The best books of the Westerners’ experience in China

The Books I Picked & Why

My Several Worlds

By Pearl S. Bucks

My Several Worlds

Why this book?

Pearl S. Bucks was the first American woman who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was brought to China by her missionary parents when she was an infant. She continued to spend much of the first half of her life in China from 1892 to 1934. This autobiography covers her growing up in China and returning to the U.S. Good-hearted and open-minded, she was the very few foreigners who had intimate access to ordinary Chinese people's lives and souls, which remain mysterious to most outsiders to this day. As a sharp-eyed observer and skillful writer, she gave an extraordinary account of the major events such as the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, the Boxer Rebellion, and the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. The missionary work brought her to China in the first place, but in the end, she admitted failure in bringing God to China. Pearl S. Bucks was one of the brilliant minds of her time, and her book is incredibly relevant today. As one of the critical American chroniclers of China, she offered remarkable insights and objectivity, which could help readers understand why China is what it is today.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Two Kinds of Time

By Graham Peck

Two Kinds of Time

Why this book?

This book is the comparatively underrated one among my five choices, but I guarantee it worthwhile. Peck went to China in 1935. He served in the U.S. Office of War Information in China throughout the 1940s. This memoir chronicles his life in China from the beginning of the Japanese invasion to the end of the Pacific War, during which the U.S. was the ally of the Nationalists, who lost to the Communists in the following years. The China Peck described was a sleepy, isolated world, characterized by apathetic people, rampant corruption, and senseless internal friction. When the book first came out in 1950, the Communists took over China a few months ago, and the Americans were in a hot debate, “Who lost China?” The valuable historical and political information Peck provided in this book offered a unique voice to answer the burning question. His opinion of China could be summarized by the book's title, which suggests that China was living in a different time from the outside world.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now (Anchor Books)

By Jan Wong

Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now (Anchor Books)

Why this book?

Growing up in Canada, left-winged Wong dropped out of university and flew to China in 1972 to participate in the Cultural Revolution. But she was soon disillusioned by the reality of a police state and the hypocrisy dominating everyone's life, from which even she, as a foreign nationality, couldn't escape. However, Wong remained in China and eventually worked as a journalist for Canada’s The Globe and Mail. When the Tiananmen Protests happened in 1989, she tracked down and interviewed dissidents and eyewitnesses. This memoir covers her active years in China from the 1970s to the 1990s, during which China was undergoing a sweeping change from Mao’s era to Deng’s era. It is a prelude to China's marching toward its economic prowess.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Country Driving

By Peter Hessler

Country Driving

Why this book?

Hassler’s relationship with China started in 1996 when he was sent to China to teach English by the Peace Corps. Country Driving is the third of his four books on China. It details his cross-China journey driving in a rented car. By the end of 2008, China boasted 23 million miles of highways nationwide, 45 times the length in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded. The stunning speed of infrastructure expansion also means putting rookie drivers on the road, as Hassler noticed that Beijing drivers took pleasure in flouting the traffic rules. The extended network of roads brought out the largest migration in human history, with millions of people moving from farm to factory. Examples like a migrant worker who memorized complex machinery blueprints and sold them to his bosses’ competitors illustrate people’s confusion when overwhelmed by new social scenarios and human bonding. Hassler drew a dexterous parallel between the Chinese people’s driving experience and their maneuvering from a rural society to an industrialized country.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve

By Lenora Chu

Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve

Why this book?

This book deals with the new challenge brought by the Chinese education system. As an American journalist dispatched to Shanghai, Chu chose an unconventional way of educating her son by enrolling him in an elite state-run public school instead of an international school. This memoir delineates her navigating inside China's high-achieving yet somewhat insular education system. When the Chinese use military-like high-pressured techniques to educate their students and "out-educate" the Americans, people couldn’t help but wonder if the Chinese educational philosophy could teach the world a lesson or two. Chu discovered that the Chinese system was designed to weed out the incompetent, and as a result, every student who successfully entered higher education was a fighter and survivor. Educational practices reveal the core value of a society. Chu raises an important question in an increasingly flattened world as to how to raise American kids to compete globally. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Closely Related Book Lists

Random Book Lists