12 Books about China You Simply Must Read!

What to Read?

As our teachers continue their preparations for their move to China in August, I thought it would be good to share a literature list that I have enjoyed reading myself as well as a few recommendations thrown in there from friends. Many of these books really do help to set context of both Pre-Modern and modern China.

Whilst at University, during my four-year course of Chinese language and literature, we studied a number of modules covering Pre-Modern China right up to the Present Day. Whilst China’s long history is obviously fascinating, I do still often get confused with the names of Dynasties and their rulers (Han, Tang, Song, Ming, Qing etc!) and personally find the more contemporary side to Chinese history and culture more relatable as it continues to develop and progress. So this list is quite heaving on 20th/21st century more recent (in terms of Chinese history!) novels. Many of the authors listed below do have several publications (Xinran, Lisa See for example) regarding China so if you find one you like the chances are that you will find more with similar content and style.

If you are interested in Pre-Modern Chinese history, please do reach out as I am sure I could dig out a university reading list to share with you!

Listed chronologically by publishing date

Contemporary Chinese Literature Suggestions

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991)
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler (2001)
Good Women of China by Xue Xinran (2002)
Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (2003)
Empress Orchid by Anchee Min (2004)
The Last Empress by Anchee Min (2005)
The Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler (2006)
Factory Girls by Leslie T Chang (2008)
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
The Pearl of China by Anchee Min (2010)
Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Hessler (2011)
The Firemaker by Peter May (2016)

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