The best books of the Westerners’ experience in China

Who am I?

Anna Wang was born and raised in Beijing, China, and immigrated to Canada in her 40s. She received her BA from Beijing University and is a full-time bilingual writer. She has published ten books in Chinese. These include two short story collections, two essay collections, four novels, and two translations. Her first book in English, a 2019 memoir, Inconvenient Memories, recounts her experience and observation of the Tiananmen Square Protest in 1989 from the perspective of a member of the emerging middle-class. The book won an Independent Press Award in the "Cultural and Social Issues" category in 2020. She writes extensively about China. Her articles appeared in Newsweek, Vancouver Sun, Ms. Magazine, LA Review of Books China Channel, Ricepaper Magazine, whatsonweibo.com, etc.


I wrote...

Inconvenient Memories: A Personal Account of the Tiananmen Square Incident and the China Before and After

By Anna Wang,

Book cover of Inconvenient Memories: A Personal Account of the Tiananmen Square Incident and the China Before and After

What is my book about?

Oh, no, another book about the Tiananmen Incident? Inconvenient Memories is a rare and truthful memoir of a young woman's coming of age amid the Tiananmen Square Protests. In 1989, Anna Wang was one of the lucky few who worked for a Japanese company, Canon. She traveled each day between her grandmother's dilapidated commune-style apartment and an extravagant office just steps from Tiananmen Square. Her daily commute on Beijing's impossibly crowded buses brought into view the full spectrum of China's inequalities during the economic transition. When Tiananmen Protests broke out, her Japanese boss was concerned whether the protests would obstruct Canon's assembly plant in China, and she was sent to Tiananmen Square on a daily basis to take photos for her boss to analyze for evidence of turning tides. From her perspective as a member of the emerging middle class, she observed firsthand that Tiananmen Protests stemmed from Chinese people's longing for political freedom and their fear for the nascent market economy, an observation that readers have never come across from the various accounts of the historical events so far.

The books I picked & why

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My Several Worlds

By Pearl S. Bucks,

Book cover of 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.

My Several Worlds

By Pearl S. Bucks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Drama Historical


Two Kinds of Time

By Graham Peck,

Book cover of 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.

Two Kinds of Time

By Graham Peck,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Graham Peck (1914-1968) made his first trip to China in 1935 and served with the U.S. Office of War Information in China throughout the 1940s. His memoir, Two Kinds of Time, first published in 1950, is witty and eloquent in both its words and the drawings with which it is lovingly illustrated. Long out of print in its unabridged version, this engagingly written eye-witness narrative of China on the eve of revolution remains an important source of historical and political information. Robert A. Kapp's new Introduction analyzes the book's original contribution and highlights its relevance to issues in the twenty-first…


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

By Jan Wong,

Book cover of 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.

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

By Jan Wong,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jan Wong, a Canadian of Chinese descent, went to China as a starry-eyed Maoist in 1972 at the height of the Cultural Revolution. A true believer--and one of only two Westerners permitted to enroll at Beijing University--her education included wielding a pneumatic drill at the Number One Machine Tool Factory. In the name of the Revolution, she renounced rock & roll, hauled pig manure in the paddy fields, and turned in a fellow student who sought her help in getting to the United States. She also met and married the only American draft dodger from the Vietnam War to seek…


Country Driving

By Peter Hessler,

Book cover of 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.

Country Driving

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Country Driving as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After living in China for five years, and learning the language, Peter Hessler decided to undertake an even more complicated endeavor: he acquired his Chinese driving licence. An eye-opening challenge, it enabled him to embark on an epic journey driving across this most enigmatic of countries. Over seven years, he travelled to places rarely explored by tourists, into the factories exporting their goods to the world and into the homes of their workers. Full of extraordinary encounters and details of life beyond Beijing, it is an unforgettable, unique portrait of the country that will likely shape all our lives in…


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

By Lenora Chu,

Book cover of 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. 

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

By Lenora Chu,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'I couldn't put this book down. Whip smart, hilariously funny and shocking. A must-read'
Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

In 2009, Lenora Chu, her husband Rob, and toddler Rainey, moved from LA to the Chinese megacity Shanghai. The US economy was spinning circles, while China seemed to be eating the planet's economic lunch. What's more, Shanghai teenagers were top in the world at maths, reading and science. China was not only muscling the rest of the world onto the sidelines, but it was also out-educating the West.

So when Rainey was…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, the Boxer Rebellion, and Canada?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, the Boxer Rebellion, and Canada.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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