Not a how-to text, this beguiling book is instead a fascinating look at Chinese language and culture. Ranging through history, literature, folklore, linguistics, and sociology, this is a breezy, straightforward primer of surprising breadth.
It all began with the dragon bones. Dragons play a big part in all things Chinese, from folklore through religion to philosophy, and traditional healers in China have long believed that dragon bones, ground-up, could cure all sorts of diseases. Xiaotun, a little village in the northern province of Henan, yielded an unusually large crop of dragon bones and, as with most in the agricultural sector, its farmers were hard up. If dragon bones were what city apothecaries wanted, then Xiaotun farmers were only too happy to supply them. It was a hassle scraping the bones clean of their peculiar marks but for centuries this is just what they did. Until there came a day in 1899 when a farmer simply couldn't be fagged to do the job properly and sent off to the Beijing Boots a bone complete with marks. In its turn the dragon bone duly passed to an ailing antiquarian, who in his turn realized these were not marks but hieroglyphics. And of course, they weren't dragon bones either. The objects embedded in the fields of Xiaotun came from tortoises and cattle. The message they carried was less prosaic: it came from a China of four millennia past. Knowledge of Chinese is not necessary to enjoy this charming if esoteric little book. It does not set out to teach the language in any structured fashion or even to provide useful phrases. Rather, here is an introduction for either the intending student or simply the reader with an interest in knowing more about the background to Chinese. Chang and Chang provide a wealth of incidental information about China, its culture and people at the same time as a highly readable and entertaining history of one of the oldest languages in the world. And as Confucius, he say, it all began with the dragon bones.... (Kirkus UK)