Li Cunbao, who has previously used the pen name Mao Shan, was born in February, 1946, in Wulian County, near Shandong province’s city of Rizhao. In 1964, he joined the armed forces, 22 years after which he graduated from the department of literature at the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Art. He has served variously as the director of the literary office of Jinan Military Region’s political department, vice-dean of the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Art, and as a ranking major general. He was a member of the 8th, 9th, and 10th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conferences, and served as vice-chairman of the 6th, 7th, and 8th China Writers Associations.
In all, Li has published more than 2 million Chinese characters of literature. His works The Wreath at the Foot of the Mountain and Nineteen Tombs in the Mountains topped booklists and were winners of the 2nd and 3rd “National Outstanding Novella Award” respectively. The movie version of The Wreath at the Foot of the Mountain, the adaptation of which Li took part in, took home the award for best screenplay at the 5th “Golden Rooster Awards”.His long-form reportage pieces Da Wang Hun and Yimeng’s Item 9 — both collaborations — were awarded the “National Reportage Award”, while his collection of essays Forgotten Dreams of the Big River won the 3rd “Lu Xun Literature Award”. A number of his other collections of essays have also been highly popular, including Green Nonsense, The Swansong That Floated Away, The Last Wild Elephant Valley, and Sons of the Big River. Li’s novels have been translated into languages including English, French, Japanese, and Russian. In 1989, his work The Wreath at the Foot of the Mountain was included in Garland Publishing’s 20-volume series “World Literature in Translation”.
Li writes with a manner of grandeur, in a style that undulates freely and is powerfully unconstrained. He himself is self-effacing, generously open-minded, sincere in his treatment of others, and a great appreciator of painting, calligraphy, and unusual rock formations. He is particularly adept at describing war and other violent clashes, from which he draws out the tragedy and multiplicity of the human character, honing the spotlight on the noble virtues of heroic figures and the richness of their inner psyches. Li’s works are imbued with fiery emotion, profound philosophies, simple writing, and rich flavor.
Following Third Battalion’s Ninth Company in Yunnan province’s border defense force, The Wreath at the Bottom of the Mountain describes the life of one military leader before, during, and after the war. The story portrays a group of heroic soldiers from the time, replete with their upright ideology and moral fiber. Ninth Company’s commander Liang Sanxi is given permission to return home to visit his family, as his wife, Yu Xiu, is soon to give birth. Meanwhile, Zhao Mengsheng, another member of Ninth Company who has struggled to adapt to his position, is looking for an easier life, and is spending all his time trying to get himself relocated. Commander Liang, though, is unable to pry himself away from his work in the Company, and keeps pushing back the date of his visit home, until he receives the order to go into battle. At this point, Zhao has received his notice of relocation to the city. Under the pressure of public opinion, however, he is forced to the front line. In combat, Commander Liang provides cover for Zhao and is shot and killed. In his pocket is found a paper slip documenting his debts, which his mother and wife manage to pay off with compensation they receive for his death. In a baptism of blood and bullets, Zhao is tested, and ultimately grows to be a true soldier.
Forgotten Dreams of the Big River sets off describing the Yellow River as a river of nature, one that calls the wind and summons the rain, shaking earth and heaven. It then describes the Yellow River as a river that is badly broken, robbed of its beauty by sections that have run dry. Next, it describes the Yellow River as a river of history, whose embrace gave life to so many ancient sages and philosophers: Laozi, Zhuangzi, Confucius, and Mencius. Further still, the book describes the Yellow River as a river of culture, its imposing manner having churned out great artistic maestros like Li Bai and Xian Xinghai. Then, it describes the Yellow River as a river of the heart. It is the place from which the Chinese people have risen, the cradle of Chinese civilization, the source of blood that curses through the spirit of the country’s masses. It is the foundation to the people’s spiritual castle.
Li’s essay The Death of Whales stems from interviews the author conducted among troops in Qingdao and a fishing village. There, he heard that whales once came and went with frequency, yet now they are a rare sight. He then saw images on television of whales killing themselves in groups, and was overcome with profound sorrow. It was a problem about the ecological balance between humans and nature, between humans and animals. With this realization as his catalyst, he penned the 180,000-character essay, in which, through the gradual unmasking of the phenomenon of whale group suicide, he raises serious questions to be answered about the environment and ecology.