From the Margins to the Hearth:
A Study of Xu Gang’s Environmental Reportage

By Li Guo

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 31, no.2  (Fall 2019), pp. 162-206

This study of Xu Gang’s environmental reportage works focusses on two representative works, Loggers, Wake Up! (Famuzhe, xinglai! 1987) and Watching over Home (Shouwang jiayuan 2005). Xu Gang’s reportage works comprise narratives of earth history, legends, ecocentric imaginations of environment and non-human species, field work interviews, and the author’s memoirs and travel accounts. These melded and creative narratives contribute to an organic understanding of mankind and its living environment as a biodiverse system, and invite a reconceptualization of home as a portable and shifting habitat. In Xu Gang’s view, topophilia, or love of earth, is not confined to the reference of one’s lived locational experiences, but indicates an affective ability to connect one’s subjective experiences with surrounding ecosystems and to achieve sympathy and mutual understanding. Home for Xu Gang entails an understanding of the Earth as a planetary abode for man and natural species, as well as the earth or soil-ground as the site and carrier of men’s toil and exploration of nature. Besides, in Xu Gang’s view, an indispensable stage of human beings’ affective encounter is the process of environmental awakening, that is, man’s awakening to being an integral part of earth’s ecosystem and responsible inhabitant of a planet that needs collective efforts of protection and sustenance. Xu’s pliable approach takes reportage beyond narrative descriptions and signals a responsive interpretation. His diegetic narrator in reportage serves as a witness of earth history and agent of activist environmental storytelling. Ultimately, as displayed in Xu’s reportage works, affective encounters with nature can be an activist effort to retrieve damaged or lost territories and restore marginalized places as loved locations.