Two widely read Chinese novels of the past 20 years—Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain (1990) and Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem (2004)—echo Henry David Thoreau’s proclamation (in his essay “Walking”) that “in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”
These texts, which reveal their origins in journals, present highly personal quests for what remains of the wild in China;
turning their backs on Beijing, the authors search for validation of a belief, expressed by Thoreau and other environmental
writers within a Romantic tradition, that a people in close contact with the wild maintain a strength, earthiness and vitality
not found in urban cultures; and that close contact with the wild, especially with wild animals, has a spiritual dimension.
These compelling Chinese quests yield different results, inevitably depart from Thoreau’s 19th-century optimism, and make
complementary statements on what modern China risks losing as it progressively, and in the name of “progress,” eliminates