Books about China : page 7 (books 121 to 140)
The Sextants of Beijing, Waley-Cohen, Norton, 1999322 pages. ISBN 0-393-04693-1 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Shorter Science and Civilization in China, Needham and Ronan, Cambridge University Press, 1978325 pages. ISBN 0-521-29286-7 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The State of China Atlas, Benewick and Donald, University of California, 2009128 pages. ISBN 978-0-520-25610-1 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Stone of Heaven, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001429 pages. ISBN 978-0753813294 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Taiping Revolution, Various, Foreign Languages Press, 1976188 pages. ASIN B000FEKKA6 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Tao and the Tree of Life, Eric Yudelove, Llewellyn Publications, 1996230 pages. ISBN 1-56718-250-X Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, Stuart Schram, Cambridge University Press, 1989242 pages. ISBN 0-521-31062-8 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Treasures and Dynasties of China, Bamber Gascoigne, Jonathan Cape, 1973256 pages. ISBN 978-0224009256 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Wall Has Two Sides, Felix Greene, Jonathon Cape,1970432 pages. ISBN 978-0224604031 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Walled Kingdom, Witold Rodzinski, Fontana, 1984450 pages. ISBN 0-00-686148-2 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Water Kingdom, Philip Ball, Vintage, 2017341 pages. ISBN 978-1847923547 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Writing on the Wall: China, Will Hutton, Abacus, 2007436 pages. ISBN 978-0316730181 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Xenophobe's Guide to the Chinese, Zhu Song, Xenophobes Guides, 201098 pages. ASIN B00796E6T4 Details/purchase ➚
A guide to the modern Chinese people. Good insights into the everyday lives of the Chinese. A light hearted guide that would be very useful for a Westerner going to live in China. Many topics are treated pretty superficially and there is no index or list of references.
Three Essays on Party Building, Liu Shaoqi, Foreign Languages Press, 1982300 pages. ASIN B008YMDWGU Details/purchase ➚
It is often overlooked that Liu Shaoqi was Communist party leader for the whole of the tumultuous time from 1959-1968. He espoused a more 'mixed' economy than Mao Zedong. After he was charged and jailed, his achievements were not mentioned until he was rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. This rare book includes his core beliefs on how the Chinese Communist Party should be organized on Marxist-Leninist lines. An essential read for people studying the way that the PRC developed in its early years.
Through the Chinese Revolution, Ralph and Nancy Lapwood, Spalding and Levy, 1954216 pages. ISBN 978-0883550793 Details/purchase ➚
This is one of very few eye witness accounts of a Westerner in China in the period 1932-1952. It documents the appalling conditions during the Japanese occupation. Ralph Lapwood was a British missionary and scientist who saw the transformation of China at first hand. The fervor of revolution after the foundation of the P.R.C. in 1949 is described in detail. It can be suggested that the author became too wrapped up in the revolution, seeing only the benefits but personal accounts of people living closely with the Chinese at this time are rare and the account can not be easily dismissed. This is a very personal record so there are no notes or references.
To Change China, Jonathan Spence, Penguin, 1980335 pages. ISBN 978-0140055283 Details/purchase ➚
Another Jonathan Spence masterpiece. Each of his books looks at China in a different way. In this case he takes a couple of Westerners from each significant time period in China-Western affairs and looks at the Westerner's attitude to China. It reveals much about differing perspectives on foreign cultures and how best to proceed as good intentions are never quite good enough.
Treason by the book, Jonathan Spence, Penguin,2001300 pages. ISBN 0-713-99449-5 Details/purchase ➚
Jonathan Spence has written many interesting books that give a keen insight into life in dynastic China. In this case he follows in meticulous detail the tortuous legal system in use during the Qing dynasty. The system of scholars, generals and local fiefs that ruled China was an imperfect but effective means of control. The book follows the twists and turns of a case of treason, where an attempted insurrection is severely dealt with. The book gives direct quotes from the voluminous records that have survived to this day. It is a scholarly work.
Twilight in the Forbidden City, Reginald Johnston, Oxford Paperbacks, 1934486 pages. ISBN 978-1843560203 Details/purchase ➚
Reginald Johnston was the last Emperor's favorite tutor and trusted friend (1919-24). As the Westerner with the most knowledge of the Qing dynasty's fall his perspective is enlightening. However this is certainly not a detailed biography of Puyi (as in The Last Emperor by Edward Behr) most of the content is about the internal power politics of the time. The author sets the record straight as far as the misconceptions of this time of transition. He was very loyal and attached to the Emperor and believed that the restoration of the Qing dynasty as a constitutional monarchy (like Britain) would have been the best outcome for China; as this did not happen this account gives a valuable perspective on events. His account trails off after the Emperor fled the Imperial Palace and skates over events leading to Puyi's move to Manchuria. Johnston writes well and was certainly a great scholar of Chinese culture and traditions.
Western Chamber Romance, Master Tung, Li-li Ch'en, Columbia University Press, 1994239 pages. ISBN 0-231-10119-8 Details/purchase ➚
This 12th century masterpiece is a real challenge for a translator. It is a mixture of prose and poetry in complicated patterns. It is, inevitably, a story of a scholar's love for a young lady aristocrat who he rescues. It says a lot about ancient Chinese cultural attitudes.
What does China think?, Mark Leonard, Fourth Estate, 2008134 pages. ISBN 1586484842 Details/purchase ➚
There are a lot of books trying to place China in the modern World, this does better than most. Mark Leonard bases his insights on personal interviews rather than other books. He manages to demolish many myths and succinctly gets to the crux of the issues facing China. An absorbing read.
Key to symbols used in the book descriptions
Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.
Our overall star rating for the book up to five stars.
Has black and white illustrations, none in color.
Has color illustrations, often has black and white illustrations too.
Does not have Chinese text in it.
Uses the modern Pinyin system for romanizing Chinese text.
Uses the old Wade Giles system for romanizing Chinese text.
Includes Chinese characters.
Many books cover more than one topic, these icons reflect all topics it may touch on.
Covers Chinese art.
Covers Chinese dynastic history up to 1912.
Covers Chinese modern history from 1912 into PRC.
Covers Chinese traditions.
A work of Chinese literature (translated into English).
An introduction to learning the Chinese language.
Covers Chinese philosophy / religion.
Useful travel guide to China.
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