Li Jieren’s novel, Ripple on Stagnant Water, published by MerwinAsia, is populated with gangsters, prostitutes, farmers, dilettantes, bureaucrats and Christian converts, all drawn from the author’s acquaintances. While giving an incomparably vivid account of the lives of commoners, it illuminates a complex balance of power at the end of the last dynasty, when Western powers were clashing with imperial troops in far-off Peking, and the under-ground fraternities of this provincial backwater were chafing at the activities of foreign missionaries.