Books about China
Page 5 (books 81 to 100)
These pages contain reviews of books that have all been read when researching the information on this web site.
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Red Dust: A path through China, Ma Jian, Vintage, 2002324 pages. ISBN 978-0099283294 Details/purchase ➚
Ma Jian is a noted 'dissident' artist who took part in the Tiananmen protests. This book recounts a tale of his eventful travel throughout China to try to discover himself. It is a warts and all exposee of 'modern' China in 1981. It is the sort of book you need to read to get some counterbalance to the government line. I think he set out to shock too much and portray China as a flawed system. It says much about the author but not very much about China.
Return to Dragon Mountain, Jonathan Spence, Quercus, 2008332 pages. ISBN 978-0143114451 Details/purchase ➚
Jonathan Spence is renowned for his scholarly works on Chinese history. In this book he gives a detailed biography of the famous Ming historian Zhang Dai who saw the dynasty fall in 1644. After a life as a member of the rich, scholar elite of Ming China Zhang became an impoverished recluse under the Qing and spent many years writing a history of the Ming. The book starts off well but somehow runs out of steam towards the end. It gives a unique insight into life in late Ming China.
Revolution in a Chinese Village : Ten Mile Inn, Isabel and David Crook, Routledge and Kegan, 1959190 pages. ISBN 0-7100-3393-1 Details/purchase ➚
To understand how the Chinese Communist Party rose to power 1921-49 you need to know how their reforms brought the rural peasants to their side. Rather than rely on bland national statistics this in depth study looks at the individuals in one particular village and tracks the effects of the reforms. The series of fundamental reforms met with mixed success but eventually a more equitable and prosperous village was the end result. For critics of communism, this study will challenge deep-trenched antipathy - mistakes were made but in the end a better system resulted.
River Town, Peter Hessler, John Murray, 2002399 pages. ISBN 978-0719564802 Details/purchase ➚
This book tells the story of an American working as an English Literature student 1996-98 in Fuling - a small town on the Yangzi. This time period preceded the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. This is a book based on journal entries made at the time and is much more about the author than about the town. He makes very perceptive remarks and went the extra mile to understand ordinary Chinese people. However there is little structure to the book and could have been edited down without impairing it. There is also a distinct air of American cultural superiority that somewhat dissipated over the two years. A good book to really get to understand the concerns of Chinese people.
Routledge Grammar, Basic Chinese, Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, Routledge, 1998221 pages. ISBN 978-0415472159 Details/purchase ➚
If you want to go beyond speaking and writing 'tourist Chinese' you need a good grounding in Chinese grammar. This Routledge guide goes far beyond memorizing useful phrases and serves as an essential course if you want to speak Chinese well and understand Chinese text. All the Chinese is in both pinyin and characters. It does not include a dictionary section so you will need a separate dictionary in conjunction with the book.
Selected Stories, Lu Hsun, Foreign Languages Press ,1980323 pages. ISBN 978-0393008487 Details/purchase ➚
The writings of Lu Xun had great impact in the Republican period. He was the pioneer of modern Chinese literature - written in the vernacular for ordinary Chinese people not just the educated elite. This collection of short stories is all very readable. He satirizes the ancient traditions and customs of dynastic China most famously in the 'True Story of Ah Q' which is included in this collection.
Siege at Peking, Peter Fleming, Oxford Univ Press, 1959225 pages. ISBN 978-0195837353 Details/purchase ➚
A detailed and thorough telling the plight of the foreign legations besieged in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. It is written by Peter Fleming, brother of James Bond inventor Ian Fleming. Careful research of many sources has produced a fairly complete picture of what happened in the legations. There is little about the Chinese side - documents did not survive. It was a unique event in world history and a facinating read.
Social life of the Chinese, Justus Doolittle, Harper and Brothers, 1865968 pages. ISBN 978-1539469803 Details/purchase ➚
This mammoth two volume was written by a Protestant missionary to Fuzhou in 1865. It is particularly useful to read of the customs and traditions in these relatively early days of contact. There is a lot of detail but his grasp of Chinese traditions although good was not entirely sound. The book was written for new missionaries coming to China and there are sections showing how the Christian message could be spread in China. It covers a wide range of topics: foot-binding, opium, gambling, festivals, marriage etc..
Son of the Revolution, Liang Heng; Judith Shapiro, Vintage, 1984292 pages. ISBN 978-0394722740 Details/purchase ➚
A rare book that covers from the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of personal experiences of ordinary, poor people rather than the country's leadership. Each stage of the revolution affected the author and his family. He explores the many ways people coped with the upheavals. It is not eloquent descriptive writing and does become a little turgid in places. Essential reading if you want to trully understand the impact of the period 1966-76.
Streetlife China, Michael Dutton, Cambridge University Press, 2000304 pages. ISBN 0-521-63719-8 Details/purchase ➚
This is a sociological study of China's urban communities. It is a collection of articles written by mainly Chinese writers about urban culture, how it has changed and how it is changing. It covers the transitional period of the 1980s with the drift away from Maoism and covers such things as slang, tattoos, work units - which you won't find anywhere else.
Symbols of China, Feng Jicai, Compendium, 2010248 pages. ISBN 978-1849120180 Details/purchase ➚
A lavishly illustrated book covering all aspects of China not just 'symbols': traditions, scenic sights, festivals, arts, legends and famous figures. Unfortunately many of the description are too short, just an overview and there are no references. At times the English is also rather poor. However it does give a very good overall coverage and the photographs and illustrations are very good.
The Analects of Confucius, Confucius: translated by Arthur Waley, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992262 pages. ISBN 978-1135764364 Details/purchase ➚
If there is a Chinese book that gets close to a 'Chinese Bible' then this is it. It is essential to understand Confucius's philosophy if you want to understand China. The translation is old and uses Wade Giles and the notes require you to be a scholar to make sense of them. More recent translations are better than this one.
The book of Chuang Tzu, translated by Palmer and Breuilly, Arkana, 1996320 pages. ISBN 0-14-019488-6 Details/purchase ➚
Many Westerners turn to the Dao De Jing to learn of the Daoist tradition. However it is the Book of Zhuangzi that gives a much more accurate reflection of the philosophy of Daoism. It is a series of entertaining, often amusing, tales that generally reveal a thought provoking paradox. It gives food for thought even in today's world. This translation is rather dated as it uses Wade-Giles but is otherwise admirable.
The Book of Laozi: A Taoist classic, Ren Jiyu, Foreign Languages Press, 1995103 pages. ISBN 7-119-01571-0 Details/purchase ➚
There are many translations of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) and this is a fairly modern one produced by a Chinese scholar. I find the English adequate but it does not have the poetic ring of other translations. The nuances of translation are particularly hard to get right for this ancient classic. It does not include the original Chinese text.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, ed. Brian Hook, Cambridge University Press, 1991502 pages. ISBN 978-0521355940 Details/purchase ➚
An extensive and heavy book that covers all aspects of China: history, geography, religion, arts and language. Unfortunately it is written by a large number of different 'experts' and the quality is mixed. It can not be used as a standard encyclopedia - you need to read whole sections. The text is 'academic' rather than readable prose and lacks vitality. Because it is written by so many authors there is overlap and no cross references, even so some parts are very valuable, particularly on technology.
The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Patricia Embury, Cambridge University Press, 2010352 pages. ISBN 0-521043519-6 Details/purchase ➚
Cambridge University Press produce a mammoth in-depth history of China, this can be considered an abridgement of this work. It has copious illustrations and useful panels describing key parts of Chinese culture and history. It covers the whole time period from pre-history to the present day - a lot to cover in one book. It is a fascinating and engaging read and to be recommended as a key overview.
The Chan's Great Continent, Jonathan Spence, Penguin,1998279 pages. ISBN 978-0140281743 Details/purchase ➚
Jonathan Spence, a leading expert on China, has written many fascinating books about China. They all concentrate on a different aspect of Chinese history. In this one he looks at contacts with foreign countries from the time of Marco Polo to the 1920s. He puts particular emphasis on the attitudes to China which range from wonder to contempt. We forget the times when every great house just had to have a collection of Chinese porcelain; every fine garden was heavily influenced by Chinese taste and design. The book contains many new and entertaining perspectives on how different cultures have both admired and despised each other.
The China Threat, Bill Gertz, Regnery Publishing, 2002280 pages. ISBN 0-89526-187-1 Details/purchase ➚
Sometimes it is important to see things from the other side of the wall. I am, personally, broadly convinced that China has no ambitions for world conquest. This book makes the case that America in particular is in grave danger because China has secret plans to subvert and conquer the United States. No doubt this book sold well to the hawkish elements in America, its sub title could have been 'be afraid, be very afraid'. It is not possible to refute this view all that easily as it is based on so many secret plans and documents. If you want to understand the widespread suspicion about China's motives then you need to read a book such as this.
The Chinese : Portrait of a people, John Fraser, Fontana, 1980474 pages. ISBN 978-0671448738 Details/purchase ➚
John Fraser is a talented Canadian journalist who traveled extensively in China in the difficult period 1976-79. He takes a very critical eye on the workings of the Communist system at a time of deep suspicion of the motives of Western journalists. He became very much involved in the poster campaigns and unrest in Beijing. A very valuable insight into life in China at the time.
The Chinese Maze Murders: A Judge Dee Mystery, Robert van Gulik, University of Chicago Press, 2012322 pages. ISBN 978-0226848785 Details/purchase ➚
Robert van Gulik studied the many detective stories that have been popular in China for centuries. Doctor Dee of the Tang dynasty is the best known detective. Here he has combined three separate detective stories into a 'new' Doctor Dee mystery. He writes well with lots of authentic details of Chinese life. In this, his first book in the genre, I found the three separate stories a little confusing and the fact that they were separate crimes solved in order it lacks the impact of stories with a single villain to be caught. It has a good immersive feel with interesting characters.
Key to symbols used in the book descriptions
Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.
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