by Frank Ching
In dynastic China, Frank Ching writes, time was measured in 60-year cycles. The Communist Party's completion of one cycle also marks the reissue of Ancestors: The story of China told through the lives of an extraordinary family. First published in 1988, it is a careful dissection of Ching's family tree with roots that go back to 1049 and the birth of the poet Qin Guan. As with many of Ching's ancestors - among them officials and scholars, and a predecessor whose highest academic achievement was that of 'Distinguished Failure' - the fate of Qin (the Pinyin for Ching) Guan depended on the quirks of the ruler at the time. Ching, a columnist for the South China Morning Post, began the 10-year project to trace his ancestors after a half-sister gave him a book that had been their father's before he died in 1959. Ancestral Genealogy of the Qin Clan of Wuxi contained the names of all their forebears going back 33 generations. In writing the mini-biographies of the personalities that crowd the book, Ching gives context to China's history. He also learns about his father and realises his own desire to be an ancestor, which was fulfilled with the birth in 1990 of his son.