The best books about naughty Chinese girls

Who am I?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for what would become a two-year backpacking sojourn across all 33 Chinese provinces, the first foreigner on record to do so. It was during this journey that I discovered the following five female writers, whose catty, carnal memoirs accompanied me like jealous mistresses vying for attention.


I wrote...

China: Portrait of a People

By Tom Carter,

Book cover of China: Portrait of a People

What is my book about?

From the jungles of Yunnan to the frozen wastes of Heilongjiang, across the deserts of Xinjiang, and beneath Hong Kong's neon blur. Tramping through China by train, bus, boat, motorcycle, or hitching on the back of anything that moved. On a budget so scant that he drew sympathetic stares from peasants. Backpacker Tom Carter somehow succeeded in circumnavigating 35,000 miles across all 33 Chinese provinces during a 2-year period, the first foreigner on record ever to do so. What Carter’s photographs reveal is that China is not just one place, one people, but 33 distinct regions populated by 56 different ethnicities, each with their own languages, customs, and lifestyles.

China: Portrait of a People, was published as a means to visually introduce China to the world by providing a glimpse into the daily lives of the ordinary people who don’t make headlines yet who are the heart and soul of this country.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Shanghai Baby

Tom Carter Why did I love this book?

Like her or not, the reigning queen of the naughty girl subgenre of Chinese literature decidedly is Wei Hui, whose debut, Shanghai Baby, was a cultural phenomenon that resulted in public book burnings, an international media frenzy, dozens of imitators, and one so-bad-it’s-good movie adaptation starring Bai Ling. Not that Wei Hui is a particularly well-regarded writer – Shanghai Baby is basically a knockoff of shallow Western-style chick-lit, about a designer-brand-obsessed young woman who has an affair with a married foreigner – but in 1999 it was groundbreaking for kicking the publishing doors down for the post-1970s generation of Chinese writers.

By Wei Hui,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shanghai Baby as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Publicly burned in China for its sensual nature and irreverent style, this novel is the semi-autobiographical story of Coco, a cafe waitress, who is full of enthusiasm and impatience for life. She meets a young man, Tian Tian, for whom she feels tenderness and love, but he is reclusive, impotent and an increasing user of drugs. Despite parental objections, Coco moves in with him, leaves her job and throws herself into writing.

Shortly afterwards she meets Mark, a married Westerner. The two are uncontrollably attracted and begin a highly charged, physical affair. Torn between her two lovers, and tormented by…


Book cover of Candy

Tom Carter Why did I love this book?

Wei Hui’s literary and literal nemesis is Mian Mian – the two authoresses reportedly used to get in hair-pulling catfights at Shanghai nightclubs back in their glory years – yet whilst Wei Hui made millions, Mian Mian received critical acclaim for her engaging storytelling and poetic prose. Candy is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s sex-and-drugs-addled upbringing in 90s-era Shenzhen. Officially banned in China as “spiritual pollution”, it is a touching read, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of disenfranchised youth growing up on the cusp of a brave new China. It is among my favorites of this genre, so much so that I invited Mian Mian to write the afterword to my own book.

By Mian Mian, Andrea Lingenfelter (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Candy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An international literary phenomenon -- now available for the first time in English translation -- Candy is a hip, harrowing tale of risk and desire, the story of a young Chinese woman forging a life for herself in a world seemingly devoid of guidelines.

Hong, who narrates the novel, and whose life in many ways parallels the author's own, drops out of high school and runs away at age 17 to the frontier city of Shenzen. As Hong navigates the temptations of the city, she quickly falls in love with a young musician and together they dive into a cruel…


Book cover of Beijing Doll

Tom Carter Why did I love this book?

Chun Sue is like the literary little sister to Mian Mian and Wei Hui, copying her elder sisters and trying to follow in their footsteps – but stumbling because their heels were still too big for her to wear. In fact, despite its derivative nature, Beijing Doll did quite well, landing Chun on the cover of Time Magazine in 2004 and turning her into a pseudo-celebrity for her punky, tough-girl persona (a stark contrast to Wei’s slinky, sexy image). Western adult readers may roll their eyes at the melodramatic musings of middle-school heartbreak, but read within the context of its confining culture, Beijing Doll is no less an important addition to the annals of Chinese literature.

By Chun Sue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beijing Doll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Banned in China for its candid exploration of a young girl's sexual awakening yet widely acclaimed as being "the first novel of 'tough youth' in China" (Beijing Today), Beijing Doll cuts a daring path through China's rock-and-roll subculture. This cutting edge novel -- drawn from the diaries the author kept throughout her teenage years -- takes readers to the streets of Beijing where a disaffected generation spurns tradition for lives of self expression, passion, and rock-and-roll. Chun Sue's explicit sensuality, unflinching attitude towards sex, and raw, lyrical style break new ground in contemporary Chinese literature.


Book cover of Crows

Tom Carter Why did I love this book?

I can’t honestly say that this is a very good book. Jiu Dan is no Eileen Chang; she is not even Wei Hui. Yet her 2001 semi-autobiographical tale of a young Chinese woman traveling to Singapore as a “student,” but instead spending her nights selling herself to wealthy local men, is so shameless that it ought to be read at least once. In Crows, the authoress does not try to portray herself as naive nor on a soul-searching road to personal redemption, nor anything but cold-blooded. For that reason alone, Jiu Dan sets herself far apart from the others on this list.

By Jiu Dan, Allan Chong (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Crows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Jiu Dan


Book cover of Red Azalea

Tom Carter Why did I love this book?

The godmother – the empress dowager, if you will – of all naughty Chinese authoresses is the inimitable Anchee Min. Her debut memoir, Red Azalea, was published half-a-decade before Shanghai Baby, and takes place half-a-century prior, at the outset of the Cultural Revolution. The first half of her story is set in a countryside labor camp, where teenaged Min and another young woman carry out a secret affair, with regrettable consequences. The second half of Min’s memoir finds her returning to her native Shanghai, now as the star of a movie production about Madam Mao, while carrying out yet another forbidden relationship, with one of Mao’s advisers. Min published seven subsequent books, all to critical acclaim, but Red Azalea is her at her most fearless.

By Anchee Min,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Red Azalea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The erotic autobiography of Anchee Min, who grew up during China's Cultural Revolution. Written with the dialogue and characterizations of a novel, the story traces her life and relationships through the political and cultural upheavals of the era.


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Too Good

By Carol Moreira,

Book cover of Too Good

Carol Moreira Author Of Riptides

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by the relationship of humanity to nature. When I was young, we moved all the time – my dad was in the military and we moved to a new base every 18 months. All those military bases were located in the British countryside and, in the absence of other forms of continuity, nature became like a best friend. I still walk every day. Reconnecting with trees, grass, the sounds of birds, centres and energizes me. I get my best ideas when walking. But, of course, nature is also threatening – Covid and cancer are natural. I’m fascinated by that juxtaposition and always trying to reflect it in my work.  

Carol's book list on the beauty and threat of the natural world

What is my book about?

This is a steamy tale of vulnerability and betrayal. Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend's attractive husband, David.

Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her admiration for his wife, Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn to Grace's man, unheeding of the dangers.

Too Good

By Carol Moreira,

What is this book about?

Struggling in her marriage, her new life in England, and her work in a hospice, Canadian-born Lindsey is drawn to her best friend’s attractive husband David. The sight of his lean gardener’s body working in the hospice grounds fills her with longing and makes her forget the sadness in both the hospice and her marriage.
Guilt about her fascination with David is complicated by her friendship and admiration for his wife Grace, a cancer doctor at the hospice. But when Grace is killed in a terrorist attack, Lindsey is drawn into a passionate romance with Grace’s man unheeding of the…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, Shanghai, and Beijing?

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