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 improved."
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 nursery school.
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 and books she liked to read. We loved to read western novels." Among them were Jane 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 wolf cub.
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 1989.
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."
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