The title of the book, is quite general in its wording and gives the impression of very forward thinking, ahead of its time point of view, of the author. It suggests an analytical, comparative and observant text on Chinese design, in a time, when the westerners didn’t know as much about it as we do now.
This broad spectrum of topics is categorized and listed in the title in a seemingly hierarchical order, starting with buildings. This sense of hierarchy is confirmed, as one reads the first few chapters, because the author relies heavily on his knowledge of Chinese buildings and mentions the other four categories, machines, dresses, devices and furniture, in a much less detailed manner.
The second part is just illustrations, to further explain the realizations made by the author, based on the comparison of the Chinese and the European Arts. The images themselves are impressively intricate, considering they were all hand-carved. Another thing one notices is their size, as they are quite large and individually take up a page of the book. That aspect makes the images the center and key parts of the entire book. One assumes that was the authors intention, so the choice of size is therefore rather understandable.
That might be a reason for the size of the book, which is incredibly large, appearing in a strong contrast to a very small amount of pages. Its also rather thin, with thick, hand-printed pages to demonstrate its value. The volume of the book is, though sufficient for its purpose, quite modest.
The author was a very well respected, british architect, named William Chambers. He wrote the book with the help of a lot of colleagues, all of which seem to be extremely well educated. The main purpose of publishing this book, was for Chambers to show to the western world the innovative aspects of Chinese design and that the English, were way far behind the chinese in that area.