The best nonfiction and fiction books on China in the Tang period

Why am I passionate about this?

I was first exposed to Western literature when working as a teenage farm worker in the jungle of south Yunnan decades ago and have kept my interest alive ever since. As an undergraduate at Peking University, I majored in English and American language and literature before I switched to the study of Chinese archaeology and history at the graduate level. Over the last three decades and more, I have been teaching Chinese and World history and doing research on Chinese history at a US university. In addition to dozens of articles, I have published several books both in English and Chinese, all on premodern China with a focus on the Sui-Tang period.


I wrote...

Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong

By Victor Cunrui Xiong,

Book cover of Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong

What is my book about?

Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong is a work of historical fiction that is based on the true story of Li Shimin (also known as Tang Taizong), the greatest sovereign in Chinese history.

"A deftly written and truly riveting work from beginning to end, Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong is an extraordinary and solidly entertaining story that reveals author Victor Cunrui Xiong to be an exceptional and impressive novelist of the first order. Highly recommended for personal, community, and academic library Historical Fiction collections, Heavenly Khan is one of those literary works that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf." –Midwest Book Review

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of China's Cosmopolitan Empire

Victor Cunrui Xiong Why did I love this book?

The Tang dynasty is often called China’s “golden age,” a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf. It was a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent. And, he shows that under Chinese rule, painting, and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets (Wang Wei, Li Bo (Li Bai), and Du Fu). 

This book is a useful companion volume to my book, which is about the founding and the rise of the Tang dynasty.

By Mark Edward Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China's Cosmopolitan Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Tang dynasty is often called China's "golden age," a period of commercial, religious, and cultural connections from Korea and Japan to the Persian Gulf, and a time of unsurpassed literary creativity. Mark Lewis captures a dynamic era in which the empire reached its greatest geographical extent under Chinese rule, painting and ceramic arts flourished, women played a major role both as rulers and in the economy, and China produced its finest lyric poets in Wang Wei, Li Bo, and Du Fu.

The Chinese engaged in extensive trade on sea and land. Merchants from Inner Asia settled in the capital,…


Book cover of The Sui Dynasty

Victor Cunrui Xiong Why did I love this book?

This book by the famous Yale sinologist Arthur Wright is written with the general readership in mind. It covers the rise and fall of the Sui empire with great clarity. The Sui empire reunited China for the first time since the fall of the Western Jin in the early 4th century. The Tang dynasty rose on the ashes of the Sui. Many important characters in my book were key actors in the Sui-Tang transition, including Tang Taizong Li Shimin and his father Tang Gaozu Li Yuan. 

By Arthur F. Wright,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Sui Dynasty


Book cover of The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of t'Ang Exotics

Victor Cunrui Xiong Why did I love this book?

This book examines the exotics imported into China during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) and depicts their influence on Chinese life. During the three centuries of Tang came into the land the natives of almost every nation of Asia, all bringing exotic wares either as gifts or as goods to be sold. Ivory, rare woods, drugs, diamonds, magicians, dancing girls—the author covers all classes of unusual imports, their places of origin, their lore, their effect on fashion, dwellings, diet, painting, sculpture, music, and poetry.

This book is for students of Tang culture and laymen interested in the same topic. Its author Edward Schafer was an eminent American sinologist.

By Edward H. Schafer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Golden Peaches of Samarkand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the seventh century the kingdom of Samarkand sent formal gifts of fancy yellow peaches, large as goose eggs and with a color like gold, to the Chinese court at Ch'ang-an. What kind of fruit these golden peaches really were cannot now be guessed, but they have the glamour of mystery, and they symbolize all the exotic things longed for, and unknown things hoped for, by the people of the T'ang empire. This book examines the exotics imported into China during the T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), and depicts their influence on Chinese life. Into the land during the three centuries…


Book cover of The Court of the Lion

Victor Cunrui Xiong Why did I love this book?

Based on a true story from the eighth century, it is a fictionalized telling of one of the most powerful, tragic chronicles in Chinese history: the events leading up to the Rebellion of An Lushan and the fall of the Emperor Minghuang (Xuanzong) and his Precious Consort Yang Guifei and the dazzling Yang family. All of the major characters are real people, immortalized in the works of renowned Tang poets Li Po (Li Bai) and Du Fu.

This novel deals with the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, grandson of the Empress Wu and Tang Gaozong, and great-grandson of Tang Taizong (Li Shimin). Thanks to their meticulous research into the customs, language, and records of the period in question, the authors of The Court of the Lion give us a convincing, fascinating tale of eighth-century China grounded in historical facts.

By Eleanor Cooney, Daniel Altieri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Court of the Lion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in eighth-century China amidst the splendour and decadence of the court of the T'ang emperor, this tale aims to transport the reader to a mysterious and fascinating era. Cooney is a writer and painter and Altieri is a scholar of Chinese history.


Book cover of Journey to the West

Victor Cunrui Xiong Why did I love this book?

One of the most popular books in the history of East Asia, this classic sixteenth century novel is a combination of adventure fiction and folk epic that mixes satire, allegory, and history into a rollicking tale. The epic journey is the one undertaken by the monk Xuanzang under the escort of the roguish Monkey, who has many encounters along the way with major and minor spirits, gods, demigods, demons, ogres, monsters, and fairies.

The monk Xuanzang was active during the reign of Tang Taizong, the protagonist of my book. Monk and emperor have many interactions in that novel.

By Cheng-En Wu, William John Francis Jenner (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Journey to the West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The novel is an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to the "Western Regions", that is, India, to obtain sacred texts (sūtras) and returned after many trials and much suffering. It retains the broad outline of Xuanzang's own account, Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, but the Ming dynasty novel adds elements from folk tales and the author's invention, that is, that the Buddha gave this task to the monk and provided him with three protectors who agree to help him as an atonement for their sins. These disciples are…


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Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

Book cover of Ferry to Cooperation Island

Carol Newman Cronin Author Of Ferry to Cooperation Island

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Olympian Editor New Englander Rum drinker

Carol's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

James Malloy is a ferry captain--or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a "girl" named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island’s daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a plan for a private golf course on wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep historic trees and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have to learn to cooperate with other islanders--including Captain Courtney, who might just morph from irritant to irresistible once James learns a secret that's been kept from him for years.

Ferry to Cooperation Island

By Carol Newman Cronin,

What is this book about?

Loner James Malloy is a ferry captain-or used to be, until he was unceremoniously fired and replaced by a girl named Courtney Farris. Now, instead of piloting Brenton Island's daily lifeline to the glitzy docks of Newport, Rhode Island, James spends his days beached, bitter, and bored.

When he discovers a private golf course staked out across wilderness sacred to his dying best friend, a Narragansett Indian, James is determined to stop such "improvements." But despite Brenton's nickname as "Cooperation Island," he's used to working solo. To keep rocky bluffs, historic trees, and ocean shoreline open to all, he'll have…


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