Digging to China is a favourite pastime of North American children, not to mention a classic parental joke. Any kid with a shovel in their hand has probably been asked if they were digging to China, told to stop trying to dig to China, or perhaps assigned to the impossible task by an exhausted (or devious) caretaker. I know I attempted the same dig in my childhood on several occasions, not that I got very far. My mother was perhaps less than overjoyed at the mess I made of her garden, but it did keep my brothers and I busy!

The earliest mention of the phrase that I could find comes in the middle of the 19th century. In 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “As for your high towers and monuments, there was a crazy fellow in town who undertook to dig through to China, and he got so far that, as he said, he heard the Chinese pots and kettles rattle; but I think that I shall not go out of my way to admire the hole which he made.”

This little diorama now lives in the permanent collection at the St. Thomas & Elgin Public Art Centre.

6”w x 6”d base.

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