The best books about Asian women

Sheridan Prasso Author Of The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient
By Sheridan Prasso

Who am I?

I have specialized in writing about Asia since first moving to Hong Kong as a journalist in 1989, and spent the past three decades trying to improve understandings between East and West. My Asian women friends repeatedly asked me why Western men expected them to pour their drinks and serve them food. I answered “because that’s what they saw in the movies.” The James Bond films perpetuating these images of servile Asian women scrubbing white mens’ backs in the bathtub were pervasive when they were growing up. I decided to uncover and explain where this history of imagery and the stereotypes they result in come from – and, as someone with an anthropological background, also explain cultural practices that foster misunderstandings. 


I wrote...

The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

By Sheridan Prasso,

Book cover of The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

What is my book about?

Why do stereotypes about Asian women persist in Western culture: as submissive and servile, or the opposite – as kick-ass, kung-fu Dragon Lady dominatrix? Despite recent progress in Hollywood, these images remain pervasive in film, TV, advertising, and other imagery. Where do they come from, and what are the realities behind them?

This important, acclaimed book tackles the perceptions and the realities, recounting the history of East-West interaction that led to these images and their persistence, and the cultural factors and market forces that help them persist. It is ideal for people looking for understanding, and for people looking to help others  – like guys with an Asian fetish– understand.

The books I picked & why

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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

By Leta Hong Fincher,

Book cover of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

Why this book?

This book by the leading expert on China’s feminist movement speaks to the modern-day realities of women in China – where the promise of the Communist revolution to deliver gender equality has been betrayed. Today’s women in China have experienced a dramatic rollback of the rights and gains they achieved early on. The structural discrimination against women in all sectors, from politics to business to relationships, is not easily overturned.



Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

By Leslie T. Chang,

Book cover of Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Why this book?

A portrait of some of the millions of workers who toil in factories in southern China, most of whom are young women. They leave behind their families and work long hours for little money in boring, repetitive assembly line jobs, making mobile phones, toys, purses and other items for the rest of the world. The realities and challenges for the young women behind the goods we buy daily make this a compelling read.


Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha

By Lesley Downer,

Book cover of Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha

Why this book?

By reading this actual account by a woman who became a geisha herself, you will come to understand how far from reality the fictional book Memoirs of a Geisha, written by a man, really was. This is the best-ever portrait of this world and the women – far from the pining, love-besotted servants – who inhabit it.


The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

By Xinran,

Book cover of The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices

Why this book?

This collection of hidden testimonies of women in China, based on call-ins to a radio show in the 199Os, depicts what women think and feel about their world and their realities. We hear women speaking for the first time about forced marriages, poverty, persecution, love – and their triumphs. It is key to understanding the thoughts and feelings behind what we think we know.


Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

By Sterling Seagrave,

Book cover of Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

Why this book?

This book takes what you think you know about China’s Last Empress, Cixi, and turns it upside down. Far from the monster created by puerile Western conquerors to justify their imperial domination over China, this historical account uncovers the reality behind the woman who held great power in China. This reality is core to the destruction of the Dragon Lady stereotype in Western culture that I lay out in my book.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, empresses, and geisha?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, empresses, and geisha.

China Explore 400 books about China
Empresses Explore 11 books about empresses
Geisha Explore 8 books about geisha

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Van Gogh on Demand, Land of Big Numbers, and The Party if you like this list.