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A gigantic talent (3)

By Chitralekha Basu and Zhao Ruixue (China Daily)

10:40, May 09, 2012

Indeed, images of the sea and sailing metaphors inform a lot of his writing, from his first landmark work, The Ancient Ship, to You Are on the Highland, which, apart from its coastal setting is also replete with a whole world of inter-textual references to ancient Classical mythological tales, such as that of Qu Yuan and Xu Fu's ship.

Sadly, that mythical, pristine world of innocence is shrinking, making way for development. In September's Fable, Zhang uses a very striking image - that of moles burrowing in and turning the earth over, creating a complex system of underground tunnels, an obvious metaphor for New China being exposed to mechanization, juxtaposed against the old world of village chiefs and their authoritative wives.

Zhang concedes that development is necessary. "But if it's at the cost of destroying nature I do regret the loss," he says.

"In this age when idealism is subverted, reading Zhang Wei has a special significance. His protagonists seem to be retreating in the real world, but getting ahead in the spiritual," wrote Chen Sihe, a literary critic and academic, in an article published on

Ning Qie, the protagonist of You Are on the Highland, is a victim of displacement with the coming of industrialization. In The Ancient Ship, the old world's complicated responses to the mechanization of the traditional glass-noodle manufacturing units often lead to bizarre, high-octane drama.

What worries Zhang more than forests and agricultural lands having to make way for factories is the rupturing of the country's moral fabric. "The recent scandals about capsules (in which medicinal capsules were found to contain toxic elements in excess of safety standards) and gutter oil are examples of a diminishing morality."

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