100 books like China

By Hiroji Kubota,

Here are 100 books that China fans have personally recommended if you like China. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Phantom Shanghai

Adrian Bradshaw Author Of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

From my list on colour photography books on China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.

Adrian's book list on colour photography books on China

Adrian Bradshaw Why did Adrian love this book?

Shanghai is a city that fascinates and repels both Chinese and foreigners alike. The harsh exploitative past and the contemporary resurgence embrace a sometimes unsettling mix of wealth, style and brutality. The architectural reshaping of the megalopolis of more than 20 million souls reflects this context and no one has captured it better than Greg Girard, a Canadian photojournalist who spent much of his career in Asia. The twilight of eerie neon tones in the smoggy half-demolished city is fertile territory for this image maker chasing the phantoms.

By Greg Girard,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Shanghai—a city in the process of dismantling its history to accommodate China’s new cosmopolitan vision of itself.”—Greg Girard

As Shanghai modernizes and seeks acceptance as an international city, buildings and neighborhoods that were once preserved simply by lack of intervention are now being purposefully demolished.

Phantom Shanghai is a spectacular look at a Shanghai that won’t survive the vision the country has for itself. For the past five years, Greg Girard has been photographing the city’s buildings, shops, homes, and neighborhoods. This stunning photographic journey is a look at present-day Shanghai, where politically inspired neglect meets politically inspired development.

Greg…


Book cover of Nadav Kander: Yangtze, The Long River

Adrian Bradshaw Author Of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

From my list on colour photography books on China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.

Adrian's book list on colour photography books on China

Adrian Bradshaw Why did Adrian love this book?

The Yangtze River is only how outsiders know it: to Chinese it is simply ‘Changjiang’ or ‘Long River’. Flowing through the heart of the country from the Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai it is central to the lives and imagination of countless generations of Chinese. Kander, better known for his advertising and commercial work, brings a sedate and contemplative approach to this huge subject. The silt-laden river and the smoggy air around it present a challenge to any photographer as shapes and shadows melt into the yellow and grey. Here they provide a palette of otherworldly views, anchored by careful placement of the human elements we can identify with.

By Jean Paul Tchang, Nadav Kander (photographer),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Yangtze river flows 4,100 miles across China, traveling from its furthest westerly point in the Qinghai province to Shanghai in the east. The river is embedded in the consciousness of the Chinese, and plays a significant role in both the spiritual and physical life of the people. Using the river as a metaphor for constant change, Nadav Kander (born 1961) has photographed the landscape and people along its banks from mouth to source. "After several trips to different parts of the river, it became clear that what I was responding to and how I felt whilst being in China…


Book cover of Bruno Barbey: China 1973 - 2013: From Mao to Modernity

Adrian Bradshaw Author Of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

From my list on colour photography books on China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.

Adrian's book list on colour photography books on China

Adrian Bradshaw Why did Adrian love this book?

One of the storied Magnum agency’s less known yet supremely talented photographers, Barbey was a virtuoso of colour before many publications were geared up to print it. The Frenchman who died in 2019 had a long history of visiting China and his body of work is not as well known as that of Cartier-Bresson or Riboud but that may change as modern printing technology finally does justice to it. This book is probably the best available in English but a huge tome both larger and better produced has come out in China to a great reception.

By Jonathan Fenby,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Magnum photographer Bruno Barbey first discovered China when he accompanied President Pompidou of France on an official visit there in 1973. It was a country in transition, although still under the influence of the Cultural Revolution. Most of the population still wore Mao suits and walls were covered in colourful slogans. Some years later, Barbey returned and saw the effects of Deng Xiaoping's invitation to the people to 'Get Rich'. Nanjing, Suzhou, Macao, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai ... Barbey returned to China many times and noted on each visit, with his photos as evidence, the profound changes that were transforming…


Book cover of China

Adrian Bradshaw Author Of The Door Opened: 1980s China: Photography: Adrian Bradshaw

From my list on colour photography books on China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first went as a student to Beijing in 1984 with a camera and a suitcase of film but not much of a plan. I found myself in a country whose young people were suddenly empowered to put their skills to use rather than let state planning order every aspect of their lives. My academic studies rapidly evolved into a vocation to photograph the changes around me. There was demand for this: one of my first assignments being for Life magazine and then a slew of US and European publications eager to expand their coverage of all that was reshaping China and in turn the world. I chose street-level life as the most relatable to an international audience and in recent years also for Chinese eager to see how this era began.

Adrian's book list on colour photography books on China

Adrian Bradshaw Why did Adrian love this book?

Another master of the grand view, the Canadian artist brought his view cameras and production team to definitively capture the vastness of China’s growing industrial might. The studies of production lines and factory life offer a glimpse into the 21st century’s workshop of the world. The technical and stylistic perfection Burtnysky deploys match the scale of his subjects whilst never losing the human element in the scenes. We are all richer from the experience of understanding the context of where so much of what we use on a daily basis comes from.

By Edward Burtynsky, Ted Fishman, Mark Kingwell , Marc Mayer

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edward Burtynsky's imagery explores the intricate link between industry and nature, combining the raw elements of mining, quarrying, shipping, oil production and recycling into eloquent, highly expressive visions that find beauty and humanity in the most unlikely places. These images are metaphors for the dilemma of our modern existence: we are drawn by desire--the desire to live well and in comfort--yet we all know that the world is suffering to meet those demands. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into uneasy contradiction and feeds…


Book cover of The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason

Isham Cook Author Of Confucius and Opium: China Book Reviews

From my list on foreigner memoirs of China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on foreigner memoirs of China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Charles Welsh Mason, self-described “unconscious martyr of the Antichrist,” for reasons the author himself is only able to ascribe to a “morbid hallucination,” gives up his post, servants, and comfortable life as a young English customs officer in a treaty port in 1890s China for a bizarre plot to lead a band of Chinese rebels to overthrow the Manchu Government and declare himself “King of China.” The scheme unravels when he’s caught with a hoard of illegal arms. Almost unbearable suspense unfolds, masterfully narrated, as the authorities struggle to connect the dots. Even after his arrest Mason is wined and dined by his British superiors in Shanghai, incomprehension preventing their full appreciation of his mad plot. Finally imprisoned, Mason is shipped back to England to live out his remaining decades as a solitary eccentric. I do not recall any book set in China’s past or present, whether fiction or nonfiction,…

By Charles Welsh Mason,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Chinese Confessions of Charles Welsh Mason as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this old China tale like no other, Englishman Charles Mason tells of his doomed attempt to overthrow the Qing dynasty.


Lawrence of Arabia famously wrote that, "All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men," for they may act upon their dreams. Such a man was young Charles Mason, who, in the late 1880s, secured a job with China's British-run Imperial Maritime Customs Service at a river port. Here the glamor…


Book cover of Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-First Century

Bill Hayton Author Of The Invention of China

From my list on the emergence of modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent more than a decade exploring the historic roots of Asia’s modern political problems – and discovering the accidents and mistakes that got us where we are today. I spent 22 years with BBC News, including a year in Vietnam and another in Myanmar. I’ve written four books on East and Southeast Asia and I’m an Associate Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at the London-based thinktank, Chatham House. I love breaking down old stereotypes and showing readers that the past is much more interesting than a series of clichés about ‘us’ and ‘them’. Perhaps through that, we can recognise that our future depends on collaboration and cooperation.

Bill's book list on the emergence of modern China

Bill Hayton Why did Bill love this book?

This book is an excellent introduction to some of the most important characters in modern Chinese history, from nineteenth-century reformers to twentieth-century communist leaders. We meet some of the characters I write about in The Invention of China like the great journalist Liang Qichao and the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, along with others such as Mao Zedong. The authors link their overlapping lives together showing how the old Qing Empire crumbled and was overthrown and replaced by a new Republic, which was itself overthrown within 40 years. It’s a great way to experience China’s journey from a time when it could be described as the ‘Sick Man of Asia’ to an era in which its ‘strength and power’ unsettled the world.

By Orville Schell, John Delury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By now everyone knows the basic facts of China's rise to pre-eminence over the past three decades. But how did this erstwhile sleeping giant finally manage to arrive at its current phase of dynamic growth? How, after such a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval and revolution, foreign occupation and civil war, did a country once derided as the 'sick man of Asia' manage to break out of its old pattern of repeatedly failed reform efforts to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyperdevelopment and wealth creation? How did the century-long…


Book cover of Mommy, Buy Me a China Doll

Margaret Read MacDonald Author Of Pickin' Peas

From my list on singing picture books.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a Children’s Librarian for over 30 years, my passion has been for the sound of language. I want children to hear rhythmic, joyful language that will make them fall in love with words. My own career as a storyteller and author continues this same love of language. I try to write my own picture books in such a way that any adult who picks them up will read them out with the same kind of verve and joy that I put into them.  


Margaret's book list on singing picture books

Margaret Read MacDonald Why did Margaret love this book?

“Mommy, buy me a China Doll, Do, Mommy Do,” but, “What could I buy it with, Eliza Lou?” Eliza Lou has many suggestions…trade our Daddy’s feather bed…"Then where would Daddy sleep”…He could sleep in the horsey’s bed. “Then where would horsey sleep”…and on and on until Eliza ends up asleep herself…on Mommy’s lap. A soothing lullaby with or without the evocative illustrations by the Zemach team.   

By Harve Zemach, Margot Zemach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mommy, Buy Me a China Doll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

"When Mommy wonders how to get a china doll for Eliza Lou, Eliza suggests they trade Daddy's featherbed...The ridiculous swapping of sleeping places is aptly portrayed in strong, boldly drawn, colored illustrations which underline the humor and folk quality of the lilting cumulative verses. A deliciously funny picture book for small children."-Booklist


Book cover of The Chinese Economy: Adaptation and Growth

George Magnus Author Of Red Flags: Why XI's China Is in Jeopardy

From my list on on understanding modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I used to be Chief Economist at the UK bank SG Warburg and then at UBS, starting out in 1987 and finally cutting the cord in 2016 as Senior Economic Advisor. I visited China twice or three times a year from about 1994 and then the pandemic intervened. After the financial crisis, I decided that China would be the world’s next big thing. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on there and for the last few years, I've been an associate at the China Centre at Oxford University and SOAS in London. Red Flags was a book I simply had to write. Maybe there’ll be another. We shall see.

George's book list on on understanding modern China

George Magnus Why did George love this book?

Naughton is the grandfather of China economy books, having written prolifically and with great authority on it for what seems like an eternity. This second edition updates his original 2006 work and should be considered a sort of bible, certainly an essential reference, on how China emerged from poverty under Mao to become what it is today. There are no economic or economic policy or structure stones unturned in this tome.

If you are more minded to read an authoritative narrative rather than a sort of handbook, I recommend a much shorter, readable book by the same author, published last year called The Rise of China’s Industrial Policy. It’s also very topical and pertinent to contemporary China discussion.

By Barry J. Naughton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The new edition of a comprehensive overview of the modern Chinese economy, revised to reflect the end of the “miracle growth” period.

This comprehensive overview of the modern Chinese economy by a noted expert on China's economic development offers a quality and breadth of coverage not found in any other English-language text. In The Chinese Economy, Barry Naughton provides both a broadly focused introduction to China's economy since 1949 and original insights based on his own extensive research. This second edition has been thoroughly revised to reflect a decade of developments in China's economy, notably the end of the period…


Book cover of Further News of Defeat: Stories

Rachel Swearingen Author Of How to Walk on Water and Other Stories

From my list on debut story collections to read cover to cover.

Why am I passionate about this?

From childhood on, I’ve been drawn to storytellers, especially those who use their imagination to captivate and question. My favorite stories twist and turn, and throw light on the every day to reveal what is inexplicable, weird, wondrous, and often heartrending. My taste runs wide, and I could list dozens of favorite collections. Having released my own debut book of stories during the pandemic, I learned firsthand how difficult it can be to find readers for story collections, especially when those collections are published by smaller presses. For that reason, I’ve chosen five recent debuts from masterful authors I hope more readers will discover. 

Rachel's book list on debut story collections to read cover to cover

Rachel Swearingen Why did Rachel love this book?

I cannot think of a more perfect title for Michael Wang’s Further News of Defeat. Imminent loss haunts the edges of each story, ready to pounce on Wang’s indelible characters. In America, we’re often uncomfortable with this kind of storytelling. We prefer our characters to be redeemed, to either prevail over calamity or to fail due to their own weaknesses. Wang’s characters are both at the mercy of outside events and circumstances and participants in their own fates. Most of the stories are set in fictional cities and rural villages in China. War, regime and societal changes, poverty, immigration, and identity are running themes. Several of these stories are so gripping I could imagine them as longer works. Further News of Defeat is a beautifully rendered and well-researched book. 

By Michael X. Wang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Further News of Defeat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Steeped in a long history of violence and suffering, Michael X. Wang's debut collection of short stories interrogates personal and political events set against the backdrop of China that are both real and perceived, imagined and speculative. Wang plunges us into the fictional Chinese village of Xinchun and beyond to explore themes of tradition, family, modernity, and immigration in a country grappling with its modern identity. Violence enters the pastoral when Chinese villagers are flung down a well by Japanese soldiers and forced to abandon their crops and families to work in the coal mines, a tugboat driver dredges up…


Book cover of Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China

Alison R. Marshall Author Of The Way of the Bachelor: Early Chinese Settlement in Manitoba

From my list on to reimagine Chinatown.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by Chinese culture. My great uncle owned an import-export shop in 1920s Montreal and many of the things in his shop decorated my family home. An aunt who worked in Toronto’s Chinatown took me to see a Chinese opera performance and this began my journey to understand Chinese thought and culture first with an MA in Chinese poetry and then with a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies. After I learned that Sun Yatsen had visited Manitoba, where I had moved for work, my attention turned to Chinese nationalism. More than 15 years later, my research and work on KMT culture continues.

Alison's book list on to reimagine Chinatown

Alison R. Marshall Why did Alison love this book?

Having interviewed hundreds of Chinese Canadians, I knew that many of Canada’s earliest Chinese migrants met and gave money to Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China, though most were less enthusiastic about Chiang Kai-shek. This book presented a complicated narrative of US-Chinese relations from the perspective of the Soong sisters, who straddled the boundaries of west and east and lived in a world where most Chinese were excluded because of their race. Similar to many of the bachelors in my book, the sisters were also influenced by KMT politics and religion. Both the Soong sisters and the bachelors knew that religion trumped race and that Christian identities and faith helped them open doors to dominant society that remained closed to most Chinese of the era. 

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

**SHORTLISTED FOR THE HWA NON-FICTION CROWN 2020**

They were the most famous sisters in China. As the country battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, the three Soong sisters from Shanghai were at the centre of power, and each of them left an indelible mark on history.

Red Sister, Ching-ling, married the 'Father of China', Sun Yat-sen, and rose to be Mao's vice-chair.

Little Sister, May-ling, became Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right.

Big Sister, Ei-ling, became Chiang's unofficial main adviser - and made…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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