Books about China
Page 7 (books 121 to 140)
The Manners and Customs of the Chinese of the Straits Settlements, J.D. Vaughan, Oxford Asia Paperbacks, 1879126 pages. ISBN 0-978-1241496104 Details/purchase ➚
This is a rare insight into the attitude of Englishmen towards the Chinese. It was written in 1854 and reflects the views of the time - European culture as superior and Chinese as quaint and strange. To understand the British perspective, it is important to try to understand the viewpoints at this time. The Chinese community described was at Singapore. The book is a collection of short pieces and it has no index. He plays particular attention to the secret societies that were prevalent at the time for leading the overseas communities.
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, Jonathan Spence, Faber and Faber, 1984350 pages. ISBN 978-0140080988 Details/purchase ➚
A deceptive title. This is much more about the life of Matteo Ricci and the work of the Jesuits than it is about China or memory palaces (disappointingly little). It seems the author thought that memory images would be a good way of dividing up the book into categories (warfare, foreigners, sin and Christianity) but it does not work well and he gives up on the idea part way through. It is very scholarly and factually dense making it a challenging read and he does not split up the long chapters into more manageable sections. Essential reading to get to the mindset of Jesuits in the late 16th century.
The New Chinese Empire, Ross Terrill, Basic Books, 2003384 pages. ISBN 978-0465084128 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Opium War through Chinese eyes, Arthur Waley, Stanford University Press, 1958256 pages. ISBN 978-0804706117 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Origin of the Chinese People, John Ross, Pekanduk, 1994189 pages. ISBN 978-1330079515 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Yangzi Delta 1350-1988, Philip Huang, Stanford University Press, 1990421 pages. ISBN 0-8047-1788-5 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Pinyin Chinese-English Dictionary, Wu Jingrong, Wiley, 1985976 pages. ISBN 978-9620700064 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Question of Hu, Johnathan Spence, Vintage, 1989187 pages. ISBN 0-679-72580-6 Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Revolution of 1911,Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1976174 pages. Details/purchase ➚
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.
The Scramble for China, Robert Bickers. Penguin, 2012496 pages. ISBN 978-0141015859 Details/purchase ➚
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.
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.
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.