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

The Books I Picked & Why

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

By Jung Chang

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.


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Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

By Peter Hessler

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.


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

By Simon Winchester

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.


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Waiting: A Novel

By Ha Jin

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.


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Life and Death in Shanghai

By Cheng Nien

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.


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