Books about China

Page 2 (books 21 to 40)

These pages contain my reviews of books about China that have all been read when researching the information on this web site.

Note: many of the links to the books will earn us a small commission from Amazon if you decide to buy the book as we operate as an Amazon Associate.

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China Culture Smart!, Kathy Flower, Kuperard, 2010

168 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 978-1857335026 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book Travel book
Part of a series covering all countries that aims to quickly give a flavor of a country. This small book is too brief to serve as a full culture guide or reference. Unfortunately it has a number of errors, particularly in the pinyin phrases that make it an unsafe guide. Written in an entertaining style it does bring out the key cultural differences and would be useful for a brief business visit.
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China in Ten Words, Yu Hua, Duckworth Overlook, 2011

225 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0307739797 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book Modern history book Literature
I thought this was a survey of Chinese culture/traditions in ten words, it's actually mainly autobiography. Yu lived through the Cultural Revolution as a trainee dentist and then writer. Using ten words ('reading', 'disparity', 'bamboozle' etc.) is an neat way to collect his thoughts on subjects that do indeed cast a keen light on Chinese traditional values. It includes many stories to make his point of ordinary people. It is well written and hard to put down. In the end though I feel he did run out of new things to say. A very useful guide to how 'ordinary' people live in China today.
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China moulded by Confucius, Zheng Tianxi, Cheng Press, 1946

264 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-1443729147 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Art book Philosophy book Literature
A scholarly look at Confucius from an eminent scholar and lawyer who came and worked in the UK. Offers a unique insight into what Confucianism means in practise rather than just philosophy. Also looks at traditional attitudes to family, friendship, art and literature.
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China through the sliding door, John Gittings, 1999

261 pages. 4.0 stars 978-0684870229 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
The book is a collection of articles written 1968-98 by the admired and perceptive Guardian reporter John Gittings. The book contains first hand accounts of the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Deng Xiaoping reforms. Each chapter contains an overview of a group of related reports. An invaulable guide to China over this period of rapid change with fascinating details of everyday life.
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China Wakes, Nichola Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn, Random House, 1995

500 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 978-0679763932 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book Modern history book
This weighty tome is written by a married couple who were journalists for the New York Times. Sheryl is Chinese-American and her ethnicity helped her gain access to people and places usually blocked to Westerners. Much of the book is woeful tales of the plight of dissidents and others who were victims of the oppressive Chinese government. As journalists they investigated all the 'bad' news stories and scandals in China and this gives it a very negative outlook. It was written in 1994 and the authors had first hand experience of the Tiananmen Square massacre. They predicted the imminent collapse of a corrupt and evil system - they were wrong - the picture is much less bleak than that. The worst feature of the book is its length, the same tale could have been told in half the pages. The last few chapters do look at some more positive observations and findings. It is very much a book of its time - general U.S. dismay at a corrupt, authoritarian regime. It tells little about life beyond political activists.
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China, Sir Henry Arthur Blake, A & C Black, 1909

129 pages. 3.0 stars ASIN B00DB5HDQK Details/purchase Color illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book Travel book
Although titled 'China' this is only a cursory sketch of the country. Written by the British Governor of Hong Kong in 1909 it gives an interesting perspective on China at the time. Details bring the various short scenes and topics to life, as do the skilful watercolours scattered through the pages. The attitude of the British to China is clear from his writings - sympathetic but paternalistic. It is really a miscellaneous set of jottings but still of value.
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China: A Concise History, Meyer, Littlefield Adams, 1984

354 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-8226-3033-8 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book
To understand Chinese history it is important to view it from as many perspectives as possible. Each historian has their own slant and particular points to make. Meyer, in this survey up to 1976 does an admirable job of putting each time period into focus. It has a good bibliography and index. The first section quite rightly looks at the Chinese way of life (110 pages): age old customs and traditions, before launching into the historical survey.
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China: A Geographical Sketch, Foreign Language Press, 1974

130 pages. 1.5 stars ASIN B001OT7PF4 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text
A book full of facts about the geography of China: mountains, rivers, plateaus, vegetation, soils. Rather dated now but has the merit of being written by Chinese authors.
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China: A Macro History, Huang, Sharpe,1990

281 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 0-87332-728-4 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book
A 'macro' view of history is a way of stepping back from details and trying to make sense of the complex patterns that form the bigger picture. Ray Huang summarizes each major period of Chinese history highlighting the key trends and developments. This is really aimed at undergraduates studying Chinese history. However, there is little factual material that can not be found elsewhere, its value is in analysis and context.
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China: Library of Nations,TimeLife,1984

160 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 0-7054-0840-X Details/purchase Color illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Travel book
More of a coffee table picture book than a work of reference this book is a series of 'essays' about different aspects of China. It is a pleasant enough book to look through but there is no list of references and as this was produced in 1984 it documents a bygone age.
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Chinese Art, Mary Tregear, Thames and Hudson,1980

216 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-0500202999 Details/purchase Color illustrations Wade-Giles text Art book Chinese traditions book
This book gives a good survey of the decorative arts (pottery, painting, ornaments) from earliest times to the present day. There are only a few color illustrations, most are small and in black and white; and so the art examples are hard to appreciate in detail. It is a vast subject to try to condense into a small book so this can only be regarded as an overview.
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Chinese brushwork in calligraphy and painting, Kwo Da-Wei,Dover Fine Arts, 1981

204 pages. 4.0 stars ASIN B00RWLZ4LU Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Art book
An excellent guide to all aspects of Chinese brushwork. All too often painting and calligraphy are treated as separate subjects in separate books, this book emphasizes their inextricable relationship. It includes sound sections on the history of brushwork and painting followed by detailed guide to making all the different kinds of brushmarks. As a large format book the illustrations are of a good size. The author was a respected artist of the more impressionist style. One quibble is that it uses Wade-Giles and Chinese characters are only used in an appendix.
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Chinese Characteristics, Arthur Henderson Smith, North China Herald, 1890

278 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-1230225128 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book Philosophy book
Written at the height of Christian missions to China, this book gives the Westerner's perspective of the Chinese character. The book gives many examples of the life in China at the time (pre-Republic) and is generally negative. The author sees little hope for reform without Christianity providing the necessary moral and spiritual guidance.
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Chinese Characters, Han Jiantang, Cambridge Uni

162 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 978-0521186605 Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers History book Language book
Part of the 'Introductions to Chinese Culture' series. This book looks at the historical development of the characters from earliest times. It suffers from quite a bit of repetition and some typographical errors. It does not give much more of an insight from older sources. It's a shame the pinyin does not include tone marks. There are some in depth analysis of the history of a few dozen characters but I was left hoping for a wider range.
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Chinese Civilization - A source book, Patricia Ebrey, The Free Press, 1993

524 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0029087527 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book Literature
Most of the time we see Chinese history through the distorting lenses of the historians who have translated and analyzed the source documents. Often we are not entirely sure what historians have actually read to form their view. This is where this source book is invaluable. It is a set of one hundred source documents all gathered together and translated into English. It covers the whole of Chinese history from the Shang dynasty to the 1989 democracy protest. Each article is given a brief introduction but is then just printed unmodified. Obviously the choice of which 100 articles to include has a strong bearing on the attitude to an event and this is where care needs to be taken in interpreting one document from one time period as representative of the whole.
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Chinese Cultural Traditions, Yujing He, CreateSpace publishing, 2013

16 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 978-1481983211 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book
This very short booklet gives some useful everyday traditions that are useful to know when visiting China.
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Chinese Customs, Hu Lingque and Xiang Wei, Better Link Press, 2008

115 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 978 1602201040 Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book
A short book that concentrates on the traditional foods rather than general customs of China. It does cover all the major festivals but is patchy elsewhere. It would have a higher rating if it had fewer typographical and factual errors (e.g. firecrackers are not made of dynamite! Jiaozis not jaozis!). As it is written by a Chinese person there are some genuine insights and traditions that aren't generally recorded in other similar books.
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Chinese Jade, Yu Ming, Cambridge, 2009

145 pages. 2.5 stars ISBN 978-0521186841 Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text History book Art book Chinese traditions book
This book is part of the 'Introduction to Chinese Culture' series. It has lovely colorful illustrations of many jade figures. However the text is poor, probably just a poor translation with quite a few errors. There is a lot of waffle that just describes how wonderful the jade is without any explanation. The book is a useful overview of the changes to fashions in jade over the dynasties.
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Chinese Lattice Designs, Daniel Dye, Dover, 1974

469 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0486230962 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Art book Chinese traditions book
One of the key features of traditional art has been the intricate and varied designs of the wooden lattices used to decorate windows. This book gathers together designs from all over China and carefully categorizes them. Some designs go back hundreds of years to the Ming dynasty. The geometric patterns are fascinating and immediately convey an Oriental flavor.
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Chinese Painting Techniques, Jean Long, Studio Vista, 1994

224 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-289-80114-1 Details/purchase Color illustrations Wade-Giles text Art book Chinese traditions book
This is a practical guide to the Chinese painting technique. It gives a good grounding in calligraphy, symbolism as well as painting. It does not cover art history in any depth.

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.

See also