Books about China

Page 9 (books 161 to 180)

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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Three Essays on Party Building, Liu Shaoqi, Foreign Languages Press, 1982

300 pages. 2.5 stars ASIN B008YMDWGU Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
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.
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Through the Chinese Revolution, Ralph and Nancy Lapwood, Spalding and Levy, 1954

216 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0883550793 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Modern history book
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.
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Tiger Head Snake Tails, Jonathan Fenby, Simon & Schuster, 2012

418 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN ? 978-1847373939 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book Modern history book
A very competent and encyclopedic look at China in 2012. I sadly have to mark it down because this book is very much of its time and so a lot is now of less value. Jonathan Fenby really knows the facts, the pages are stuff full of information about the Chinese economy and a little on politics. There is a full biography of Xi Jinping - then the likely successor to Hu Jintao. He does look back to the early days of the PRC but there is little on traditions. A good proportion of the book is looking forward and it is interesting to judge the accuracy of these predictions.
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To Change China, Jonathan Spence, Penguin, 1980

335 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0140055283 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Modern history book
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.
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Treason by the book, Jonathan Spence, Penguin,2001

300 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-713-99449-5 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book
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 explores the conundrum of how to deal with sedition - punish swiftly or assuage the root causes of discontent?
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Twilight in the Forbidden City, Reginald Johnston, Oxford Paperbacks, 1934

486 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-1843560203 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book Modern history book
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.
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Western Chamber Romance, Master Tung, Li-li Ch'en, Columbia University Press, 1994

239 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 0-231-10119-8 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Chinese traditions book Literature
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.
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What does China think?, Mark Leonard, Fourth Estate, 2008

134 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 1586484842 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
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.
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When America first met China, Eric Jay Dolin, Liveright, 2013

394 pages. 2.0 stars ISBN 978-0871406897 Details/purchase B/W illustrations No characters History book Chinese traditions book
A disappointing read as it is not true to its title - there is virtually nothing about meetings of Chinese and American people. It is mainly about the American sea trade in general so there is a lot about such things as fur trading and tea clippers. Somehow the Opium Wars gets a lengthy treatment even this did not really describe the American trade in the drug. It does however cover the often neglected and shameful coolie trade. In general the book is all about the US sea trade where it affected China but you will learn very little about the Chinese point of view.
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When China rules the World, Martin Jacques, 2009, Allen Lane

549 pages. 1.5 stars ISBN 978-0140276046 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
This is a tiresome book. A vitally important subject and a contentious title lead you to think this will be a rewarding experience. The author has a pompous and extremely wordy style that makes reading needlessly hard work. Buried in the random witterings about China's past, present and future are useful facts and perspectives but they are so hard to uncover that frustration rather than enlightenment is the outcome. It reads like a brain dump rather than a carefully prepared argument. Repetitions are numerous. It has 100 pages of notes and bibliography. Because learning about China's new place in the world is so important it must be concluded that with severe misgivings this book deserves to be read.

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