The Ethnic Ecocritical Animal: Animal protagonists and ethnic environmentalism in contemporary Sino-Mongolian literature and art

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on ideas from ecocriticism, literary animal studies, and post-colonial studies, as well as anthropology and cultural studies, this article examines the representations of animals in contemporary Sino-Mongolian literature and art, and the various connections between these representations and issues related to ethnic and environmental politics. I propose that the intensive engagement of Chinese-Mongolian writers and artists with animals is related first and foremost to the central role that animals, both wild and domesticated, have traditionally played in Mongolian nomadic pastoralist culture. However, I also argue that it is closely connected to two interrelated processes that are currently taking place in Inner Mongolia: the severe degradation of the Inner Mongolian grassland and the rapid sinicization of China's Mongols. I suggest that in the context of this environmental and cultural crisis, the engagement with animals reflects anxiety about the fate of the Inner Mongolian grassland, the fate of real animals, which, for centuries, have been closely associated with this landscape and Mongolian nomadic culture, and, most importantly, the fate of Mongolian culture itself. I also argue that Sino-Mongolian writers and artists use literary and artistic animals to construct and assert Mongolianness as part of their search for an 'authentic' ethnic identity, and to comment critically on the impact that Chinese domination has had on the Inner Mongolian grassland, its indigenous human and non-human inhabitants, and Mongolian culture and identity. Finally, I propose that through their ethnic environmentalism, Chinese-Mongolian artists and writers have made an important contribution to the development of China's environmental movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1015-1063
Number of pages49
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to Shahar Bram, Ayelet Ben-Yishai, and the two anonymous reviewers for Modern Asian Studies for their valuable comments. All of the translations from Chinese in this article are mine. The research for this article was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 435/16).

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The Ethnic Ecocritical Animal: Animal protagonists and ethnic environmentalism in contemporary Sino-Mongolian literature and art'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this