Wolves and Wolf Men as Literary Tropes and Figures of Thought: Eco- and Zoopoetic Perspectives on Jiang Rong's 'Wolf Totem'

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Jiang Rong's international bestseller, 'Wolf Totem' (Chinese original 2004, English translation 2009) presents wolves as agents of ecological balance in a world increasingly thrown out of kilter by modernity, and laments their extinction in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. The novel was greeted in the West as evidence of China’s awakening to environmental consciousness. However, its portrayal of wolfish nature also has a darker side. This book chapter shows how it relates to a tradition of narratives in which wolves and wolf men serve as figures of thought conveying ambivalent social and political messages. The different dimensions of Rong’s conception of wolves and wolfishness are examined and his novel is compared with wolf stories by Jack London, Hermann Löns and Otto Alscher. Viewed in ecopoetic perspective, the wolf is a literary trope through which a complex understanding of nature and our human relationship with it is configured. Seen from a zoopoetic perspective, it is associated with conceptions of human-animal relations and human animality, and serves as a social and political role model. The success of Rong’s book is explained not least by the different levels of meaning of the wolf trope and its openness to different interpretations.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTexts, Animals, Environments
Subtitle of host publicationZoopoetics and Ecopoetics
EditorsFrederike Middelhoff, Sebastian Schönbeck, Roland Borgards, Catrin Gersdorf
Place of PublicationFreiburg, Berlin, Vienna
Number of pages18
ISBN (Print)9783793099284
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameCultural Animal Studies


  • wolves
  • Jiang Rong
  • Wolf Totem
  • literary tropes
  • fascism
  • Jack London
  • Hermann Löns
  • Otto Alscher

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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