National Extinctions: China, Australia and Narratives of Extinction

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


China and Australia have many differences, but each became nations in the modern sense in the early twentieth century. In this chapter, we explore the particular role that animal extinctions play in the respective national narratives of China and Australia. The connection between species extinction and nation might seem surprising at first, but in the national era, the environment is often seen as expressive of a national spirit or essence, and nationalism typically draws on the environment to provide a natural basis for its imagined unity. In this chapter, we compare environmental writing in China and Australia by focusing on two celebrated novels which detail extinction, Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem (狼图腾 Láng Túténg, 2004) and Julia Leigh’s The Hunter (1999). Drawing on Ursula K. Heise’s book Imagining Extinctions (2016), we propose that these two novels of the disappearing wolf—one Mongolian and one Tasmanian—are narratives of national extinction which give expression to ‘hopes that a part of one’s national identity and culture might be preserved, revived, or changed for the better if an endangered species could be allowed to survive or an extinct one could be recovered’ (Heise, 2016, 49). Moreover, we also contend that extinctions increasingly take on a transnational significance, particularly in the case of novels such as The Hunter and Wolf Totem which, as well as being celebrated within their national contexts, became global novels (each adapted into films) and circulated in the global literary and cinematic systems.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTranscultural Connections
Subtitle of host publicationAustralia and China
EditorsGreg McCarthy, Youzhong Sun, Xianlin Song
Place of PublicationSingapore
ISBN (Electronic)9789811650284
ISBN (Print)9789811650307, 9789811650277
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Oct 2021


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