Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mennonite Christianity evolved out of the radical Anabaptist tradition—a fiercely independent, pacifist faith that demands of its practitioners a separation from the world and often compels them to leave behind native lands, customs, and language in search of a country where they can live out their faith. The Blue Mountains of China thus follows the arduous quest of several Russian Mennonite families for a land where they can live, love, and worship their God freely.

Forced apart by the political events of their day, their lives touch one another in strange ways and places, and at strange times. This spiritual quest and the entanglements of these families form the central irony of the novel as it evolves. The color blue has often been used by fiction writers as symbolic of the unreachable or unattainable. Medieval legends spoke of a “blue flower of longing,” represented by absent lovers or the striving after a mystical experience with God. The blue mountains of the novel come to represent a goal that is never reached despite the valiant efforts of the characters.

Thus Wiebe hints that men and women find their destiny only in the search, not in the discovery. Toward the end of the novel, John Reimer observes that Mennonites have always wanted “to have a land God had given them for their very own, to which they were called,” adding sardonically that “they are still trying to find it, and it isn’t anywhere on earth.”