This Week’s Word Is “Canal.”
DK has a long tradition of publishing books with intricate, information-packed illustrations, most notably, Stephen Biesty’s, “Cross-Sections” and David Macaulay’s, The Way Things Work. This time they have turned their attention to China, calling on the skills of Chinese artist Du Fei. China Through Time takes “a 2,500 year journey along the world’s greatest canal.”
What Is China Through Time?
It’s a slim hardback of 32 pages, that looks at the history of China’s Grand Canal. It’s aimed for readers around 8 upwards. There are 14 double-page murals, depicting a different period of Chinese history, starting from its construction in 486 BCE and ending in Tianjin in 2020CE.
The book is laid out in a slightly curious order; it doesn’t run chronologically.
Generally, time moves forward as you progress through the book, but there is the odd page that bucks this trend, most notably the Tianjin page. Similarly, we don’t travel down the river as we read the book, which would have been another logical way to organize things. Instead, we jump back an forth in both time and space!
Each double-page spread contains a mural painting that encompasses most of the page space. There is one paragraph of text, describing the setting, and around each mural is a border that contains key bits of information about the painting and the time it depicts. This border text also contains prompts of things to spot and look out for. Every picture contains Lihua, the time-traveling cat, for readers to find.
China Through Time opens with a short description of the Grand Canal, providing useful context for those of us whose grasp of Chinese history and geography might be lacking. This introduction contains a map annotated with which pages a particular section of the canal is referenced. The book closes with a glossary and a list of hints as to where you might find Lihua the cat.
Why Read China Through Time?
China Through Time is a beautifully put together book. Du Fei’s artwork is magnificent and the border notes and prompts complement the pictures well. It’s definitely the sort of book that keeps you interested, with different things to spot. The pictures do cover and convey lots of Chinese history, with many panels depicting pivotal moments, such as a change in Imperial dynasty. It’s an engaging read and a great way to find out about Chinese history.
There is a curious omission of any history from 1910-2020. Quite a lot happened in China during that period, so this doesn’t feel like a satisfactory state of affairs. The 1910 entry talks of the end of Imperial rule, but doesn’t give any details about what came after.
The lack of continuity in timeline/geography as you progress through the book is a curious editorial choice. It’s not a huge thing, but I would have preferred the book to be laid out more logically.
Inevitably, the book’s appeal is niche. The Way Things Work and (some of) the Incredible Cross-Sections books have a broader appeal as they are about everyday items. China Through Time has a single focus which will likely narrow its appeal. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent addition to any library.
If you found this review helpful, please check out my other Word Wednesday posts.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.