Books About China

Books on Contemporary China

Country Driving by Peter Hessler

If there is any book about China today that you read, make it this one. In fact, you might as well pick up all three of Hessler’s books on China, which are elegantly written, hilariously funny, and deeply insightful.The third, Country Driving, provides an on-the-ground account of the rapid industrialization in China that foreigners often read about but rarely see. (A bra-parts factory producing thin-steel rings for straps—and only those rings—is one of the memorable businesses.) 

Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

The characters in this book represent the spectrum of what a citizen of modern China faces: overnight success, optimism, insecurity, fear, and hope. Osnos, another former New Yorker correspondent, includes known figures like artist and activist Ai Weiwei, whom he befriended in Beijing, and former World Bank chief economist Justin Lin, who defected to mainland China from Taiwan in 1979, as well a striving Chinese English student named Michael Zhang. He pulls back to describe the historical events that inspired characters living in what he calls China’s Gilded Age.

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China 
by Leslie T. Chang

China will be a country that builds things for a long time. Chang’s intimate portrait of life on the factory floor (and the factory dorm, and eatery, and hospital, and karaoke hall) depicts what tens of millions of Chinese are going through to reach the middle class.

China in 10 Words by Yu Hua

Written by one of China’s most famous novelists, this nonfiction book is a fascinating primer on the big themes in today’s China—the propensity to copy ideas and products, screaming economic disparity—woven together with the writer’s personal experiences during the Cultural Revolution that ripped China’s society apart during the 1960s and ’70s. 

This Generation: Dispatches from China's Most Popular Blogger by Han Han

For those who follow Chinese affairs, Han Han is as controversial as they come—an irreverent singer, sports celebrity, and satirist whose brilliant blogs and books have made him a huge celebrity. Now, with this collection of his essays, Americans can appreciate the range of this rising literary star and get a fascinating trip through Chinese culture. This Generation gathers his essays and blogs dating from 2006 to 2012, telling the story of modern China through Han Han’s unique perspective. Writing on topics as diverse as racing, relationships, the Beijing Olympics, and how to be a patriot, he offers a brief, funny, and illuminating trip through a complex nation that most Westerners view as marching in lockstep.

Books on China History

The Cambridge Illustrated History of China by Patricia Buckley Ebrey

 Ebrey traces the origins of Chinese culture from prehistoric times to the present. She follows its development from the rise of Confucianism, Buddhism, and the great imperial dynasties to the Mongol, Manchu, and Western intrusions and the modern communist state. 

Tiananmen Moon: Inside the Chinese Student Uprising of 1989 by Philip J. Cunningham

This memoir of the 1989 student rebellion captures the senseless beauty of the rebellion from close up: Cunningham was a foreign student freelancing for the BBC, who knew many of the protesters and witnessed the main events. As events spiral out of control, his prose becomes filmic, poetic, disturbed.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu 

This translation of the ancient Chinese military treatise includes chapters of historical analysis touching on its relevance to today's corporate environment. 

Books on Chinese Economic Development & Foreign Affairs

China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa by Howard W. French

French’s book shows what it looks like when China goes global in the 21st century. More than one million Chinese have emigrated to Africa over the past couple of decades. While large infrastructure projects by Chinese builders are scattered across Africa, so too are tiny businesses run by Chinese entrepreneurs who’ve left their crowded homeland. 

China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

Jeffrey Wasserstrom provides cogent answers to the most urgent questions regarding the superpower, and offers a framework for understanding its meteoric rise. 

Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the 21st Century by Orville Schell and John Delury

Through a series of lively and absorbing portraits of iconic modern Chinese leaders and thinkers, two of today’s foremost specialists on China provide a panoramic narrative of this country’s rise to preeminence that is at once analytical and personal. How did a nation, after a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval, foreign occupation, civil war, and revolution, manage to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyperdevelopment and wealth creation—culminating in the extraordinary dynamism of China today?

Books on Gender in China

'Leftover' Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher

In this thoroughly documented book, sociologist Leta Hong Fincher shows in vivid detail how women in China have suffered a rollback since those early days, especially when it comes to property rights.

Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949 by Emily Honig

A sidelong glimpse into the lost world of inter-war Shanghai. While Hollywood stars and jazz legends cavorted on the neon-lit river-front, the largely female factory workforce did something their great grand-daughters are still not able to: formed unions, marched out on strike and, temporarily, seized power. This (1986) study is part of a canon of Chinese social history rediscovered by western scholars.

Children's Books

The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack

Ping was an adventurous duck who lived on a beautiful wise-eyed boat on the Yangtze River. He liked his life on the riverboat just and liked his large family and his kind master. He didn't like to be the last in line to board the boat at night, for that unlucky duck got a loud spank. So what did Ping do when it seemed that he would be the last on line? What else but set out on his own to explore the fascinating world of life on the Yangtze River.

The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy

This is about the adventures of seven brothers who use their supernatural gifts to overpower a cruel emperor. This ALA Notable Book features beautifully executed illustrations full of historical detail. 

 The Empty Pot by Demi

When Ping admits that he is the only child in China unable to grow a flower from the seeds distributed by the Emperor, he is rewarded for his honesty.

 Living in China by Chloe Perkins

 Hao! My name is Jin, and I’m a kid just like you living in China. China is a country filled with ancient wonders, high-tech cities, and lots of people—more than any other country on Earth! Have you ever wondered what China is like? Come along with me to find out!

 Father's Chinese Opera by Rich Lo

A fascinating, heartfelt, and intriguing story that draws on author Rich Lo’s personal life, and features his own bright, mesmerizing illustrations, Father’s Chinese Opera teaches children about hard work, patience, and the commitment needed to achieve an important goal, while introducing them to an important part of Chinese culture.

Books on Chinese Art, Music & Dance

Art in China by Craig Clunas

A comprehensive, illustrated introduction to Chinese art. The book examines Chinese art in a variety of contexts--as it has been designed for tombs, commissioned by rulers, displayed in temples, created by the men and women of the educated elite, and bought and sold in the marketplace. Drawing on recent innovative scholarship--and newly accessible studies in China itself--Craig Clunas surveys the full spectrum of the visual arts. 

Chinese Literature

Brothers by Yu Hua

The painful but prodigious rise of Baldy Li, a luckless product of the Cultural Revolution, is the subject of this epic novel by one of China’s best known living writers. Li turns from toilet-loiterer to one of China’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, sated but spiritually adrift, embodying the country’s decades-long shift from the cult of Mao to the cult of Mammon. “Brothers” is riotously colourful, uncomfortably violent, and not unlike some of the stories China’s self-made billionaires tell, or don’t tell, today.

A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin

Also known as Hong Lou Meng, this is arguably China's greatest literary masterpiece. A chronicle of a noble family in the eighteenth century; but the splendor of enchanting gardens, pleasure pavilions, and daily life of the most sophisticated refinements hides the realities of decay and self-destruction.

Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

This fictionalised memoir of a journey down the Yangtse River was acclaimed as a landmark in Chinese literature when he won the Nobel prize in 2000. It's a novel of introspection and loneliness. Gao's plays have been banned from performance after the authorities condemned his drama about the Tiananmen Square massacre as "a fabrication" on the grounds that he had not been there at the time.

Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong

The Three Kingdoms is an epic Chinese novel written over six centuries ago. It recounts in vivid historical detail the turbulent years at the close of the Han Dynasty, when China broke into three competing kingdoms and over half the population were either killed or driven from their homes. Part myth, part fact, readers will experience the loyalty and treachery, the brotherhood and rivalry of China's legendary heroes and villains during the most tumultuous period in Chinese history. The 2009 Blockbuster phenomenon from China, Red Cliff, is based on the story of the Three Kingdoms. 

The Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

Journey to the West is a classic Chinese mythological novel. It was written during the Ming Dynasty based on traditional folktales. Consisting of 100 chapters, this fantasy relates the adventures of a Tang Dynasty (618-907) priest Sanzang and his three disciples, Monkey, Pig and Friar Sand, as they travel west in search of Buddhist Sutra.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir by Ji-li Jiang

It's 1966, and twelve-year-old Ji-li Jiang has everything a girl could want: brains, friends, and a bright future in Communist China. But it's also the year that China's leader, Mao Ze-dong, launches the Cultural Revolution—and Ji-li's world begins to fall apart. Over the next few years, people who were once her friends and neighbors turn on her and her family, forcing them to live in constant terror of arrest. When Ji-li's father is finally imprisoned, she faces the most difficult dilemma of her life.

A personal and painful memoir—a page-turner as well as excellent material for social studies curricula—Red Scarf Girl also includes a thorough glossary and pronunciation guide.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.

Books on Chinese Government

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor

The Communist Party is ubiquitous in China, but it’s often hard to see from the West behind the veneer of publicly listed companies, Shanghai skyscrapers, and record-setting IPOs. In great detail McGregor pulls back the curtain on the CCP to describe the party’s influence on all levels of Chinese life. 

 The New Emperors: Power and Princelings in China by Kerry Brown

China has become the powerhouse of the world economy and home to 1 in 5 of the world's population, yet we know almost nothing of the people who lead it. How does one become the leader of the world's newest superpower? And who holds the real power in the Chinese system? In The New Emperors, the noted China expert Kerry Brown journeys deep into the heart of the secretive Communist Party.