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Totem Admiration in China's Ethnic Groups
2005-3-1 21:14:17
A book entitled "Wolf, The Totem" was one of the best sellers in China last year. This novel describes how and why the Mongolian people in north China worship the wolf and tells some of the many stories of encounters between Mongolian herdsmen and wolves on the grasslands. To learn more about totem admiration among many of China's ethnic minorities, join us at China Horizons.
Hello and welcome to another edition of "China Horizons" on China Radio International. I'm Tim Stoney in Beijing.
In today's edition:
--We first look at the history of totem worship in China. A book published last year has revived interest in the ancient totem worship of the wolf in Inner Mongolia. We look at he development of totem worship and what it means for modern China.
Then we'll introduce you to the Salar ethnic group to catch a glimpse of their unique folk customs and life-style.
-- And finally in our regular travel segment, "On the Road", we will take you to the Mogao Caves near the town of Dunhuang in Gansu Province to visit one of the most significant collections of Buddhist artifacts ever uncovered
For all these stories and more, please stay tuned to "China Horizons"!

Last year a book entitled "Wolf, The Totem" was one of the best sellers in China. This novel describes how and why the Mongolian people in China's north admire the wolf and tells some of the many stories of encounters between Mongolian herdsmen and wolves on the grasslands. The instant popularity of the novel has seen the upsurge in people's interest in the wolf and the subject of totem admiration among many of China's ethnic minorities in general. Shenting has the story.

Song "I'm a wolf from the north"
What you heard just now is a very popular song by a famous Taiwan singer, Qi Qin.(馴背) The song is called "I'm a wolf from the north". Indeed, wolves are often seen on northern China's vast grassland and are the totem of the Mongolian people. As you might already know, China's north is also home to dozens of the country's ethnic minorities, including Mongolian, Uygur and Manchu. During primitive times, about 20 to 30-thousands years ago, many ethnic tribes used particular animals as the emblems of their clan to distinguish themselves from others. Some pierced their body with the pattern of animals; some used the animal's fur and skin, bone or teeth to decorate themselves. In general, the whole tribe would dress up in a unified animal sign.
Many thought they were actually descended from a particular animal. They admired the traits of the animal in humans and told stories of how their ancestors evolved from certain kinds of animals or how the animal they admired save the lives of their ancestors, and therefore the whole tribe survived. They paid special respect to these animals, almost the same way they would show respect to their ancestors.
Sa Rina, a Mongolian student studies in Beijing tells us why Mongolians would chose wolf as their totem.
The admiration of Mongolian people for the wolf started from very early age. The first Mongolian history book has it that the Mongolians are the descendents of the holy wolf and deer.
Sa Rina says there were two tribes of Mongolian people, one that admired the wolf and the other the deer. The wolf is stronger than a deer, so it's only natural that Mongolian people eventually chose the wolf as the animal they admire.
Professor He Xingliang is an expert of ethnology. He says that the reason why the wolf became the totem of Mongolians is closely linked with the living environment and habits of Mongolian people. As a typical nomadic people, Mongolians live on the grasslands, and herd cows and sheep. Wolves are, therefore, one of the greatest dangers to Mongolian herdsmen as they often eat sheep and goats. After many years of struggle and trying to get along with wolves, Mongolians gradually develop a kind of love-hate relationship towards wolves.
Ethnologist He Xingliang again:
First , it's a kind of psychology resulting from both fear and admiration. The wolves were always in groups on the grassland. In ancient times the Mongolians never had enough weapons to protect their livestock from wolves, so Mongolians feared wolves; Secondly, the wolf is a kind of animal that is both cruel and tender. There are many legends about how wolves helped save people's lives, so there is a kind of admiration towards the animal; thirdly, the wolf has many living habits that are similar to human beings. In ancient times, the Mongolians were curious about this and couldn't figure out why. Curiosity and innocence often lead to admiration.
It seems that the Mongolians benefit a lot from their long-term relations with the wolf. Apparently, Sa Rina is one of the Mongolians who still respect wolf today.
In the minds of most Mongolians, wolves are brave and wise and diligent and persistent. I think that we should learn from the wolf. It will be of great help to our work and our lives.
Actually, Mongolian is not the only ethnic minority in northern China, which has the wolf as a totem; there are many other ethnic groups, which admire the wolf and other animals, such as the bear, deer, eagle and swan.


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