A cartoon history of the tumultuous 450-year period in Chinese history known as the “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.”
Using common-era dating and (excepting “Confucius”) Pinyin transcription for names, Liu begins the third of a four-volume history with a quick thematic recap of early Chinese civilization and the arrival of the Liao dynasty in 907. He then carries readers through to the capture of the Yuan (Mongol) capital by an unidentified “rebel army” in 1368. Though he takes only rare side glances at cultural or scientific highlights (such as the inventions of gunpowder and paper currency), he pauses in his account of successive, sometimes overlapping rises, falls, and major battles to describe Neo-Confucian precepts in some detail, as keys to understanding enduring aspects of Chinese character and outlook. In the monochrome art, dialogue more often runs to such lines as “We lost the Silk Road, let’s make up for it through sea trade” than personal interchanges. Still, the combination of silhouettes—often threatening, martial ones—with open-faced, expressively individualized figures of many social classes adds dramatic tension while neatly balancing the big-picture narrative.
There’s a lot to absorb even in this abbreviated form, but the visual approach lightens the load considerably. (maps, diagrams, recommended reading) (Graphic nonfiction. 11-14)