- Liu Xianping: A Literary Call for an Ecological Conscience
Since the 1970s, “Green” literature, ecoliterary studies, and a discourse concerning the connections between literature and the environment have all been developing rapidly. However, they have not been the sole preserve of Western, Anglophone authors and academics. With the environment’s fate a global concern, writers around the world have been contributing to the discussion, although much of their work goes unnoticed by Western scholars. One important figure in the development of ideas about how human beings relate to the natural world is Liu Xianping (1938–), well-known writer of children’s literature in China, and a pioneer in Chinese nature writing. Since the 1980s, he has regularly travelled with scientific wildlife expeditions to places such as Yunan province and Tibet. These field trips and explorations of nature have resulted in several dozen literary works, with a new theme, [End Page 107] new characters, a new look, and an exploration of a new area in literature. Using an almost documentary-like prose style, his work shows the world of wildlife deeply hidden in the forest, or on the desert plateau, and finds a transcendent state of human existence where human and nonhuman nature are in harmony, a coexistence for a common prosperity. Liu Xianping’s nature writing has been an important addition to Chinese literature during the three decades of reform and opening up in that country, but it also marks an important change in the concept of eco-writer and eco-aesthetics.
For more than thirty years, Liu Xianping’s footprints have covered almost every corner of China, from the southwest to the north, from the east to the west, with his soulful eyes taking in every forest and meadow, lake and mountain, animal and plant. Each discovery in the natural world means not only an adventure, but also reveals his closeness to, and understanding of, natural life. From this point of view, Liu Xianping’s great literary creation is not a matter of literary word games; he has raised the banner for nature writing with a feeling for life, a meeting of the soul and nature. Indeed, his is the kind of ecological literacy that David Orr (1992) notes as being the “demanding capacity to observe nature with insight, a merger of landscape and mindscape” (86). Liu Xianping’s nature writing is among the most original and creative work in China today.
Recently, Liu Xianping has published his My Friends in the Wild series through Mingtian Publishing House. His Nature Literature Series is published by Anhui Publishing House, which is particularly exciting since it shows the publishing house’s move toward a social vision for children. This is a series of nine books; most recent in this series is Zou Jin Pa Mi Er Gao Yuan: Chuan Yue Chai Da Mu Pen Di [Going into the Pamirs: Through the Qaidam Basin] (2008), a work which Liu Xianping wrote at the age of sixty-six after he visited the Pamirs, travelling through the Qaidam Basin, making observations of this harsh environment, and giving access to ecological feeling and thinking through his text. Together with his youngest son, Liu Junzao, Liu Xianping walked into the Qaidam Basin to study this natural environment in south-western China, to understand nature’s magic, deeply feel its rhythms, and then to write about it.
Reading each chapter of this work, one is attracted not only to the magnificent landscape of the Pamirs, the Qaidam Basin, and the geographic and cultural character of the natural environment there, but also to Liu Xianping’s deep sense of conscience. Books such as He Hei Ye Hou Dui Hua [Dialogue with Langurs] and Xun Zhao Da Shu Du Juan Wang [Finding the King of the Rhododendron Trees] reflect Liu Xianping’s consistent literary style, maintaining his usual level of ecological and moral thinking. Other of his works, such as Yun Hai Tan Qi [The Adventure in the Sea of Clouds] and You You Lu Ming [The Call of the Deer], give readers a sense of the writer...