Guo Xuebo’s “Moŋgoliya”: Guide to Related Links

Guo Xuebo’s “Moŋgoliya”

《蒙古里亚》(郭雪波 著)


A tale of ruthless ecological exploitation,

a 20th-century European explorer’s fascination with Altaic culture

& epiphany in today’s Inner Mongolia



Author’s Bio + Major Works + Foreign Editions

Présentation: Guo Xuebo (in French)

Writer of the Month: Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing



“Moŋgoliya,” A Contemporary Novel of Strip Mining, Quests for the Altaic Soul and Social Justice


Excerpt from the Novel

The Mongol Would-be Self-immolatorChinese  English  Turkish


Links to Complete Works in Chinese


Backgrounder: Mongolian author Guo Xuebo

Author’s Bio

Although he writes in Chinese, Guo Xuebo (郭雪波) is fiercely proud of his Mongolian heritage and was raised in Inner Mongolia’s Khorchin Grasslands (Hure Banner). Now 71 and bilingual, he spoke Mongolian at home and school until he was 13. He graduated from Beijing’s prestigious Central Academy of Drama (Department of Literature and Drama) in 1980, and in the same year, passed the entrance exam to Hohhot’s Institute of Literature under the Inner Mongolia Academy of Social Sciences. Since 1984, he has held the post of Assistant Researcher at this institute, undertaking research in various aspects of Mongolian history, culture and drama.

In  2018, he participated in Symposium – Space to Speak: Non-Han Fiction and Film in China and Beyond, held at the University of Leeds in the UK. In fact, as a popular indigenous author of borderland fiction and scholar of Mongolian culture and history, over the years he has frequently been invited overseas. In 2004, he took part in France’s Salon du Livre as a member of the China Writers Association delegation. He attended the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair when China was the Country of Honor, participated in literary salons in Munich and Düsseldorf, and was interviewed by Deutsche Welle in Bonn. He delivered a speech, The Mongols: Religion, Culture & Nature Worship, at Canada’s University of Waterloo in 2016, and was invited as a visiting scholar by New Zealand’s University of Auckland, where he delivered a lecture on Mongolian folk culture in 2017.


Major Works, Motifs & Awards

Guo Xuebo is a prolific writer who has published seven novels including Moŋgoliya (《蒙古里亚》2014), over a dozen collections of novellas and short stories, and authored three screenplays for Chinese-language films, including those based on his novel Wolf Child (《大漠狼孩》a best-seller in China) and short story Desert Fox (《沙狼》translated into several languages).

His writing strongly reflects his upbringing in the grasslands of northern China and his Mongolian roots and culture. Themes include wildlife on the steppe and in the desert, often recounted from an animal’s perspective; animism, and the role of Shaman as both a spiritual mediator and a community leader; and the history of interaction — and sometimes violent friction — between the indigenous Mongolian herders, the ruling Manchu during the Qing dynasty, and the Han who came to exploit the land as miners and sedentary farmers.

Guo Xuebo’s fiction has won significant recognition outside mainland China. His Desert Fox was chosen for inclusion in a volume of short stories, part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works (a translation project, 1948-2005). His novella, The Desert Soul, won Taiwan’s United Daily News 18th Literature Prize, and his novella, Stepfather, was awarded the Religious Literature Prize co-sponsored by Taiwan’s Central Daily News and Ling Jiou Mountain Buddhist Society.

For a one-stop view of Guo Xuebo’s published works in Chinese, visit douban (豆瓣).


Foreign Language Editions 

A collection of 4 of his short stories (The Desert Wolf, The Sand Fox, Sand Rites, Sand Burial) has been published in English (The Desert Fox), French (La renarde du désert), Japanese (砂漠の物語) and German (bilingual). Several of his novels are currently in translation, including The Wolf Child (Korean), and Hero of Inner Mongolia, Gada Meiren (《青旗·嘎达梅林》Mongolian). An excerpt from his novel Moŋgoliya, The Mongol Would-be Self-immolator, has been published online by Asia-Pacific Journal.

“Moŋgoliya,” A Contemporary Novel of Strip Mining, Quests for the Altaic Soul and Social Justice


《蒙古里亚》     郭雪波 著

Original novel in Chinese by Guo Xuebo
Synopsis by Bruce Humes



A tale of ruthless ecological exploitation,

a 20th-century European explorer’s fascination with Altaic culture

& epiphany in today’s Inner Mongolia

This semi-autobiographical novel comprises three parallel narratives that eventually intersect in 21st-century Inner Mongolia: A spiritual journey, in which the author — ostensibly the narrator — seeks his Shamanic roots, long obscured in post-1949, officially atheist China; vignettes from the Xinjiang and Mongolian adventures of Henning Haslund-Christensen, born to a Danish missionary family in 1896, explorer and real-life author of the anthropological masterpiece Men and Gods in Mongolia; and the tribulations of Teelee Yesu, a fictional modern-day Mongolian herdsman, seemingly the village idiot, whose very survival is threatened by the encroaching desert and coal mine truckers running roughshod over his tiny tract of pastureland.

Motifs interwoven throughout the tale include the affinities between the peoples of Europe and the Mongols, despite the sedentary lifestyle of the former and nomadic ways of the latter; the fusion of Shamanism and Buddhism over the centuries; two different quests, the narrator’s for the origins of his soul, and the foreign adventurer’s for the essence of steppe culture; and the exploitation and degradation of the grasslands by political powers over the centuries — first the Manchu, then the Japanese and Han — that is in stark contrast to the Mongolian veneration of Nature as sacred and endowed with sentient spirits.


Guo Xuebo, author of “Moŋgoliya”

Now a renowned author based in China’s capital, narrator Guo is back for a visit to the Inner Mongolian village where he grew up speaking the language of his people. One day he finds himself at the summit of Mt. Gahai, the location of an ovoo — a heap of stones marking a sacred site — said to be a Shaman’s altar. Eager for an afternoon siesta, he closes his copy of Men and Gods in Mongolia, pillows his head with it and wonders what has pulled him here like a magnet. Could it be the tufts of slender needlegrass that pepper the mountaintop? Dubbed “the soul’s perch,” it is believed that the soul of a recently deceased person will fix itself atop a strand of needlegrass. When the stalk does not bend, the disembodied spirit realizes that it has shed its mortal coil.

Da Yeye, a long-dead Shaman and elder brother of the author’s paternal grandfather, appears in Guo’s dream. Each human being possesses a tripartite soul, he pronounces: One part inherited from one’s parents, another from one’s ancestors, and a third, a wandering spirit whose reincarnation in the world of the living is pre-destined. The author has recently been consumed by a keen desire to learn about Shamanism, despite repeated campaigns by the Party since the 1950s to eradicate such superstitions. He heard tell there were Shamans among his ancestors. “Where did my ‘third soul’ come from?” he queries anxiously.

This is something Da Yeye will not reveal. The answer must occur through personal revelation. “Return home and ask your mother what happened at your birth.” For now, the author should do his best to look after someone named

The Lion of Denmark: Henning-Haslund’s seal in Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian (collection of Denmark’s Nationalmuseets Samlinger Online)

Teelee Yesu, he says enigmatically. “And never forget: You must not stop simply because the journey is long, nor fail to move a boulder simply because it is heavy.” And with that, the apparition vanishes.

As Guo descends the mountain, he encounters a stranger — named “Teelee Yesu”— searching for three head of missing cattle. Thus begins the saga of the narrator’s involvement with this deceptively simple-minded Mongolian herdsman, who will pop up throughout the tale.

Perceived locally as a writer with influential Beijing connections, Guo frequently intercedes on behalf of his relative, as much out of curiosity as sympathy. Teelee, it emerges, is housing a “crazy” Han woman, already several months pregnant, whom he discovered wandering in the sand dunes. Incoherent and babbling a Chinese dialect no one can decipher, she urgently requires pre-natal care, and Guo, moved by the devotion Teelee and this mysterious woman show one another, arranges hospitalization for her. At one point, in an attempt to obtain compensation from the coal mine for his sheep flattened by one of their trucks, Teelee ingeniously threatens to set himself on fire (see excerpt). When Teelee is briefly jailed, and interrogated in the middle of the night by unidentified agents — self-immolation is treated as a “terrorist” act in today’s PRC — Guo visits and tries to get him released. [Read more…]