When we think of China and Chinese culture we tend to think of paddy fields, bamboo, poetry, and other southern things – or perhaps of the Great Wall or the terracotta army in Xi’an. Few will think of snow and skiing and reindeer. But that too, is part of China.
The Evenks are a reindeer herding people who live in the north of China and in Russia. Originally, they moved freely across the borders, but since the beginning of the 20th century their movements have been restricted. War, revolutions and modernization have also had a serious impact on Evenki culture, and few young Evenks today learn to speak the Evenki language. In recent years, however, there has been an increased interest in the Evenks and their history among the Han Chinese, and several novels connected to this ethnic group have been published. Most famous is perhaps Chi Zijian’s novel The Last Quarter of the Moon (迟子建：《额尔古纳河右岸》translated by Bruce Humes and published in English in 2013, by Harvill Secker). That novel is the fictional biography of an old Evenki woman who has lived through war and social change, a life that spans almost a whole century.
And now we have The Moose of Ewenki 《鄂温克的驼鹿》, a picture book written by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane 格日勒其木格·黑鹤 and illustrated by Jiu Er 九儿.
Gree Shrek is an old Evenki hunter who by mistake kills a female moose, leaving her young calf orphaned. He decides to take care of the calf, brings it back to his camp and gives it a name – Xiao Han. Xiao Han joins the herd of reindeer, but soon outgrows them all. In spite of his size Xiao Han is still young and likes to play, which results in one awkward and funny situation after another. But Gree Shrek is getting old and he knows he has to let Xiao Han return to the forest. It’s a sad goodbye – in fact, Gree Shrek has to threaten Xiao Han to make him leave – but it turns out that the young moose is ready to face life on his own and quite able to deal with vicious hunters.
Gerelchimeg Blackcrane is one of China’s foremost writers of children’s books about animals and wildlife, and he has a deep knowledge of Evenki culture. Jiu Er’s beautiful illustrations in mostly brown and green shades makes Xiao Han come alive, and there’s a large dose of humor in her depictions of his antics. All in all, The Moose of Ewenki is a lovely book and a reminder that China is a multi-cultural country with many peoples aside from the most well known.
The Moose of Ewenki, text: Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, illustrations: Jiu Er. Translated by Helen Mixter. (Greystone Kids 2019). ISBN 9781771645386.