The Ancient Ship by Zhang Wei HarperPerennial, HK$120 It is a little more than 21 years since Zhang Wei published The Ancient Ship, his epic account of life in the People's Republic of China from 1949 to the end of the 1980s, and its emergence as a superpower. Finally translated into English by Howard Goldblatt, the novel is vast in scope, covering three generations of three families. Set in and around the fictional town of Wali, renowned for its glass noodles, Zhang's tale recounts the tangled fortunes of the Sui, Zhao and Li families, who repeatedly fall in love, feud, leave their hometown (or return to it) and, inevitably, die. Along the way, they live through the Great Leap Forward, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. In Wali, however, Mao, the party and the Gang of Four are remote figures. China's shifting political moods are felt through Zhang's vast cast of characters: Sui Buzhao, returned from travelling the world; Li Qisheng, who challenges the embryonic Communist Party and is tortured for being a 'reactionary'. The Ancient Ship is an impressive, if occasionally frustrating, work. The constant echoes and repetitions offer their own critique: the more things change in China, the more they stay the same.