The best book for understanding China and Chinese culture

Who am I?

Yuan, born in a small town in Inner Mongolia, is a researcher and PhD candidate at Rutgers University. He is an expert on Chinese and East Asian studies. Yuan's research interests include Chinese foreign and domestic policy, Sino-US relations, and how the country utilizes its influence and fosters relationships. He received his MS in International Relations from Northeastern University and BA from Centre College. Yuan has written extensively on China and Chinese foreign policy.


I wrote...

Panda Not Dragon: Why the Rise of China Is Not a Threat

By Shaoyu Yuan,

Book cover of Panda Not Dragon: Why the Rise of China Is Not a Threat

What is my book about?

"Spellbinding reading that starts with explaining 'traditional' Xenophobia and Sinophobia in the West and opens up on a veritable encyclopedia of China's strengths, challenges, aspirations, and dreams. It brings as much light into the opaqueness of Chinese politics as a young scholar who loves his country and people could marshal without falling foul of the guardians of political correctness. A compact introduction to China in the era of intercontinental competition!" --- Former German Ambassador to North Korea, Delegate to the United Nations, Dr. Friedrich Lohr 

A conflict seems imminent. In this eye-opening book, Yuan boldly challenges the concept that the rise of China is a formidable threat to the rest of the world. The author argues that the rise of China is rather peaceful as a panda, and it is certainly not a fire-breathing dragon. 

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).

On China

By Henry Kissinger,

Book cover of On China

Why this book?

Written by America’s former Secretary of State, this book is the one to read for Westerners to understand today’s China and some of its history. Mr. Kissinger successfully used some well-known Chinese stories, historical events, and Chinese games to communicate his message. The effects of the Opium War in 1840, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the board game weiqi (Go) were all accurately and thoroughly examined as instruments to understand today’s China. Mr. Kissinger and his collaborators performed a fantastic job translating Chinese classic works into English.

On China

By Henry Kissinger,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1971 Henry Kissinger took the historic step of reopening relations between China and the West, and since then has been more intimately connected with the country at the highest level than any other western figure. This book distils his unique experience, examining China's history from the classical era to the present day, describing the essence of its millennia-old approach to diplomacy, strategy and negotiation, and reflecting on these attitudes for our own uncertain future.


Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

By Ezra F. Vogel,

Book cover of Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

Why this book?

Ezra Vogel, my mentor and one of the most renowned scholars on the field of East Asia, has written extensively on China and Chinese politics. To study modern China, we must first understand Deng Xiaoping, the architect of modern China, and China’s economic reform. Dr. Vogel wrote Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. Dr. Vogel Vogel's book presents a detailed history of Deng Xiaoping's life. He begins with his childhood, how he became a communist, his rise and fall under Mao Zedong, and finally his career after Mao's death and the transition of Mao's China into the China we know today. To understand today’s China is to understand Deng Xiaoping. To understand Deng Xiaoping is to read Vogel’s book.

Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China

By Ezra F. Vogel,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Lionel Gelber Prize
National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist

An Economist Best Book of the Year | A Financial Times Book of the Year | A Wall Street Journal Book of the Year | A Washington Post Book of the Year | A Bloomberg News Book of the Year | An Esquire China Book of the Year | A Gates Notes Top Read of the Year

Perhaps no one in the twentieth century had a greater long-term impact on world history than Deng Xiaoping. And no scholar of contemporary East Asian history and culture is better qualified…


The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why

By Richard E. Nisbett,

Book cover of The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why

Why this book?

To understand China we must understand how its people think, and how the Chinese people think differently from Westerners. In this book, Nisbett not only presents the elements Westerners often overlook when studying East Asian culture but also details the psychological difference between Chinese and Americans. This is book is recommended to anyone who wishes to thoroughly comprehend Chinese and Chinese culture.

The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why

By Richard E. Nisbett,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An award-winning professor of psychology examines the divergent ways in which eastern and western cultures view the world, offering suggestions about how today's interdependent global cultures may be bridged. Reprint. 15,000 first printing.


Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

By Graham Allison,

Book cover of Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

Why this book?

This book is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the rivalry and the ‘inevitable’ conflict between the United States and China. Allison makes some compelling comments on the contrasts between Chinese and American worldviews. The author talks about how both countries approach foreign policy, more importantly, what the West needs to know and needs to do in order to come up with a comprehensive plan to cope with China and other international concerns.

Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?

By Graham Allison,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Destined for War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Sunday Times and FT Book of the Year

When a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely outcome is war.

In this razor-sharp analysis, Harvard scholar Graham Allison examines the phenomenon known as Thucydides's Trap, which is currently playing out between the world's two biggest superpowers: the US and China.

Through uncanny historical parallels, Destined for War shows how close we are to the unthinkable. Yet, stressing that war is not inevitable, Allison also reveals how clashing powers have kept the peace in the past - and what painful steps international leaders can and must…


The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

By Michael Wood,

Book cover of The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

Why this book?

This fascinating book explains China from a historical perspective. It presents a detailed look at how China has transformed from its past to today, from the Middle Kingdom to Red Communist. 4,000 years of history is almost impossible to fit in a single-volume book, yet this book did its best and successfully summarized the most fundamental parts of the country’s history, introducing one of the oldest civilizations alive on earth to those who wish to learn more about China.

The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

By Michael Wood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A single volume history of China, offering a look into the past of the global superpower and its significance today.

Michael Wood has travelled the length and breadth of China, the world’s oldest civilization and longest lasting state, to tell a thrilling story of intense drama, fabulous creativity, and deep humanity that stretches back thousands of years.

After a century and a half of foreign invasion, civil war, and revolution, China has once again returned to center stage as a global superpower and the world’s second largest economy. But how did it become so dominant? Wood argues that in order…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, Chinese culture, and international relations?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, Chinese culture, and international relations.

China Explore 434 books about China
Chinese Culture Explore 9 books about Chinese culture
International Relations Explore 170 books about international relations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Mao's Last Revolution, Tibet in Agony, and The Dynamics of Chinese Politics if you like this list.