China through time retold by Edward Aves

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DK, 2020. ISBN: 9780241356296.
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. Themes: China, Canals, Yangtze, Ancient history, Regeneration. Two and a half thousand years ago, an emperor had a brilliant idea - joining the two mighty Chinese rivers, the Yangtze and Huai to form a magnificent canal which would enable him to move troops quickly to places where they were needed. The next thousand yeas saw canals built and waterways joined to create an incredible canal capable of trading between Hangzhou in China's south and Beijing in the north.
Each double page of this outstanding large format book recreates a scene in the life of this canal system, shadowing the rise of China as a powerful nation in the Asian realm. The first double page, entitled, Construction begins, Yangzhou 486BCE, shows an army of peasants digging and carting soil. Information around the edges of the pages gives details about how the people worked, while the illustration shows in no uncertain terms the brutality of the regime in charge. Several men in chains are being taken away by heavily armoured warriors, one dying man is being carted off by fellow workers, high towers surround the project with soldiers on the alert. Eager eyes will pick out the work the men do, the magnificence of the emperor and his retinue, the tools with which these people worked.
Each subsequent double page displays the history of the Grand Canal, completed in 605 CE. So readers will see the impact of the canal bringing peace, civilisation and trade to towns along its banks. But people became complacent and in 1699 CE a great flood threatened so the emperor demanded that the river course be changed and the canal dredged to avoid further floods destroying towns and cities. More care was taken of the canal, reversing its decline and even though fewer barges ply their trade along the waterway the Grand Canal is a showcase of China's ancient heritage, a canal of some 1800 ks, the longest and oldest canal in the world. This book shows readers the people who use it: the builders, the soldiers, merchants, rivermen, the emperor and his advisers, children and mysterious travellers.
The richly detailed illustrations are enticing, giving the reader a panorama of Chinese life and customs, showing building styles, dress and food, bridges and boats, life along the canal from small farms and villages to the outstanding modern city of Tianjin, a stark contrast to the pages before and after with their images of past treasures. The last page offers a short quiz and glossary with information about the illustrator, Beijing artist Du Fei who specialises in detailed historical illustrations.
This is a remarkable book which reflects China's importance in the world today while highlighting one of its past achievements.
Fran Knight