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A walking encyclopedia of natural history

By Zhang Xingjian | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-04-11 09:57


The book Notes on an Illustrated Handbook of Marine Animals [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]


A dialogue through time and space

In his daily communication, Zhang manages to identify numerous species using photos or simple line drawings submitted online.

After seeing so many drawings, he has gradually developed his skill of drawing species, a skill that inspired him to publish a book series last year.

In the book, Notes on an Illustrated Handbook of Marine Animals, Zhang identifies and analyzes 30 marine creatures. To ensure the accuracy of the creature descriptions, Zhang traveled across China's eastern coastal areas, Japan and Thailand.

"The research and investigation process is an unforgettable experience for me as I can travel and study at the same time. The local seafood market is worth hanging around. You can find lots of unexpected species there and talk with the local people about some creatures, which is really a big surprise for me," Zhang recalled.

Zhang's book was inspired by an antique book on sea animals called the Illustrated Handbook of Marine Animals.

The book's author, Nie Huang, lived during the reign of Emperor Kangxi in the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). As a passionate traveler, his journeys took him from North China's Hebei province to the eastern coastal areas and he painted marine creatures he had never seen before.

"As an introductory book, it is rich in content and vivid in pictures. However, I have noticed that many mistakes did exist in the book due to the limits of the era. Therefore, I decided to rewrite the book. On one hand, I can correct these mistakes and promote the true knowledge to the book-lovers. For another, it is my way to pay tribute to traditional culture," Zhang said.

Following a similar format to Nie, at the end of each section on a creature, Zhang suggests the best way to properly cook it and bring out the best taste.

"It took me one and a half years to finish the first part of the book series. And I am happy to see it sells well, which gives me more confidence to write sequels," he said.

"Two books from two natural history masters. When I read them, I feel like two walking encyclopedias of natural history having a dialogue that goes though time and space," a reader said online.

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