China: People, Place, Culture, History
DK Publishing, 2007 (2007)
Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
n her Foreword to DK Publishing's magnificent coffee table book,
, Anchee Min (who was born in China and lived there for almost three decades) tells us that its creators '
have captured the essence of my country.
' Sections cover:
Landscape: China's Horizons
History: The Story of China
People: A Day in the Life
Culture: The Spirit of China
Architecture: Building a Nation
opens on a remarkable photograph, in which a bridge is mirrored in the water below, creating a circular window - echoing those in so many old Chinese Buddhist temples - onto a mountainscape beyond. The accompanying text speaks of China's '
varied and vast
' cultural '
landscapes of utility as well as immense beauty
', shaped by '
centuries of occupancy
'. Readers are then taken on a superb photographic journey through the country's
(down from the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau),
(gorges, valleys and plains), and
(flat and fertile flow to the sea)
he photography - as in a view through the mist of Songzanlin Monastery, Yunnan, or the Leshan Giant Buddha in Sichuan gazing down a cliff face - is spectacular. And to my delight, Chinese poems are quoted throughout above the pictures, like this one by Dun Xunhe (846-904): '
Half into the mountains - a mountain monastery. / A man in the country now, I climb to it on an autumn day. / It is right in their midst, with lovely rocks askew - / Solitary on the summit on its very highest layer.
he authors bring
alive for us, reminding us that '
the Han Empire rivaled the Roman Empire in its power and sophistication, and that the Tang and Song empires recorded the highest levels of technological and artistic achievement in the world at that time
' and that China is now on '
the brink of becoming a world superpower.
' This section presents images of places and artefacts showcasing China's history from Neolithic times to the present. I was especially intrigued by early coins in the shape of knives and spades, and by a page on
modern chinese cinema
, but the entire section is fascinating and informative.
profiles 14 people from disparate areas and backgrounds
' - from a family in a rural Shaanxi cave dwelling to an opera performer on tour in Zhejiang. We also learn about the lives of a calligrapher, tea growers, a musical instrument maker, farmers, a retired teacher, a schoolchild, a Buddhist monk, a herbalist, a cricket seller, a festival host, a jewelry entrepeneur, and a sea fisherman. It's an impressive variety of in-depth presentations. Sidebars address related topics like
migration to the cities
the art of tea tasting
he chapter on
focuses on China's religious and philosophical beliefs and practices and its artistic and literary heritage
' - from
ways of thought
(such as the
philosophy and religion
the way of the brush
(paintings embellished with calligraphic inscriptions and wonderful treatises on poetry and classical literature) and finishing with
, we take '
visual tours of 16 important Chinese buildings
', from a circular Hakka dwelling in Fujian to a classic courtyard house in Beijing, an 88-story hotel/office high-rise in Shanghai, and a variety of lovely temples and monasteries. For each, architectural sketches and historical and lifestyle information accompany the photos. I love the Qing dynasty private garden, with its moon gate and latticed windows, the shrine in the White Pagoda in Yunnan, and the different views of a Tibetan temple in Hebei.
ike the moon gates and other circular openings that offer perspectives inside,
China: People, Place, Culture, History
offers all kinds of intriguing windows onto that great - and very important in today's world - country, backed up by splendid photography. I will treasure my copy and highly recommend it to you. It would also make a wonderful holiday gift.
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