The best books on modern China's myths, religions, politics, & culture

Who am I?

My book's backdrop is the Student Democracy Movement beginning in April 1989, ending at Tiananmen Square on June 4th. I chose this period because it was dramatic. Who can forget the young man trying to stop the tank? After my first trip to China in 1980, I returned to Los Angeles and became a host family for Mainland students studying at UCLA (I was Medical Director of Student Health). During those weeks in 1989 many students communicated with friends and family back in China. They saw the conflict as a generational struggle between old leaders who had marched with Mao and were desperate to hang onto power (and therefore for my plot would want a longevity elixir), and the younger generation anxious for reforms. 


I wrote...

Rabbit in the Moon

By Deborah Shlian, Joel Shlian,

Book cover of Rabbit in the Moon

What is my book about?

San Francisco, 1989: Forty years after Mao and his People's Liberation Army set out to change China forever, Dr. Lili Quan prepares for a journey that will change her life forever.

To honor her mother's dying wish that she “return” home, American-born, Lili, reluctantly sets out for China. For Lili, a passionate idealist, this will be an extraordinary trip filled with remarkable discoveries - from meeting and falling in love with Chi-Wen Zhou, a victim of the Cultural Revolution and zealous Taoist, to finding Dr. Ni-Fu Cheng, the grandfather Lili believed had died years ago. But Ni-Fu has made the most remarkable discovery of all: he's discovered the secret to long life. As greedy and unscrupulous men vie for control of the most earth-shattering discovery of the century, Lili, Ni-Fu’s only living relative, could become a pawn in a deadly and dangerous international game. Before she can hold the key to the future, Lili must unlock the deadly secrets of the pats. 

The books I picked & why

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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

By Jung Chang,

Book cover of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Why this book?

This is the true story of three generations in twentieth-century China that blends the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history. The author’s grandmother was forced to be a warlord’s concubine; her mother, a young idealistic Communist, marched with Mao; and the author became a member of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution.


Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

By Peter Hessler,

Book cover of Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

Why this book?

Not long ago outsiders viewed China as a 5000-year-old country where nothing ever changed. Today, China has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. In Oracle Bones, Hessler explores the human side of that transformation, viewing modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world through the lives of a handful of ordinary people.


The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

By Simon Winchester,

Book cover of The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

Why this book?

In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, Joseph Needham fell in love with a visiting Chinese student, with whom he began a lifelong affair. Persuaded to travel with her to China, he explored the farthest frontiers of this ancient empire, searching for evidence to bolster his conviction that the Chinese were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar innovations—including printing, the compass, explosives, suspension bridges, even toilet paper—often centuries before the rest of the world. This is a true and unforgettable story.


Waiting: A Novel

By Ha Jin,

Book cover of Waiting: A Novel

Why this book?

In Waiting, Ha Jin portrays the life of Lin Kong, a dedicated doctor torn by his love for two women: one who belongs to the New China of the Cultural Revolution, the other to the ancient traditions of his family's village. The author explores the conflict between the individual and society, between the timelessness of love and the constantly-shifting politics of the moment in China.


Life and Death in Shanghai

By Cheng Nien,

Book cover of Life and Death in Shanghai

Why this book?

This is an amazing first-hand account of China's cultural revolution. Nien Cheng, a fluent English-speaker who worked for Shell in Shanghai under Mao, was placed under house arrest by Red Guards in 1966 and subsequently jailed. Despite torture, she refused to confess to being a British spy or to be “re-educated”. When she was released from prison she was told that her daughter had committed suicide. In fact, Meiping had been beaten to death by Maoist revolutionaries.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and love triangle?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and love triangle.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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