China – Land of Discovery by Robert K G Temple; The New Chinese Revolution by Lynn Pan; Waves by Bei Dao - review by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

Slow Boat to China

China – Land of Discovery


Patrick Stephens Ltd 224pp £12.95

The New Chinese Revolution


Hamish Hamilton 248pp £12.95



William Heinemann 240pp £12.95

The Chinese are the last people in the world still manufacturing spittoons, chamberpots, treadle sewing machines, quill pens, steel pen nibs, wooden yokes for oxen, iron ploughs, whalebone corsets, bamboo back-scratchers and steam locomotives. They made grandfather clocks – the chain-driven mechanical kind that go tick-tock and bong! Is this interesting? I think it is. Because as Robert K G Temple reminds us in his distillation of Professor Joseph Needham’s fifteenth volume Science and Civilisation in China, the Chinese actually invented the mechanical clock in the late Tang Dynasty. Then they forgot they invented it and like many other inventions it was re-introduced to China from Europe.

The Chinese also invented the iron plough. They invented cast iron. They were the first people to make steel. They invented the cross-bow in the Fourth Century BC and were still using it in battle in 1895. They were the first to notice that all snowflakes have six sides. They

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