Wolf Totem Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Lü Jiamin (pseudonym: Jiang Rong)

Alternate Title: Láng Túténg

First published: 2004 (English translation, 2008)

Genre: Novel

Locale: Inner Mongolia, China

Plot: Nature writing

Time: 1967–2002

Chen Zhen, a student from Beijing in Inner Mongolia during China's Cultural Revolution. An ethnic Han Chinese of no particular distinguishing features, Chen Zhen has an inquisitive mind and becomes fascinated with Mongol wolves. When he arrives on Olonbulag pasture in 1967, he befriends old Mongol herder Bilgee. Chen survives his first encounter with wolves by clanging together his metal stirrups, frightening off the pack. During his second year on the Olonbulag, Chen accompanies Bilgee to watch a wolf pack trap a herd of gazelles. Chen treats his hosts with reverence and a fierce desire to learn about their culture. He captures a wolf cub to raise it to breed later with a dog to create sought-after wolfhounds, much to Bilgee's consternation. Later, Chen watches helplessly as the army kills the wolves of the grassland. When Chen's cub, Little Wolf, injures himself mortally trying to flee, Chen kills Little Wolf with a spade. Chen watches the Olonbulag become devastated by overgrazing and farming over the years until he returns to Beijing in 1978. He visits twice more and, in 2002, learns 80 percent of the grassland has become a desert.

Bilgee, a traditional Mongol herder on the Olonbulag grassland. Bilgee is weathered and strong and wears a goatee. He is in his early sixties and embodies the thousand-year-old lifestyle of the Mongol herdsmen. He cherishes the ancient spiritual belief in the wolf totem. He tries in vain to persuade the local Communist rulers of the need of a balanced ecology that includes wolves. Bilgee strongly objects to Chen's raising Little Wolf because wolves are not pets for Mongols and he sees this as demeaning the wolf's spirit. Bilgee reluctantly guides local military leaders on wolf hunts and opens up a new pristine pasture for their development schemes. When he dies in 1976, he is among the last to be given a sky burial, yet only hawks, not wolves, come to consume his corpse.

Little Wolf, a young male wolf cub caught by Chen Zhen. He has a fiercely independent spirit and gray-yellow eyes, a long snout, triangular ears, and long straight legs. While he is still blind and not weaned, Chen Zhen steals him and his six siblings from his mother's den, planning to one day mate him with a dog. Chen calls him Little Wolf and feeds and plays with him. Little Wolf constantly tries to escape. Chen puts a permanent long leash on Little Wolf in his pen and walks him in the afternoon. When Little Wolf bites Chen, Chen cuts off the tips of the cub's teeth, rendering him unable to survive in the wild. When the Mongol herders move, Little Wolf refuses to walk alongside a moving ox cart while tied to his leash. He injures himself before Chen puts him on the cart in a basket through which Little Wolf tries to chew. Little Wolf hurts himself mortally on his leash as he tries to join surviving wild wolves in Mongolia in autumn. Chen kills Little Wolf to end his agony.

Bao Shungui, a middle-aged local military leader on the Olonbulag. An ethnic Mongol, Bao comes from a family of farmers and has little respect for herder traditions. After wolves kill horses that are meant for China's military, Bao vows to exterminate all wolves on the grassland. Bao remains unconvinced of Bilgee's passionate arguments for a balanced ecology including wolves. He leads a successful wolf hunt and is promoted. In the spring of 1970, Bao has Bilgee and others open pristine grassland for herding and settlement. He brings many migrants from his village to settle there and enjoys unsustainable hunting of wildlife. When the army arrives, Bao enthusiastically joins their wolf extermination campaign.

Yang Ke, a Beijing student volunteering for service in Inner Mongolia. An ethnic Han Chinese of no particular special features, Yang Ke is more moderate in his beliefs and actions than his best friend, Chen Zhen. On the Olonbulag, Yang is made a shepherd like Chen. He joins Chen in capturing Little Wolf and reluctantly supports raising the cub. Yang falls in love with the natural beauty of the freshly opened grassland in the spring of 1970. He is particularly fond of the swans on the lake and is anguished when Bao's men shoot the swans and plunder their nests. Yang later becomes a local grammar school teacher.

Batu, Bilgee's son. Batu, an ethnic Mongol, has a broad ruddy face with amber eyes and a strong body. Initially, he is a local militia leader. When he loses a horse herd to the wolves, he is demoted and has to serve in the despoiling of the land and the killing of wolves.

Gasmai, Batu's young wife, another ethnic Mongol. She once holds a wolf that breaks into the family's sheep pen by its tail and breaks its tailbone so that her big dog Bar can kill it. Gasmai helps Chen Zhen to adapt to a traditional Mongol herder lifestyle and to raise Little Wolf. In old age, Gasmai is sad to see the land being greedily degraded.

Staff Officer Xu, a Han Chinese sharpshooter assigned to the army corps moving into the Olonbulag. He shoots his first two wolves from a moving jeep. He leads a vicious wolf extermination campaign that kills almost all the wolves and drives the survivors to Mongolia.

Categories: Characters