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

Victor Cunrui Xiong Author Of Heavenly Khan: A Biography of Emperor Tang Taizong
By Victor Cunrui Xiong

Who am I?

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

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty

By Mark Edward Lewis,

Book cover of China's Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty

Why 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.

China's Cosmopolitan Empire: 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,…


The Sui Dynasty

By Arthur F. Wright,

Book cover of The Sui Dynasty

Why 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. 

The Sui Dynasty

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


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

By Edward H. Schafer,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty

By Eleanor Cooney, Daniel Altieri,

Book cover of The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty

Why 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.

The Court of the Lion: A Novel of the T'Ang Dynasty

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.


Journey to the West

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

Book cover of Journey to the West

Why 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.

Journey to the West

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, the Tang dynasty, and Shanghai?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, the Tang dynasty, and Shanghai.

China Explore 433 books about China
The Tang Dynasty Explore 12 books about the Tang dynasty
Shanghai Explore 46 books about Shanghai

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Leaves From Our Tuscan Kitchen, Or How to Cook Vegetables, Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, and Acetaria if you like this list.