Wolf Totem: writer blasts hit film over 'fake' Mongolian culture

Guo Xuebo claims movie, released at Lunar New Year and showing folk traditions, rituals and lives of the ethnic Mongolian nomads and their bond with wolves, distorts the truth

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 February, 2015, 5:29pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 February, 2015, 4:36pm

An ethnic Mongolian writer has criticised one of the hit films of the Lunar New Year holiday, claiming the movie distorts the truth and is based on a "fake culture forced on Mongolians".

Wolf Totem, based on a 2004 semi-autobiographical Chinese novel of the same name by Zhang Rong - the pen name of Lu Jiamin - describes the experiences of a young Han student, played by Feng Shaofeng, who is sent to teach in the countryside of Inner Mongolia in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution.

As he spends time with shepherds in the region, Feng starts to learn about the folk traditions, rituals and lives of the Mongolian nomads, as well as their bond with the wolf, a species threatened by officials.

The book also praises the teamwork and competitive spirit of the Mongolians, as well as their freedom, independence and respect for nature.

The film had already generated 248 million yuan (HK$312 million) at the box office by Monday since its release on the mainland on Thursday, news portal reported.

But novelist Guo Xuebo, a member of the China Writers Association, said on his microblog last Wednesday that wolves had never been an emblematic animal for Mongolians.

"Wolves have never been the totem of Mongolians, and there's no record of any wolf totem in Mongolian literature or history," Guo wrote.

"The wolf is the natural enemy in the lives of Mongolians, and wolves have no team spirit and often fight each other."

He described wolves as "greedy, selfish, cold and cruel" and said that "advocating the spirit of wolves is [a kind of] fascist thought that goes against humanity".

"We reserve the legal right to safeguard the history of our ancestors and our ethnic culture."

Guo also said that a senior ethnic Mongolian writer complained about the book when it was first published, but "our voices were so weak compared with the interest group formed by Wolf Totem".

Wolf Totem's director, Jean-Jacques Annaud, is no newcomer to controversy. His 1997 film, Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt, was condemned by the Chinese government and resulted in Pitt and the director being banned from entering the mainland.

The movie was about an Austrian mountaineer's experiences in Tibet from 1944-51, including his time teaching the young 14th Dalai Lama.

Annaud, who has since been welcomed back by the Chinese authorities, also directed The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery, Enemy at the Gates, starring Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes, and The Lover, starring Tony Leung and Jane March.