The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China

Univ. of Chicago. Mar. 2017. 320p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780226369204. $27.50. HIST
From ancient times to the present, China's leaders have fixated on the management of China's rivers with projects such as the Grand Canal, built during the Sui Dynasty (581–618 CE), which links the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers, and the massive Three Gorges Dam completed in 2006. Science writer Ball (Patterns in Nature) argues that understanding the concept of water in Chinese mythology, philosophy, language, artistic expressions, history, and government is key to understanding Chinese civilization. This work reveals that the successful administration of water resources was an important indicator of the legitimacy of rulers; philosophers used water as a metaphor for correct behavior, and artists were infatuated with representations of water. Also included are fascinating depictions of China's history of riverine warfare and the overseas explorations of Admiral Zheng He in the early 15th century. The book concludes with a chapter discussing current struggles with environmental problems such as polluted waterways and desertification.
VERDICT Highly recommended for those interested in Chinese history and culture. For a more comprehensive examination of China's ecological history, see Robert Marks's China: Its Environment and History.
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