Love this site? Then you might just love some of my favorite books, which I’ve listed with my own comments. (Note: Titles are linked directly to Amazon, where your purchase helps support Speaking of China. Thanks for your support!)
Choose a subject:
Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China’s Peasants by Chen G. & Wu C.
A shocking, page-turning expose on why China’s peasants still can’t get ahead.
Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China by Ian Johnson
Three encouraging, and compelling, tales of Chinese who dare to work for change. A pleasure to read.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Classic — the rise and fall of a family in China’s pre-Communist countryside.
A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin
One of China’s four great classic novels — and a memorable commentary on Chinese culture itself.
Three Kingdoms: Chinese Classics by Luo Guanzhong
A must-read classic tale of war and struggle that has shaped the lives and language of China’s people.
Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai’an (Luo Guanzhong)
China’s spellbinding “robin hood” tales from the Song Dynasty. Song Jiang is still one of my favorite characters of all time!
The Last Chinese Chef: A Novel by Nicole Mones
The best explanation of Chinese food I’ve ever encountered, seasoned with plenty of love (stories). A sumptuous tale of Maggie, a recently widowed American food writer who gets a chopstick-eye view of China with the help of Sam, a half-Chinese, half-American chef in Beijing, while confronting the destructive past her husband left behind from his China love affairs.
Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en
The must-read, classic story of how Buddhism came to China, and about China’s beloved Monkey King.
Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
Learn about the impact of Chairman Mao’s rule through three generations of Chinese women.
Red Azalea by Anchee Min
The Cultural Revolution book to read if you’re burned out by the usual Cultural Revolution stories. The narrative is touching, personal and delves into forbidden loves and desires that most books never speak of. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran
The Cultural Revolution hit China hard, but it was often the women who suffered the most, in silence. Xinran, one of China’s leading journalists, provided an outlet to women through her nightly women’s radio show. Now she shares stories — once unpublishable in China — of what happened to women from different backgrounds during and after the Cultural Revolution. A real page-turner.
Mr. China: A Memoir by Tim Clissold
For Clissold, everything that can go wrong in doing business in China does — and you will learn and laugh along with him! A fun read.
Compelling tales from the business world in China, from Rupert Murdoch’s cross-cultural media marriage, to Hu Shuli’s courageous business journalism. This book may be about business, but reading it is all about fun.
East Wind: West Wind by Pearl S. Buck
A foreigner in the family? The narrator, a young Chinese woman, tells the story of her brother and his love affair — and eventual marriage — to an American woman in pre-Communist China, when traditional Chinese culture was already being challenged by Western ideas and customs.
Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin
A woman who dared to love Chinese men on screen (and off), as well as Chinese culture. DeWoskin writes about it all with passion and humor.
Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones
The story of Alice Mannegan, an American translator in China with a thirst for Chinese men, who discovers love — both lost and found — while on an expedition for Peking Man in the Mongolian desert.
In her mid-forties and divorced, the last thing Ellen ever expected was to travel to China and marry a Chinese man she knew for less than a week. But the unspoken connection between then brings this unlikely pair together, and sustains them through the trials and tribulations of their new cross-cultural relationship. While set mainly in the US, this book reveals much about Chinese culture and family life.
Repeat After Me: A Novel by Rachel DeWoskin
A tale of cross-cultural love between an American girl and a Chinese dissident (and, later China) — and how, when things fall apart, you can find the strength to move forward from unlikely people and places.
Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu
This reads like a Valentine to Shen Fu’s true love, Yun, who tragically passes away before her time, all because of family misunderstandings. A moving, real story from the Qing Dynasty, written by a poor scholar.
Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin
Is it better to have a peaceful, stable — but loveless — marriage, or marry your passionate soulmate? In Waiting, Ha Jin ponders such a choice through characters living during and after the Cultural Revolution — at a time when impropriety in love could mean the loss of everything you had. A touching story that will help you understand some Chinese perspectives about love, romance and marriage.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers: Stories by Yiyun Li
Chinese fiction like you’ve never read before. The gay unmarried son, a bisexual Peking Opera singer, a couple with a daughter they hide, and more.
China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford
It’s your college’s modern China 101 class, written with humor, insight, and hope for this fascinating country.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
Arresting story of a journey (on many levels) through post-Mao China, when the country awakens. The only Chinese novel to win a Nobel Prize.
River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler
Chinese culture, history and politics, beautifully told through this lovingly crafted portrait of a town on the Yangtze River. A personal favorite.
Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China by Peter Hessler
The title refers to the story behind one important man in the discovery of oracle bones. But Hessler also takes the reader on a journey through what it means to be Chinese in modern China. Another favorite of mine.
Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China by John Pomfret
The Cultural Revolution. Opening up and Reform. Tian’anmen and after. All told through the eyes of Pomfret and his extraordinary Chinese classmates. Great read.