(Both books are borne from the ashes of the cultural revolution in China. MY's book tells the story of a wealthy and kind landowner who's killed in 1948 during Mao Zedong's land reform movement. Tell us about that first.) Well Mao Zedong is going to break up all the large land owning states and one of the victims is this landlord who believes he's a good guy. What happens in the novel is he keeps getting reincarnated as many different animals and that covers the recent history of China. (How does this emerge as a criticism of Zedong?) Well what he's doing is poking fun at Mao Zedong. And he uses the different animals that this landowner is reincarnated as to prove the ridiculousness of Zedong's philosophy. (Have you ever met MY?) Yes, he's a wonderfully funny man, and his name is often raised to be one of the first Chinese to be a Nobel laureate. (So Wolf Totem is a different kind of book and was amazingly popular in China. This one is set in Inner Mongolia during the 1960s where the main character, a Han Chinese, comes as a volunteer to live among the nomad Mongolians.) It gives a chance to see what the cultural revolution looked like in practice. This man falls in love with the ways of the Mongolians, after having set out to change their ways of life. (So a major theme is how the Han Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in China and don't understand other ways of life and as a result destroy the ecosystem in other parts of China, like Mongolia.) Exactly and this is what happens in the book. (Why is this book so popular in China?) I think there's a perception of the environmental crisis in China and people want to find out the lessons from the Cultural Revolution. The Mongols actually have customs and a relationship with the earth that might be instructive for the Chinese.
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