________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 21. . . .February 5, 2010.


The Chinese Thought of It: Amazing Inventions and Innovations.

Ting-xing Ye.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2009.
48 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-5545-1195-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-5545-1196-9 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Inventions-China-History-Juvenile literature.
Technology-China-History-Juvenile literature.
China-Antiquities-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.






Since ancient times, the Chinese have valued herbs to prevent and treat medical problems. One of these herbs is ginseng, which has become world famous.

May people believe that the Chinese were the first to use ginseng. An ancient medical text reveals that this herb was being used as medicine 2000 years ago.

Some scientific studies have shown that ginseng does have positive effects, such as strengthening the body’s immune system. However, more evidence is needed to prove some claims made about the benefits of this herb.

The author of The Chinese Thought of It, Ting-Xing Ye may be familiar to some readers who have come across her young adult novels, such as Throwaway Daughter and Mountain Girl, River Girl, or her autobiographical works, My Name is Number 4 and A Leaf in the Bitter Wind, both of which deal with her past life in China. With her new nonfiction work, The Chinese Thought of It, Ting-Xing Ye ventures in a different direction. The colourful book is both educational and entertaining for readers who may not know a lot about China’s history and the significant impact of its innovations upon the world that we live in today. The book’s exploration of over sixty ideas and inventions will instill a greater appreciation in readers for China and may motivate them to learn more about it or the innovations of other countries. These interesting facts, coupled with colourful and attractive illustrations, will keep readers’ attention.

     The book opens with a personalized introduction from Ting-Xing Ye, who addresses her readers directly by greeting them in Mandarin and English: “Huan ying, Welcome.” In doing so, she establishes a personal connection with readers and invites them to join her on a “journey of discovery.” Besides mentioning that she was born in China and lived there for many years before moving to Canada, she gives a brief overview of her childhood. In addition, she mentions that she learned a lot through the writing of this book and that she would like to share her new knowledge with readers: “I am glad I have the chance to share with you what I have learned. I hope that this book will be the beginning of your own journey of discovery. Now, let’s take the first step together.”

     Ting-Xing Ye offers a nice balance between inventions that have shaped the historical evolution of Chinese society and inventions that have affected people’s daily lives. In doing so, she shows the variety of Chinese inventions and their wide-ranging impact upon both China and the contemporary world. Each invention is discussed in relation to its historical context, but, in some instances, Ye also refers to the contemporary context or mentions interesting cultural facts that relate to the item. Besides providing details about the actual invention, the inclusion of this additional information educates readers about Chinese culture and history. For example, Ye’s discussion of the invention of chopsticks states that they were invented during the Shang dynasty and that the oldest pair ever found came from a tomb in China. However, she also mentions that they are called kuai-zi, which means “quickly,” and that they are usually made from bamboo, wood, metal or plastic today. Similarly, industries such as agriculture continue to use Chinese inventions like the wheelbarrow and swan-neck hoe, both of which come from around the 1st century BCE.

     Readers will be able to relate readily with several of the inventions discussed and may become motivated to learn more. Besides more well-known inventions that originated in China, such as gunpowder and silk, readers may be surprised to find out that playing cards and earthquake detectors first appeared there as well. Similarly, everyday items that we use today, such as the folding umbrella, toothbrush, and toilet paper, also originated in China.

     The images of the book will make the information more understandable and make it more accessible for younger readers. The illustrations and photographs complement the text effectively by showing the invention itself or a contemporary application of it, an approach which will assist readers who may be unfamiliar with some of the inventions. Readers may not know how thousand-year-old eggs or ginseng look like, so the photos will be helpful. The book also has images that show items related to the invention or to demonstrate the invention in practice. For example, the book discusses the step-by-step process for making silk and supplements it with photos of silkworms and silkmoths as well as an illustration of workers who dye the silk thread and hang it up to dry. In its coverage of acupuncture, there is a diagram that shows the acupoints that may be used during an acupuncture treatment.

     The book’s supplementary material provides useful contextual information about China’s history, geography, and contemporary context. For example, a two-page spread in the book has a map of the Asian continent that shows where China is located as well as a map of China, itself, that identifies major cities, geographical features such as the Gobi Desert and Yangtze River, and bodies of water surrounding the country. Ye also mentions some basic facts about China, such as the information that China is “the third largest country in the world, after Canada and Russia.” The book’s final section, “China Today,” situates the rapid modernization of present-day China in relation to its past. Like the inventions that have preceded the contemporary era, China continues to innovate and make its mark on the world through its inventions as well as in other areas, such as its athletic achievements and technological influence. The book concludes with a brief overview of the Chinese language, with examples of its written form, and mentions that two popular dialects spoken today are Cantonese and Mandarin.

     As a whole, The Chinese Thought of It is written at a level that is appropriate for its intended audience. Short paragraphs and clearly stated points make it easy for readers to follow along. Inevitably, the discussion of inventions will require more advanced vocabulary, but the book does do well in defining some words that may be unfamiliar or more advanced for younger readers. When it talks about beriberi, the book mentions that this is a disease caused by a Vitamin B1 deficiency. Similarly, it mentions that a vaccination is “an injection that protects you from getting a disease.” Children under the age of ten may still find it more challenging to read the book because of its vocabulary, but they can still appreciate the book with help in interpreting the text. Chinese words in the text are italicized for ease of reference. In addition, the book does not have to be read in order since it is divided into topical sections such as “Transportation and Exploration,” “Everyday Innovations,” and “Health and Healing.”

     The Chinese Thought of It would be a valuable reference source for both readers and teachers alike because it has an alphabetical index, a list of resources that have further information about Chinese inventions, as well as a list of books about China and its history. It can be added to the reference collection of a social studies classroom, school library, or public library. Teachers can use this book as part of a social studies unit about Asia or Chinese history.

     Overall, Ting-Xing Ye’s book provides a good introduction to Chinese inventions within the historical and contemporary contexts. Although it is perhaps beyond the scope of this book, one aspect that would have enhanced this book is if Ting-Xing Ye had addressed the environmental and social impact of industrial and infrastructural development. For example, Ye mentions that the Three Gorges Dam contributes ten percent of China’s electric power, but the Chinese government has had to deal with environmental and social consequences arising from its construction. These include pollution, potential impact on the land and ecology, as well as the displacement of people affected by the dam’s construction. Similarly, the Chinese government had to deal with similar concerns when they were building the necessary infrastructure for the Beijing Olympics, an event that Ye also mentions when she refers to China’s athletic achievements. Perhaps this is something worth mentioning because it is not only China but also other industrialized nations worldwide, that must deal with these growing problems today. As a result, this has led to innovations such as alternative energy sources and less environmentally destructive strategies for land development. It would have been interesting to include a bit of information about any innovations that China may have had in this area, since this would complement Ye’s discussion of historical Chinese inventions and fit well within the book’s final section, “China Today.”

     This book is part of Annick Press’s “We Thought of It” series, which includes The Inuit Thought of It and A Native American Thought of It. For more information about Ting-Xing Ye, visit Annick Press’s webpage at http://www.annickpress.com/authors/ye.asp?author=318.

Highly Recommended.

Huai-Yang Lim has completed a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a research specialist. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing children’s literature in his spare time.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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