> Skip to content
  • Published: 4 August 2016
  • ISBN: 9781473522800
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 352

The Water Kingdom

A secret history of China - a fresh new way of thinking about a people, a civilisation, an epic story.

Selected as a Book of the Year by The Times and The Economist

China's history is an epic tapestry of courtly philosophies, warring factions and imperial intrigue. Yet, over five thousand years, one ancient element has so dramatically shaped the country's fate that it remains the key to unlocking China's story. That element is water.

In The Water Kingdom Philip Ball takes us on a grand tour of China's defining element, from the rice terraces and towering karts of its battle-worn waterways, to the vast engineering projects that have struggled to contain water's wrath. What surfaces is the secret history of a people and a nation, drawn from its deep reverence for nature's most dynamic force.

  • Published: 4 August 2016
  • ISBN: 9781473522800
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 352

About the author

Philip Ball

Philip Ball writes regularly in the scientific and popular media and worked for many years as an editor for physical sciences at Nature. His books cover a wide range of scientific and cultural phenomena, and include Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads To Another (winner of the 2005 Aventis Prize for Science Books), The Music Instinct, Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything,Serving The Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Science Under Hitler and Invisible: The History of the Unseen from Plato to Particle Physics.

Also by Philip Ball

See all

Praise for The Water Kingdom

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.


The Water Kingdom presents us with 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

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


The Times (Book of the Week)

Essential reading.

Xiaolu Guo

Ball's journey along the history, politics and culture of China's waterways encompasses many heroes of Chinese hydrology, men who grappled with elemental forces and imperial censure and sometimes came out on top.

Isabel Hilton, Guardian

[A] fascinating book.

Ian Critchley, Sunday Times

An accessible history.

Andrea Janku, Nature

Ball offers a compelling and evocative insight into a history still little understood in the West.

UK Press Syndication

The Water Kingdom traverses fascinating, endlessly fertile territory... There is a great deal in [the book] to inspire.

Christopher Harding, Telegraph

In his excellent, smartly written new book, British science writer Philip Ball identifies water as "one of the most constant, significant and illuminating themes" in China's history and culture.

Jonathan Fenby, Financial Times

His book, a rewarding read, is at its most fascinating when describing how in China the laws of nature seems to have embedded in them a moral precept. Mr Ball puts water back beautifully at the heart of China's story.

The Economist

[A] lucid and impressive book. [A] thoughtful study.

Rana Mitter, Prospect

[It offers] a unique window through which we can begin to grasp the overwhelming complexity and teeming energy of the country and its people.

Asian Art Newspaper, Book of the Year

This book is fascinating and took me on a journey into a world I previously knew very little about. Take the time to immerse yourself and you will find this a rewarding read.

Philippa Matthews, Chemistry World

Strikingly original

The Times Literary Supplement

Ball's ingenious idea is to narrate the story of China from the point of view of water. showing how profoundly the country is at the mercy of its great rivers.

Helen Dunmore, Daily Telegraph


Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

Ball takes us on a fascinating and dizzying tour through Chinese myth and history.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday