Books about China
Page 7 (books 121 to 140)
These pages contain reviews of books that have all been read when researching the information on this web site.
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The last days of Old Beijing, Michael Meyer, Walker, 2008309 pages. ISBN 978-0802716521 Details/purchase ➚
In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 priority was given to 'tidying up' Beijing ready for visitors. A particular target was the old hutong districts regarded by many planners as slums ideal for redevelopment. The author lived in the hutongs as a volunteer English teacher at a local school. He describes the misuse of planning to evict people from the last few, old districts and the general disregard for preserving the past. The book includes chapters on history and planning process but it is the detailed description of the hutong residents that brings the book to life. It is a distressing tale of how rapid modern development has destroyed age-old communities. Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the hutong districts and how Chinese planning system works.
The Last Emperor, Edward Behr, Futura, 1987335 pages. ISBN 978-0773680258 Details/purchase ➚
This is the book on which the major film 'The Last Emperor' was based. The life of Pu Yi gives keen insights into China in transition from Empire to People's Republic 1906-1967. This is a carefully researched work with personal interviews with key players who met Pu Yi. It underlines how chaotic life was at the time and the future of China was decided by many chance events.
The Lion and the Dragon, Aubrey Singer, Barrie and Jenkins, 1992192 pages. ASIN B01HC0M56M Details/purchase ➚
This is an account of the very important British embassy to the court of the Qing Emperor Qianlong. It is a readable compiled from the journals. Relatively little about the Chinese side of this adventure which was doomed from the start. The mutual mis-comprehension of European and Chinese values and cultures is evident throughout the visit. It offers an outsider's view of the Manchu elite with rather little about ordinary China and Chinese people.
The Long March 1935, Dick Wilson, History Book Club, 1971331 pages. ISBN 978-0670438457 Details/purchase ➚
This formative period of the Communist Party in China needs to be understood as it explains why the PRC took its truly revolutionary turn in the 1950s and 60s. The book has a good set of notes and references and uses material and photographs not used elsewhere. It includes a biography of Mao Zedong and Zhu De. It highlights the exaggeration of some of the accounts but includes them as they were important propaganda in the years that followed. The grueling record of the crossing of the Grasslands makes discomforting reading.
The Long March: The Untold Story, Harrison E. Salisbury, Harper and Row, 1985419 pages. ISBN 978-0070544710 Details/purchase ➚
A detailed and authorative treatment of the Long March from Jiangxi to Yan'an with biographies of the main leaders. It lacks good detailed maps and a quick background list of the key people - too many names to take in. The last two chapters cover the Long March leaders experience under the Cultural Revolution and the rise of Deng Xiaoping. It's quite a hard read as there is so much detail to take in, but it is the details that are not reported elsewhere. It uses interviews and papers not available before 1985.
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.
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