PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2008, 12:00am

Atlas of China

National Geographic, HK$208

Pieced together by a National Geographic phalanx of cartographers, writers, editors, researchers and consultants, Atlas of China is impressively compact. The guide, equipped with more than 400 maps and illustrations, weighs in at only 98 pages.

And yet, it is thorough, covering subjects ranging from conservation and military strength to economic and 'human' development, including standards of living, employment and so on.

In addition, big cities are profiled. That includes Hong Kong, whose humble 'barren rock' origins are revisited. When, a few years after the second world war, the People's Republic of China came into being, Hong Kong was far from barren, and the appearance of its new neighbour must have been a worry. 'An enormous eastern communist country looked straight at a western capitalistic colonial enclave right on its shoreline,' the atlas says.

Chengdu, Beijing, Kunming, Lhasa, Shanghai, Taipei (controversially), Urumqi, Xian and the ice city of Harbin, make the cut too.

Big on history, the atlas offers a timeline that opens with the 1766-1122BC Shang dynasty and takes the reader on a journey that encompasses the 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion, the 1958 Great Leap Forward and Sars. The final entry documents how, in January last year, the mainland took out one of its old weather satellites, proving it can shoot down enemy spy satellites if the mood takes it.

China comes across as a waking giant equipped with formidable muscle and reach. Experts may accuse the team behind the atlas of skimming the surface. But a new guide published by the same company, Inside China, does the digging. For anyone who needs to come up to speed on the Middle Kingdom fast, Atlas of China takes some beating.