even press
freedom has improved quickly. The conditions for freedom in China have
Lu Jiamin (family name = Lu) was born in Jiangsu in 1946. His biggest influence
was his mother. In the 1920s and 30s, she had been an underground member of the
communist party in Shanghai. After Mao took power in 1949, she moved into
education, working for the women's federation and running the Jiangsu provincial
Speaking to the British newspaper The Guardian, Lu says, "I have a liberal
character by nature. It comes from my mother. She liked to travel and we moved
house a lot - Shanghai, Wuxi, Nanjing and Beijing. She was exposed to western
culture through the films she loved to watch. She took me to the movies every
week. We saw Russian, Indian and western films. And she bought me lots of
western children's books. We loved to read western novels." Among them were
Eyre and Wuthering Heights."
His happy childhood came to an end in 1957 when his mother died from cancer and
war injuries at 39 years of age and Mao launched a bloody anti-rightist purge of those who
criticized him. The years that followed were rife with doubts, suspicions and hardships.
The family moved to Beijing in 1957 where Lu entered a middle school attached to
the Central Academy of Fine Arts (which he entered in 1966). In 1964, he wrote a poster
criticizing the latest political campaign. It was the first of four times in his
life that he was to be condemned as "counter-revolutionary".
During the early months of the Cultural Revolution his father, a disabled
veteran who had fought against the Japanese, was denounced as a "black gang
capitalist-roader" and was beaten so badly he nearly died. Jiang fought
back, joining the student Red Guard and rose to become deputy head of the
revolutionary core group in his college. When asked whether he felt torn
after what happened to his father he says: "Yes, there was a confusion in my
mind. But I thought things would improve ... There was a conflict within me
between Mao's theories and western liberal theories."
In 1966-67, he was in a Red Guard gang that ransacked homes in Beijing,
confiscating and burning any books deemed counter-revolutionary. While
publicly following the mob, Lu squirreled away many of the novels, adding them
to a secret collection he had bought and kept in two large trunks.
After a year, the Cultural Revolution collapsed into factions and Mao sent the
students into the countryside to learn from the masses. 21-year-old Lu was
one of the first to volunteer to be sent to Inner Mongolia's East Ujimchin
Banner in 1967, where he lived and labored with the native nomads until the age
of thirty-three. He took with him two cases filled with Chinese translations of
Western literary classics, and spent eleven years immersed in personal studies
of Mongolian history, culture, and tradition. In particular, he developed a
fascination for the mythologies surrounding the wolves of the grasslands,
spending much of his leisure time learning the stories and raising an orphaned
In 1978 he returned to Beijing, continuing his education at the Chinese Academy
of Social Sciences one year later. The period between 1978 and his retirement
from academia in 2006 is murky. Lu is reluctant to give details about topics
that are still politically sensitive but he has confirmed reports that he was
jailed for more than three years, narrowly missing the death penalty; that he
founded the "Beijing Spring" reform publication during the protests in 1978; and
that he spent 18 months in prison following the Tiananmen Square protests in
Wolf Totem is a fictional account of life in the 1970s that draws on Lu's
personal experience of the grasslands of China's border region. He spent
six years researching and writing the book. Today, the book has sold more
than 2 million official copies in China with an estimated 10 times that amount in pirated copies.
Apparently, the only book to have sold more copies is Mao's "Little Red Book."
This biography was last updated on 03/12/2008.
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