Books about China

Page 7 (books 121 to 140)

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The New Chinese Empire, Ross Terrill, Basic Books, 2003

384 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 978-0465084128 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book Modern history book
This very negative book about China is typical of some American authors who think that the Chinese government is wholly evil and soon to fall. The diatribe is repetitive, only facts that support his view are included, it is totally biased. It was published in 2003 and all his dire predictions about China have failed to unfold as he predicted. This book is only interesting for some events in the 1980-2000 period and the fact it reflects the dominantly negative attitude held by some Harvard academics. His woeful misunderstanding and deliberate misreading of events is depressing in itself.
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The Opium War through Chinese eyes, Arthur Waley, Stanford University Press, 1958

256 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-0804706117 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book
It is important to see both perspectives of the Opium War conflict with Western powers in the mid-nineteenth century. This book uses the personal journals of the famous Commissioner Lin Zexu and other eye witnesses of the first War with the British. The book shines very useful light on different cultural attitudes and serious misunderstandings.
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The Origin of the Chinese People, John Ross, Pekanduk, 1994

189 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-1330079515 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book Language book Philosophy book
This old but useful book looks at early China, up to the foundation of the Qin dynasty. It looks at the development of the written script and the philosophy of Kongfuzi (Confucius). At the time this was written (1916) the idea that China was a distinctly different civilization was a subject of debate among Western scholars. Many thought Chinese culture must have been an offshoot from the Middle East. This book puts forward a strong case that China developed in isolation and this important fact explains some key cultural differences up to the present day. It includes a number of illustrations of Zhou and Shang dynasty scripts.
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The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta 1350-1988, Philip Huang, Stanford University Press, 1990

421 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 0-8047-1788-5 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book
An unusual academic study. It takes one area - the lower Yangzi - and follows agricultural practice over six hundred years. Most space and emphasis is given to the changes from 1950-1988. It is of interest to those studying the detailed develpment of agriculture in China.
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The Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, Wu Jingrong, Wiley, 1985

976 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-9620700064 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers Language book
Not so long ago you often needed to look up Chinese characters in a dictionary. With over 6,000 characters it is hard to memorize them all, but now the Internet has taken much of the drudgery of using dictionaries but there are still occasions when you need a full, comprehensive and accurate definition. This dictionary has 70,000 compound words and phrases that are arranged by pinyin tone. However the characters are printed so small that I need to use a magnifying glass to check them out.
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The Question of Hu, Johnathan Spence, Vintage, 1989

187 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 0-679-72580-6 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book
A short book of the extra-ordinary life an early Chinese Christian convert who was brought back to France to help translate Chinese books. He became deranged and was confined in an asylum, possibly the cultural and religious changes were too much for him. A rather sad tale of European misunderstanding of China. Spence uses the letters of Jesuit Foucquet as his primary source.
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The Revolution of 1911,Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1976

174 pages. 3.0 stars Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Modern history book
A rare book published by the PRC to explain the revolution and why it failed. It gives a lot of historical details that are not published elsewhere. It is very supportive of Mao's view on the subject.
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The Scramble for China, Robert Bickers. Penguin, 2012

496 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 978-0141015859 Details/purchase Color illustrations No characters History book Modern history book
I had looked forward to reading this book for some time as it is a subject area I find fascinating – the interaction of cultures. I was to be disappointed. This book is tedious, lots of irrelevant detail with no overall structure. It reads like the notes the author made while reading other books rather than a condensed summary. He ignores details that do not fit his view which is very worrying. The Chinese side gets rather limited coverage. Some of the author's opinions are not backed up by references. I regret I can not recommend this book.
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The Sextants of Beijing, Waley-Cohen, Norton, 1999

322 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 0-393-04693-1 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book
What a misleading title! I thought this was going to be just about western contacts particularly in the Matteo Ricci period (around 1600). It is much more general in scope, describing Chinese contacts with foreign cultures from earliest days up to the Peoples Republic. It seeks to over-turn the view that China has always been self-contained and inward looking while in fact China has been the most cosmopolitan of countries at key moments in World history. By understanding China's attitude and relations with foreign countries a good deal is discovered about China itself.
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The Shorter Science and Civilization in China, Needham and Ronan, Cambridge University Press, 1978

325 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 0-521-29286-7 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book
For those without the time to study Needham's full text the abridgments by Colin Ronan are useful books. Joseph Needham was the pre-eminent scholar of the development of Chinese Civilization, his work continues to this day at the Needham Research Institute . There are 5 volumes in this abridgment. I have volumes 1 and 2 only. Volume 1 covers the cultural, historic and philosophical background including the main religions. Volume 2 covers mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geography, geology and physics. Unfortunately it uses Wade-Giles throughout and has an infuriating index - it lists every word mentioned even if just in passing. It is essential reading if you want to get close to the original documents.
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The State of China Atlas, Benewick and Donald, University of California, 2009

128 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0-520-25610-1 Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
Geographical information can be dull and hard to interpret, this heavily illustrated book brings the subject to life with many colorful graphs and diagrams. There have been a number of published editions to keep the information up-to-date. It covers all the main economic and geographic data as well as government organization and the legal system. A very useful way to see how China compares to other countries and the differences between the regions that make up China.
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The Stone of Heaven, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001

429 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 978-0753813294 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book Art book Chinese traditions book
A disappointment. There are really two books here: a journalistic scoop on the appalling condition of the Burmese jade mines and a survey of jade ornaments throughout Chinese history. There is far too much tedious detail that is not part of the narrative - about half of book could have been left out. There are some unfortunate repetions of debunked myths and some inaccuracies. It seems it was written rapidly without due care on checking facts. Even so it does give an insight into the shady world surrounding China's most precious treasure.
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The Taiping Revolution, Various, Foreign Languages Press, 1976

188 pages. 3.0 stars ASIN B000FEKKA6 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book
This rather old little book was produced in China at a time when the Taiping Rebellion was seen as the forerunner of the Communist revolution. It therefore gives the pro-Taiping view often absent in the works of Western historians. It considers the positive ambitions for land reform and equality that attracted its millions of followers just like the Communists 70 years on.
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The Tao and the Tree of Life, Eric Yudelove, Llewellyn Publications, 1996

230 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 1-56718-250-X Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text Chinese traditions book Philosophy book
The book compares and contrasts the Daoist mystical with the Jewish Tree of Life tradition. Looks at yoga and acupuncture and other traditions but there is far more on Jewish culture than Chinese.
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The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, Stuart Schram, Cambridge University Press, 1989

242 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-521-31062-8 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Modern history book Philosophy book
Understanding Mao Zedong's guiding philosophy is hard work. With so much propaganda obscuring the truth this book goes back to the source documents to reveal underlying development and changes of his thought. It does not quote large slabs of the 'Thoughts of Mao Zedong', instead it attempts to see where the ideas came from. It documents the differences with Russian (Soviet) thinking leading to the inevitable Sino-Soviet split. There are many biographies of Mao Zedong but these describe the man and not the all important philosophy that took China in a new direction. This is quite a hard but rewarding read if you want to truly understand Mao's philosophy.
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The Treasures and Dynasties of China, Bamber Gascoigne, Jonathan Cape, 1973

256 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0224009256 Details/purchase Color illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Art book Chinese traditions book
Bamber Gascoigne is a much loved TV personality. When a major Chinese exhibition came to London he wrote this book. It covers the dynastic history of China in a very readable and thought provoking way. He uses sources not generally mentioned to bring history to life and shows a deep interest in Chinese history.
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The Wall Has Two Sides, Felix Greene, Jonathon Cape,1970

432 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0224604031 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book Modern history book
Felix Greene is an accomplished writer - he was a cousin of Graham Greene. This book is the result of a six month fact-finding trip as the only American journalist to visit China in 1960. His positive reporting of what he found counter-balances the negative view of foreign correspondents (often based at Hong Kong) at the time. He found no evidence of the abuse and famine that had been reported. Maybe he was only given access to 'appropriate' people and places but it is undoubtedly true that he captures the 'can do' attitude of China at the time.
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The Walled Kingdom, Witold Rodzinski, Fontana, 1984

450 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 0-00-686148-2 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text History book
This is a very competent survey of Chinese history from earliest days to 1960. It reads rather like an undergraduate course, fairly heavy and turgid in places. There are no source references and the use of Wade-Giles makes it all hard work. The earlier, but more readable, book by Fitzgerald is to be preferred.
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The Water Kingdom, Philip Ball, Vintage, 2017

341 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-1847923547 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers History book Chinese traditions book Modern history book
Although titled 'Water Kingdom' the book covers a great deal of material and that is its weakness. If the author had concentrated on water management over the centuries that would have made a better read. For example I think the Opium Wars and Zheng He are two extraneous topics that only deserve passing reference (not really about water in China!). He fails to explain why water is so great an issue for China compared to other countries - it's pretty much essential everywhere! There are numerous small errors that suggest some aspects were not carefully checked out. There are no proper references just sources of quotations. His take on the PRC's water management initiatives is pretty much negative which is contrary to the opinion of most Chinese people. It's an interesting perspective on Chinese history and I commend him for tackling it from a different viewpoint.
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The Writing on the Wall: China, Will Hutton, Abacus, 2007

436 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 978-0316730181 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Modern history book
Many Americans still believe that the Chinese must surely want to be more like Americans and that the strange Communist government is doomed to fail and democracy prevail. To understand this mindset it is necessary to read American writers such as Will Hutton. This book says very little about China - particularly Chinese history and culture, it is mainly about the International Economic situation and why China does not fit into it.

Key to symbols used in the book descriptions

Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.

star ratingOur overall star rating for the book up to five stars.
black and white illustrationsHas black and white illustrations, none in color.
colour illustrationsHas color illustrations, often has black and white illustrations too.
no Chinese textDoes not have Chinese text in it.
Chinese pinyin textUses the modern Pinyin system for romanizing Chinese text.
Chinese wade-giles textUses the old Wade Giles system for romanizing Chinese text.
Chinese characterIncludes Chinese characters.

Many books cover more than one topic, these icons reflect all topics it may touch on.

art bookCovers Chinese art.
history bookCovers Chinese dynastic history up to 1912.
modern history bookCovers Chinese modern history from 1912 into PRC.
Chinese traditions bookCovers Chinese traditions.
Chinese literatureA work of Chinese literature (translated into English).
Chinese languageAn introduction to learning the Chinese language.
Chinese philosophyCovers Chinese philosophy / religion.
Travel in ChinaUseful travel guide to China.