ChinaSource Blog PostsHistory

7 Reasons I Liked “China: A History” (and 1 Warning)


China: A History by  Cheryl Bardoe and The Field Museum. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2018, 176 pages.

China: A History by Cheryl Bardoe could be described as “Chinese history” and “The Field Museum in Chicago” had a baby and the result is this book, geared for readers ages 10-14.

Amazon describes China: A History this way:

Based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at The Field Museum, China: A History traces the 7,000-year story of this diverse land. Full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects bring the history of this nation to life! Young readers learn about prehistoric China, follow the reign of emperors and dynasties, and come to understand how China became the world power that it is today. The book also explores the role of children and women in everyday life as well as how religion, politics, and economics shaped the deep traditions and dynamic changes of modern China. This book stands alone from the exhibition and is a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation. It includes a timeline, bibliography, and index.

Here are the seven reasons I liked China: A History (and one warning).

  1. Visually enticing, this book is a page-turner because the maps, graphics, and photos are well laid out, creating a sense of “what is next.”
  2. It recreates a museum experience. For those of you who like to linger through exhibits and read every placard and information nugget, you will not be disappointed. For those of you who are like me and wish you were the kind of person who lingered because lingerers seem to be better humans, this book is for you too. You can focus on the text and glance at the graphics.
  3. Though targeted for the 10-14 age range, China: A History is written at a level adult can enjoy as well.
  4. A perfect length! As I read, I had the sense that I was reading the type of history textbooks I dreamed were available. Most of my textbooks in high school and college were, as my mom called them, “rat killers.” China, instead is “only” 163 pages (though Amazon says 174). Homeschoolers looking for an accessible textbook, look no further.
  5. The table of contents is an accurate summary as this book moves through history by looking at prehistoric China, the rise of dynasties, schools of thought, on the world stage, and looking further.
  6. The authors handle complex and sensitive topics, such as foot binding and the Opium Wars, with age appropriate descriptions and information.
  7. Sprinkled throughout the book are sections called “Imagine …” Each help young readers to move beyond a purely academic reading and place the reader into an aspect of China. For instance, a reader is asked to “Imagine Longshan Village life four thousand years ago” with the lead-in that “Your home is larger than some houses in town, but smaller than others. Anyone can see that your family is successful because you hired the extra labor to make adobe bricks.” And continues to paint a picture of village life. Throughout the book the reader can also imagine being a scholar official, a farmer in ancient China, a child in ancient China, or being in Guangzhou during the opium wars, as well as other situations.

Now, here is my warning.

Many of us who love China understand that certain subjects are more political than outsiders often realize. In trying to show the complexity of China, the introduction is titled “There Is No Single China,” a statement I agree with. Unfortunately the very first sentences of the book are, “China is the world’s fourth-largest country and home to one-fifth of its population. It also has the world’s oldest ongoing tradition of urban civilization.”

That the very first sentence took an unintended political stance on the China being the third or fourth largest country (depending on politics and whether or not Taiwan and territorial waters are included) shows that this book and these conversations are needed. Using a map without Taiwan on a PowerPoint presentation while we were in China was enough to get a teaching colleague into a bit of hot water! Interestingly, the map that is included on the very next page of the introduction showing the landmass of China does indeed include Taiwan. 

No matter how much we know about China and its history, there is always more to learn. That unfortunate first sentence should not be a deterrent from China: A History becoming a go-to resource for those who want a brief overview or are looking for an engaging textbook. Just don’t use it for an English class in China!

Image credit: StockSnap from Pixabay
Amy Young

Amy Young

When Amy Young first moved to China she knew three Chinese words: hello, thank you, and watermelon. Today she blogs regularly at The Messy Middle  and is the director of global operations for Velvet Ashes. She has also authored two books written to help those who live and serve in... View Full Bio


Are you enjoying a cup of good coffee or fragrant tea while reading the latest ChinaSource post? Consider donating the cost of that “cuppa” to support our content so we can continue to serve you with the latest on Christianity in China.

Donate