Jean-Jacques Annaud on _Wolf Totem_

“Wolf Totem” is “just up my alley,” Annaud said. It’s set on the vast plains of Inner Mongolia, “one of the most remote places in China,” per Annaud.

The 3D, widescreen movie is budgeted at a reported $38 million — big for France, huge for China.

It adapts the eponymous 2004 novel by Lu Jiamin, published under the name of Jiang Rong, which has sold over 20 million copies, making it the second most read book in China after Chairman Mao Tse-Tung’s “Little Red Book.”

The China Film Group, Bill Kong’s Edko Films and Annaud’s Paris-based Reperage produce; Wild Bunch sells rights to Europe.

Lu’s autobiographical novel was 30 years in the writing and is, according to Annaud, “an emotional story with the emotion of vastness.” It follows a student, Chen Zen, sent from Peking to Inner Mongolia to teach a nomadic tribe of shepherds in 1969.

But it is Chen who ends up learning from the tribes folk about existence on the plains and their near-mystical bond with that wolves that a government apparatchik wants to exterminate.

Annaud sees Lu as a soul brother. The year that Lu was dispatched to Mongolia, Annaud was sent to teach film in Cameroon as part of his military service.

“It changed my life entirely. I was so transformed, my whole life was modified. I was so proud of being French from Paris, knowing Latin, Greek and medieval history. And then the next day I was sitting in the middle of the forest with an old chief,” Annaud recalled. “I discovered myself, I discovered the balance between man and nature, respect for other creatures.”

The wolves in ”Wolf Totem” are a metaphor for human society: Annaud says he sees little difference between the behavior of a pack of wolves and a pack of politicians.

There is, of course, an irony that ”Wolf Totem” is being produced by the state-backed China Film Group, while Seven Years in Tibet is still banned in China.

But China is “much more complicated, fascinating, amusing” than most people imagine, Annaud said. If Chinese authorities didn’t like his version of Wolf Totem, he would not have made the film, he added.

[Original article by John Hopewell in Variety,, accessed May 20, 2013]

[Images of Annaud and wolf trainer Andrew Simpson from]

Mo Yan talks to Chen-ning Yang about Chinese sci-fi, name drops Liu Cixin

[Transcribed from a talk between Mo Yan and Chen-ning Yang, moderated by Fan Zeng, that took place Wednesday May 15th at Peking University.]


Fan Zeng: Chen-Ning Yang once said, “Scientists have never been able invent anything, all they are doing is discovering [that which already exists].” I want to ask Mo Yan, is your writing an act of invention, or do you use another method [to create your work]?


Mo Yan: I think the creation of literature and discovery of [new] science have a lot things in common, and they also have some differences, too. Writers pay attention to people, scientists pay attention to things; writers delve into human emotions, scientists pay attention to the principle of matter, I suppose. So it’s possible that the same object viewed through the eyes of a writer and a scientist doesn’t [appear] the same. I remember Lu Xun once said, “When most people look at flowers, all they just see are beautiful blossoms. But through the eyes of a botanist they become the reproduction organs of plants.”


But in the process of creation they also have a great deal of things in common. Strictly speaking, writers don’t ‘create life from nothing’, [because] all of the characters that a writer gives form to in his works are composites of real people who have been passed through [the writer’s] imagination and embellishing, but they really can’t be matched to the name of any living person, either. They belong the writer’s act of literary creation. So to my way of thinking, in this literature is somewhat freer than physics or chemistry.


Fang Zeng: I think it is much freer, especially [the writing from] your pen. [Your pen is] like a magic pen, it affects miraculous transformations while giving people a even more realistic feeling. That’s my impression [at least].  So, while we are on the subject of style, [the fact that different] writers have [distinct] styles goes without saying, [but what about] a scientist’s style?  What is stylistic differences exist between scientists and writers?


Chen-Ning Yang: I think that there are differences. This is closely related to the question you asked a few minutes ago, regarding the relationship between invention and discovery. It doesn’t matter if you are a scientist, a writer, an artist, the boundary between discovery and creation isn’t fully apparent [in any of these fields]. But I think the following makes a lot of sense: the amount of discovery that occurs in science is slightly less than in literature. To approach this idea from another direction, I know that Mo Yan likes to write ‘fantastic tales’,  is there such a thing as

‘fantastic science’? I don’t think there is, [because] science as a branch of learning is based on conjecture and not fantasy. I think fantastic science is a dead end, because what science wants to understand is phenomena that already exist. Before humanity existed, there was already electricity, magnetism existed [too]. Scientists want to understand the structure of the universe [and] you need imagination for this, you need conjecture, this is really different from the fantasy [employed] in literature. I don’t know if Mo Yan agrees with my opinion on this or not.


Mo Yan: Of course I agree. Writers really do need fantasy, we also know that there is a significant genre of literature called ‘science fiction’, with a large number of readers. Actually, many writers really don’t know anything about physics or astronomy, but they can still describe [these things] in their novels. I remember reading Pu Songling’s short story ‘Conductor of Thunder’ a long time ago. It’s a story about a scholar who plucks the stars [down from sky]. There are a lot of these sorts of descriptions in literature. Really, works of literature are built on the foundation of one’s experiences in life, and so science fiction authors build atop a certain amount of scientific knowledge. The difference between literary fantasy and the conjecture of scientists is larger [because literary fantasy] is built atop a certain amount of life experience, followed by [the addition of] imagination and analogy.

[Source:, accessed 18/5/2013]

Apparently just after this transcript cuts out, Mo Yan mentions Liu Cixin. The best I can find is the following snippet from an article on China Daily:


The amount of discovery that occurs in science is more than that which occurs in literature, [and] the amount of invention which occurs in literature in more than that which occurs in science,” [Chen-Ning Yang] said.


In response Mo Yan talked to Chen-Ning Yang about science fiction. He told Pu Songling’s story ‘Conductor of Thunder’ and he also complimented Liu Cixin’s _Three Bodies_, [saying that] it was well written. Mo Yan had already talked about the influence and inspiration Pu Songling[‘s writing] gave to his writing during his acceptance speech in Stockholm last year.

[Source:, accessed 18/5/2013]

Center for Science and the Imagination: Science Fiction in China

Center for Science and the Imagination: Science Fiction in China

[I tried to post this as a comment on their website directly but their commenting system — or my proxy— seems to be broken]

As ‘Fei Dao’ is Chinese, ‘Dao’ would be his first name, not his last. Of course, ‘Fei Dao’ is a nom de plume, as was explained in the interview, which (using the original characters) means ‘Flying Knife’. He replaced ‘Knife’ with the homonym (in Chinese) ‘Deuterium’ (a heavier isotope of of hydrogen). Either way I don’t think you can break these two terms apart.