Ever since Warriors of the Rainbow was shot entirely in Seediq in 2012, the language of Taiwan’s Seediq aborigines, China has been playing catch-up, competing to produce films at least partially in tongues native to the PRC other than Mandarin. Ironically, the latest and perhaps the most popular effort, Wolf Totem (狼图腾), was directed by a Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Annaud. The movie based on the novel of the same name by Jiang Rong (姜戎), has been released for viewing in China. Howard Goldblatt rendered the novel in English back in 2009.
I haven’t seen the film, just the trailer here. Looks pretty exciting.
This may actually be the first time most Chinese — or foreigners for that matter — hear Mongolian spoken on the screen. So I’m wondering: How realistically is the language portrayed? Dubbed or “real-time”? How much of the conversation is actually in Mongolian, with Chinese speakers having to read the sub-titles of a film shot in their own country?
If you do watch the movie, please leave a comment that addresses the question of how Mongolian is used in the film.
I googled various terms to find a movie poster in Mongolian, not Chinese, but the only one I found is shown above. This appears to be the Cyrillic form of Mongolian used in Mongolia proper. I could not find any posters in the older vertical script that is still the official version in Inner Mongolia, which suggests that promotion in the PRC is being done mainly or entirely in Chinese.
Meanwhile, Mongolian novelist Guo Xuebo (郭雪波) has blasted both the movie and the author of Wolf Totem for their depiction of the link between wolves and Mongolian culture. According to a translation of his Weibo text in the South China Post (‘Fake’ Mongolian Culture), “Wolves have never been the totem of Mongolians, and there’s no record of any wolf totem in Mongolian literature or history.” But some cultural historians would dispute this, because according to a well-known interpretation of one famous line in The Secret History of the Mongols (蒙古秘史) — an enigmatic 14th-century work that has done much to contribute to the mythology surrounding this people — the primordial ancestors of Genghis Khan’s clan were a deer and a wolf.
Mind you, according to Wikipedia, all existing versions of the book, which is considered the oldest surviving Mongolian-language literary work, are “by an anonymous author and probably originally in the Uyghur script, though the surviving texts all derived from transcriptions or translations into Chinese characters dating from the end of the 14th century.”