Reviews

Fran Knight, Richmond Primary School, SA

Originally posted on the website of the publisher, Allen & Unwin

A timely production with the Beijing Olympic Games just around the corner, this book by Adeline Yen Mah will have classes enthralled. Not only is it a spirited history book, but it contains dozens of entertaining asides and anecdotes which will thrill and titillate the reader. I found myself wholly engrossed in this chatty history book, revealing the scope of China’s history from the time of the first emperor to today.

Beginning with the first emperor, Quin Shi-huang, ascending the throne in 247 BC ready to amalgamate the seven states, the reader is given an overview of just how he maintained power, deciding to build the Great Wall, and using 700,000 men from all over China to build his tomb. His tyrannical rule saw canals, highways and bridges built, and he stipulated that every book before his rule be burned and that history should begin with him. Within this chapter is also a double page spread about the Terracotta Army and a scattering of astounding facts about the tomb.

Each of the 10 chapters goes on in this vein, giving a potted history, an amazement of facts and inserts which reveal more information about specific subjects. In chapter three concerning the Han dynasty, we read of the Silk Road, in chapter five, within the Tang dynasty appears a double page spreads about Printing. Each chapter has a specialist section within its pages, expanding on something for which China is famous.

For the specialist or for the interested reader, for the student, class and teacher, this book is a winner. Its profusion of photos, drawings, maps, and inserts makes it an entertaining and informative book to read. In a class room, a set of this book will be a most useful addition for students of China, history or the Olympics. It gives a tantalizing insight into the country where this year’s Olympic Games is to be held; a country which is gaining in prestige and influence in world politics and a country to which Australia is increasingly tied.

Highly recommended.

Judith Way , Mill Park Secondary College, VIC

With the Beijing Olympics being held this year, this is more than a timely introduction (or a broadening of one’s knowledge) on China, its history and its people. Did you know that one fifth of the world’s population is Chinese? (That’s 1.3 billion people) Did you know that there are more Chinese learning English today than all the native English speakers on the earth? Told by famous author Adeline Yen Mah this history of China is written with a younger audience in mind. Clearly told, the book covers the first emperor of China to the communist rule of Mao Zedong, to modern day China. Visually enticing Mah captures need to know facts with photos, maps, sketches, information pages, etc. The mysticism surrounding China and its people is interestingly documented in this compacted history.

  • Have you ever wondered when and why The Great Wall of China was really begun?
  • That the wall is sometimes referred to as the longest cemetery on earth?
  • Do you know what the connection between Opium and the British taking occupation of Hong Kong in the mid 1800s is?
  • Why did China get Hong Kong back in 1997?
  • Why was it compulsory for all Chinese men to have a pigtail (queue) between 1644 – 1911?
  • What is the cultural significance of the Chinese Dragon?
  • Did you know that porcelain, fireworks and gunpowder are Chinese inventions?
  • What has the Boston Tea Party got to do with China?
  • Within China: who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese or Hokkien?
  • With over half a million words in the English language, how many Chinese words are there?

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors is a perfect starting point for any young person exploring China’s country and its culture.

Jodie Webber, Hurlstone Agriculture High School, NSW

China: Land of Dragons and Emperors is a wonderful book by a favourite author. This time, Adeline Yen Mah has brought us a non-fiction book just in time for the Beijing Olympics. The beautiful design of the book brings history to life and the small chunks of information made the book very readable, whether it is cover to cover or dipping in and out of pages that grab you. An excellent index also contributes to the overall appeal of the book. China: Land of Dragons and Emperors could be used by classes in a few different ways:

  • In English classes as a companion to books such as Chinese Cinderella
  • Giving a background to the book by looking at a brief history of China.
  • As a history text studying ancient civilisations.
  • In art or graphic communication to look at successful book design.

Knowing that many students will be studying China this year (and into the future), China: Land of Dragons and Emperors is a book that every school library should have at least one copy of.

Julie Davies, Sutherland Shire Christian School, NSW

When I first unpacked this book, I must confess to some initial disappointment: I’ld envisaged a larger format, colour illustrated book describing something of the history and civilisation of the Olympics™ host nation, and backgrounding its contemporary culture and customs. That’s my fault though, for having wrong expectations. What we do have instead is a very readable compendium of Chinese history following the stories of the six major dynasties, beginning in 259BC with the man who first united the separate Chinese stages, and the communist regime of the 20th century. Along the way, the author singles out important individuals from that history for special mention, as well as giving the story of the amazing number of inventions that saw their first manifestations in China

There are generously sprinkled black and white illustrations: line drawings, diagrams and photographs, a bibliography (including websites), comprehensive index and a very handy timeline. While there are included two 2-page maps, I found it frustrating that

there were often references to cities which I couldn’t find on either map. Another helpful addition would be a pronunciation guide for the most common Chinese diphthongs. Sometimes these are given in the text, but not always, and a systematic list would be very useful.

This is a good introduction to an important and very significant part of Chinese history. It is, however, somewhat repetitive (see for example the discussion of gunpowder, Pages 147 and 188) and sometimes it is a little less than clear to which earlier referent the author is alluding.

In the introductory To the Reader section, the author provides a simple but compelling reason for all libraries to hold one copy at least of this book: Presently, one-fifth of the world’s population is Chinese, totaling over1300 million people. There are more Chinese learning English today than all the native English speakers on Earth. One day China could become the number one English-speaking nation as well as the world’s largest manufacturer and consumer. Perhaps it is time to know something about China. (p.xi)

For teachers wanting teaching materials for backgrounding a unit on the forthcoming Olympics, we will need to look elsewhere. For those teaching a unit on Ancient China, as our Year 7 HSIE staff is doing this term, China: Land of Dragons and Emperors will be an invaluable resource.

Susan Stephenson, NSW

If you’re looking for a unique perspective on Chinese History, this book, written by the Chinese-born author of Falling Leaves, is a great place to start. From the table of contents, with headings like “great leap forward that wasn’t” and “chairman with green teeth”, to the index – gunpowder, Treasure Fleet and tiger tally, China: Land of Dragons and Emperors shows Adeline Yen Mah’s skill. She has the knack of not only getting to the heart of the matter, but of finding the heart that will resonate with students.

China : Land of Dragons and Emperors , though packed with fascinating facts, does not have the off-putting appearance of densely written text. It is well set-out, with plenty of white space, and interspersed with text boxes, maps, black and white illustrations, and photographs. There are so many places where Yen Mah shows her skill in targeting young readers. Like the section on the Chinese language, where she tells kids exactly what not to say to a Chinese person in Mandarin (Good one, Adeline!)

China : Land of Dragons and Emperors would make a great addition to a Stage 3 classroom, or the school library. It can be read in a linear way, first looking at myth, then moving through recorded history, or dipped into via the contents and index as a reference book. With heightened interest in China because of the 08 Olympics, it gives students from Year 5/6 and beyond the opportunity to delve into a truly fascinating and ancient culture.

Isabelle Baelde, Marcellin College Randwick, NSW

Adeline Yen Mah manages to summarise in some 234 pages the long history of China with humour and sensitivity to young readers’ interest. From the First Emperor to today’s rulers, the major events, heroes and villains, are depicted sprinkled with various anecdotes and one-page explanations. Some with a gruesome flavour likely to both thrill and shock a young imagination. e.g., What is a eunuch? Others document China’s contribution to well-known inventions: silk, paper, powder, etc.

The information and illustrations provided are enough to allow entertaining light reading, kids just do not have time to get bored, the story goes on with the next tyrant. By small touches, one invention after another, the author gives tribute to China’s contribution to the world history and progress, but she does not turn a blind eye to its darker times. Like most countries with a long history, China has quite a few skeletons in its closet. Adeline will sometimes warn the reader of some dreadful� things coming up. The Great Wall of China compared to a cemetery is an indication that the author has not shied away from sad but true facts.

This history of China will attract young readers because it is full of fascinating stories and characters and gives a human dimension to this gigantic and so little known country. It can be used in class but also read on its own, its compact size and mix of historical facts, anecdotes and curiosities makes it a very attractive book.

Helen Wilde, SA

The foreword by the writer promises gifts- “treasures more enchanting than pearls, more precious than jade”. The scope of this little book is very wide, and the richness of Chinese history means that it must be of necessity a summary of many of the major achievements and historical turning points of the people of this ancient land. Yen Mah confesses she is ‘enthralled’ by stories of China, and aims with enthusiasm to communicate her own fascination to the reader.

The presentation of the text is very attractive, with some handwritten style fonts, and lots of illustrations, including drawings, photographs and maps. The book is in black, white and grey, so some of the richness of the visual feast are lost, but the text is enhanced by these visuals. The font size is reader friendly, and the text is broken into short, manageable pieces, with the language and layout making the book suitable for an age group ranging through 10-15. Adults interested in a quick read of Chinese history and culture would also find it interesting and useful. The addition of a Timeline and an index would help with middle school study. The short section on language is fascinating, and Yen Mah’s chatty tone extends to providing a list of words to avoid in Mandarin, which would no doubt be of great interest to some young readers! I am able to report that as somewhat of a˜Sha gua” myself, I still found this a highly accessible and fascinating read, one which I will enjoy going back to for some time to come.

Shelly Draga, Auckland, New Zealand

Finally a book about China one can gets one’s teeth stuck into without losing the taste for it. With the Olympic Games being staged in China later this year together with China emerging as a modern, rich superpower; this book will enlighten all who read it. The rich history of China is told in simple language for young readers to remain focused, without losing interest. Emperors, dynasties and eunuchs shaping China, with all the interesting and juicy revelations of the main protagonists that keeps one reading page after page. China: Land of Dragons and Emperors by Adeline Yen Mah is yet another example of this great author who wrote Chinese Cinderella and her memoir Falling Leaves.

It begins with the Chinese dragon, a mythical creature which is connected with water and rainfall. In times of drought, government ministers offered sacrifices to the dragon and prayed for rain. The book goes on to explain lucky and unlucky numbers as well as what colours mean in China. For example; Red is the colour of fire, it corresponds to summer and the south and also symbolizes success, happiness and good luck.

We read that the history of China goes back thousands of years but the book starts 2200 years ago with the First Emperor, who united China. We go on to read why the Great Wall of China was built and how a tomb for the Emperor was constructed, where thousands of terracotta life-size soldiers and horses were made to protect the tomb. The book continues through history with the founding of other dynasties; The Han, The Tang, The Song until the last crippled dynasty; The Qing in 1912.

The history of China in the twentieth century is remarkably different, with China being dominated by four men. We learn about Communism in China and why and how Taiwan became a democratic society in 1988. Scattered through out the book are interesting facts; for example – what are eunuchs? Who is Confucius? What is the Silk Road? What happens during Chinese New Year? What is the Moon Festival? There are also interesting revelations of inventions; cast iron, paper, matches and fireworks and many more.

After being completely absorbed by this book, I would thoroughly recommend China: Land of Dragons and Emperors to young and old alike. It would be an excellent read for 10 year olds plus and be a valuable tool in the classroom, especially with The Olympic Games being held in China in a few months. Many classes will be studying China and The Olympic Games and this book will fill in many gaps of the knowledge of China.

There are black and white maps and pictures throughout out the book and also a valuable timeline of China’s rich history at the back. China: Land of Dragons and Emperors is a fascinating book and I highly recommend it.

Barbara Wilson, St George Christian School, Hurstville NSW

Adeline Yen Mah’s China: Land of Dragons and Emperors is a brief, 240 page, introduction the Chinese history and society. The clearly written text, which also features black and white maps, illustrations and photographs, begins with a section on dragons, lucky numbers, colours and silk, which are many of the stereotypical things we associate with China. We are then taken on a journey through the familiar and the lesser known dynasties, followed by a short chapter on the past 100 years.

Interspersed throughout are relevant sections on subjects like education, the Great Wall, Terracotta Army, Inventions, Women, Chinese New Year and Confucius, The history is accurate and well organized, with enough detail to provide a coherent account, but not so overburdened with content to deter the average reader non-historian. The language level would suit students from age twelve and up and the print size and style is clear and appropriate. At the end of the book there is a timeline, useful references and an index.

The obvious application for using this volume, published in China’s Olympic year, might seem to be in a unit on the Olympics. Primary students would probably find the monochromatic publication less appealing than other full-colour volumes, but older students wanting solid, carefully researched and written information will be delighted by this book.

Rachel Froude, Galen College, Wangaratta, VIC

This is an interesting book from the pen of Adeline Yen Mah. I had waited in anticipation for her next book and found it to be very different to what I had expected. However, once I got into the book I found it to be most informative and engaging. Considering the depth of Chinese history Adeline has managed to condense it into distinct periods and then highlighting the wonders of each period.

The text is supported by explanations of unusual words to give the reader a thorough understanding of what they are reading, words such as eunuch. Other helpful and interesting additions are the pronunciation of Chinese words, especially names which generally would be impossible for the reader to know. Illustrations, shading and boxes also assist the readers’ enjoyment of the book. The pockets of information are easy to cope with and encourage the reader to keep turning the pages.

However, I was disappointed that the illustrations are all in black and white. Colour would have further enhanced the reader’s visual pleasure of the book. The fact that only emperors wore yellow would have not only been visually informative but also pleasant to the eye. Also the gorgeous silks, Ming vases and other Chinese wonders would have been a delight in colour.

Students of any age will enjoy this compact and readable account of China ’s history, especially from the trusted pen of Adeline Yen Mah.