Recommended China Books

Since first taking Chinese classes in the late 80s I have read and accumulated a large collection of books on China. Most are in storage in California, unable to join me in China. I try not to think about them too much, but…

Every year there are more and more books written about China, so many that there is no way to read all of them now. I am starting a new, ocasional feature for this blog in which I will post reviews of books I enjoyed, both old and new.

I am starting with a list of mostly older China books that are still worth reading. This first list originally appeared on the ChuanChaunr China Books blog over a month ago. The books are listed in no particular order.

Mr. China: A Memoir-Tim Clissold
Hilarious account of auto parts investment fund Asimco and its incineration of hundreds of millions of dollars. The stories may be a decade old but are still very relevant today.

An important, mass market-accessible look at how the Communist Party runs China.

China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation-David Shambaugh
A very insightful academic work on the Communist Party and the ways it has adapted, consolidated and expanded its power.

A prescient work that was criticized and/or ignored by most of the Sinology and foreign policy establishment. Sadly, much of what Mann argued is now seen as mainstream, even if few people give him credit. This book should be paired with McGregor’s “The Party”.

When A Billion Chinese Jump: How China Will Save Mankind — Or Destroy It-Jonathan Watts
Read it and weep; an important chronicle of the environmental degradation that plagues China.

An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911-Stephen Owen
Actually, anything by Harvard professor Stephen Owen is worth reading. This is an excellent, and massive, guide to the important works in Chinese literature up to 1911.

The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei, Vol 1-3-Translated by David Tod Roy
Banned almost continuously since its appearance, this book is famous as an erotic novel but is actually much more a commentary on the decline of the Ming Empire. Some scholars argue it is perhaps the best Chinese historical novel after “Dream of the Red Chamber”. Roy’s translation is masterful, but at close to 2000 pages most people will prefer the Cliff Notes version.

The Carnal Prayer Mat–Li Yu, Translated by Patrick Hanan
A true 17th century erotic classic, and much shorter than The Plum in the Golden Vase. Hanan is a brilliant translator.

Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting-James Cahill, Wu Hung et al
All about the days when China had really good art…

Please tell me what you think in the comments.
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8 thoughts on “Recommended China Books

  1. I recently finished reading The Party, by McGregor. Amazing how much the news out of China makes more sense having read it.

  2. I recently finished reading The Party, by McGregor. Amazing how much the news out of China makes more sense having read it.

    • Actually, it seems Imagethief found it first, but I haven’t seen it mentioned on your website, so…

    • Actually, it seems Imagethief found it first, but I haven’t seen it mentioned on your website, so…

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