THE WATER KINGDOM: A Secret History of China

Book Cover of Water Kingdom
The Water Kingdom: A Secret History of China by Philip Ball

The Water Kingdom takes us on a grand journey through China’s past and present, offering a unique window through which we can begin to grasp the overwhelming complexity and teeming energy of the country and its people.

Water is the key that unlocks much of China’s history and thought. The ubiquitous relationship that the Chinese people have had with water has made it an enduring metaphor for philosophical thought and artistic expression. From the Han emperors to Mao, the ability to manage the waters – to provide irrigation and defend against floods – became a barometer of political legitimacy, and attempts to do so have involved engineering works on a gigantic scale. Yet the strain that economic growth is putting on its water resources today may be the greatest threat to China’s future.

A History Book of the Year in The Times and The Economist


The Water Kingdom is an epic, spellbinding story. Our guides are travellers and explorers, poets and painters, bureaucrats and activists, who have themselves struggled to come to terms with living in a world so shaped and permeated by water.

“An epic portrait of China’s water management history and its deep interlacing with culture currents. It’s essential reading for any serious understanding of the dynamic relations between humans and nature, not only in China but in the world at large.” Xiaolu Guo, author of I Am China

“The language of water has been spoken in China since the earliest times. This remarkable book explains why, and is one of the very few that will be respected both in the West and in China.” Xinran, author of The Good Women of China and Buy Me The Sky

“What a splendid idea: to write a history of China through its relationship with water. Far-fetched you might think: not in the least, as you will find immediately you start to read this fascinating book… You will never think of China in quite the same way again.” Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules The World

More reviews of THE WATER KINGDOM: A Secret History of China

University of Chicago Press (2017) Hardcover ISBN 0-226-36920-X

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