The mystery of Shennongjia’s wild man is well known in China, yet has remained unsolved for decades. In his book, Zhang faithfully records his own spiritual journey and remarkable experiences: his joy at coming across a population of golden monkeys in the pine forest of Qianjiaping; the thrill of escaping a bear’s den that he accidentally wandered into in Yinxinshuping, the delight of finding tracks of the wild man on Tiger Peak.
His search for the wild man brings out the wonder and mystery of the Shennongjia Nature Reserve itself and a rare harmony between man and nature. As he says, his experiences can be summed up in four axioms: treat all things with kindness; put life first; respect nature, and use science to preserve it. And so his book also calls for us all to protect biodiversity and ensure that all species have somewhere that they can call home.
Zhang also expresses his doubts about the current methods by which nature reserves are run, with an over-reliance on commercial operations to generate income. “If the resources of a nature reserve are treated only as a part of the material economy,” he writes, “then the future will bring over-exploitation and destruction. Preservation is not just an economic issue; respect for life, respect for biodiversity is also a moral issue.”
So whether the wild man in western Hubei province is real or not, and whether or not we will ever know, is not the most important part of this book. How to face our challenges and maintain our faith, while working to realise harmony between man and nature – that is the mystery we have to solve.
The Mystery of the Wild Man
Kun Lun Press, 2008
— By Li Siqi