100 books like China and Japan

By Ezra F. Vogel,

Here are 100 books that China and Japan fans have personally recommended if you like China and Japan. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Country Driving

Brantly Womack Author Of China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry

From my list on China perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Where you sit determines what you see. China is complex, and so it pays to move around and view it from as many perspectives as possible. My view of China is formed by visits to all of its 31 provinces and to most of its neighbors.  A professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, I have taught and written about Chinese politics for the past forty years, and I have worked with Chinese universities and scholars. This list suggests some excellent books presenting different vantage points on China’s past and present.

Brantly's book list on China perspectives

Brantly Womack Why did Brantly love this book?

The first step to enriching perspectives on China is to go there—something more difficult in times of COVID and political tensions. One of the most pleasant virtual visits is to take a back seat as Peter Hessler roams the Great Wall backcountry. He does American things in an un-American place: getting a driver’s license, renting a car, meeting hitchhikers, countryfolk, and their city kids. He moves on to the factories, and we meet the Chinese that put the “Made in China” label on our daily world. Hessler is a regular at the New Yorker, is living in China, and always a good read.

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…


Book cover of Home Is Not Here

Brantly Womack Author Of China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry

From my list on China perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Where you sit determines what you see. China is complex, and so it pays to move around and view it from as many perspectives as possible. My view of China is formed by visits to all of its 31 provinces and to most of its neighbors.  A professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, I have taught and written about Chinese politics for the past forty years, and I have worked with Chinese universities and scholars. This list suggests some excellent books presenting different vantage points on China’s past and present.

Brantly's book list on China perspectives

Brantly Womack Why did Brantly love this book?

Home is Not Here is a touching autobiographical account of a past Chinese world completely different in time and place from that of Hessler’s explorations. In the first half of the twentieth century millions of Chinese left China and migrated to Southeast Asia, including Wang’s parents. Wang traces their struggles to maintain their Chinese identity as minorities in different cultures. In telling his family’s story he gives a vivid picture of the upheavals and tribulations of both China and Southeast Asia in a troubled era. Wang Gungwu is my favorite historian of China, and author of many books on the grand sweep of Chinese history, but here we see China’s and Asia’s most turbulent era from a personal perspective.

By Wang Gungwu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Home Is Not Here as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of Asia's most important public intellectuals, Wang Gungwu is best-known for his explorations of Chinese history in the long view, and for his writings on the Chinese overseas. Here the historian of grand themes turns to the intimate scale of a single life history: his own.

"As someone who has studied history for much of my life, I have found the past fascinating. But it has always been some grand and even intimidating universe that I wanted to unpick and explain to myself.... While we talk grandly of the importance of history, we can be insensitive to what people…


Book cover of Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia

Brantly Womack Author Of China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry

From my list on China perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Where you sit determines what you see. China is complex, and so it pays to move around and view it from as many perspectives as possible. My view of China is formed by visits to all of its 31 provinces and to most of its neighbors.  A professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, I have taught and written about Chinese politics for the past forty years, and I have worked with Chinese universities and scholars. This list suggests some excellent books presenting different vantage points on China’s past and present.

Brantly's book list on China perspectives

Brantly Womack Why did Brantly love this book?

Two prominent aspects of China’s recent economic development are its mushrooming network of high-speed rail and its efforts to encourage infrastructure in its neighbors and beyond through the Belt and Road Initiative. The careful research of this book brings the two together. In exploring the different attitudes toward China among its southern neighbors the authors give a concrete account of how involvement is shaped by the prospects, concerns, and politics of each country. Meanwhile, it is clear that China is achieving a new centrality and connectivity in mainland Asia. What remains to be seen is whether a connected Asia is also a unified one.

By David M. Lampton, Selina Ho, Cheng-Chwee Kuik

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What China's infamous railway initiative can teach us about global dominance.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled what would come to be known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)-a global development strategy involving infrastructure projects and associated financing throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. While the Chinese government has framed the plan as one promoting transnational connectivity, critics and security experts see it as part of a larger strategy to achieve global dominance. Rivers of Iron examines one aspect of President Xi Jinping's "New Era": China's effort to create an intercountry…


Book cover of A Relational Theory of World Politics

Brantly Womack Author Of China and Vietnam: The Politics of Asymmetry

From my list on China perspectives.

Why am I passionate about this?

Where you sit determines what you see. China is complex, and so it pays to move around and view it from as many perspectives as possible. My view of China is formed by visits to all of its 31 provinces and to most of its neighbors.  A professor of foreign affairs at the University of Virginia, I have taught and written about Chinese politics for the past forty years, and I have worked with Chinese universities and scholars. This list suggests some excellent books presenting different vantage points on China’s past and present.

Brantly's book list on China perspectives

Brantly Womack Why did Brantly love this book?

Qin is the former president of China Foreign Affairs University and China’s foremost thinker on international relationships. This book is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort because Qin presents an original perspective on world affairs that is rooted in Chinese intellectual traditions. In contrast to current theories of international relations, Qin emphasizes the importance of relationships over transactions—attention to managing long-term, particular connections rather than “the art of the deal.” In addition, he describes a dialectic based on the mutual transformation of opposites—a yin-yang relationship—rather than the usual Western assumption of separate categories. Qin is a hard read because he is presenting a new way of thinking.

By Yaqing Qin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Relational Theory of World Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on Chinese cultural and philosophical traditions, this book offers a ground breaking reinterpretation of world politics from Yaqing Qin, one of China's leading scholars of international relations. Qin has pioneered the study of constructivism in China and developed a variant of this approach, arguing that culture defined in terms of background knowledge nurtures social theory and enables theoretical innovation. Building upon this argument, this book presents the concept of 'relationality', shifting the focus from individual actors to the relations amongst actors. This ontology of relations examines the unfolding processes whereby relations create the identities of actors and provide motivations…


Book cover of The Message

Mary Kathryn Barbier Author Of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

From my list on WW2 intelligence history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor at Mississippi State University and a historian of World War II in general and, more specifically, of WWII intelligence history. My interest stems from a research topic that my Ph.D. advisor recommended and that became the subject of my dissertation – Operation Fortitude, which was the deception plan that provided cover for the Normandy Invasion. While my own research interests are focused on the intelligence history of the Normandy invasion, I am increasingly drawn to intelligence history or novels that showcase the people, technologies, and other theaters of war.

Mary's book list on WW2 intelligence history

Mary Kathryn Barbier Why did Mary love this book?

The Message is a novel about five codebreakers and one traitor. Set in China during World War II when the Chinese resistance challenged the Japanese backed puppet government, this is a complex counterintelligence novel, written by a Chinese storyteller, who is no stranger to the Chinese intelligence services. By telling the same story from two different perspectives, Mai Jia, as a colleague recently suggested, intentionally problematized the truth because both versions were plausible. I recommend this book because it provides insight into the multilayered intelligence story of wartime China, it is one of the few books on this topic, and it was written in China and published outside of the country with permission from the government.

By Mai Jia,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A dazzling literary thriller set in Japan-occupied China from the most translated Chinese novelist of our time.

China, 1941.

At the height of the Second World War, Japan rules over China. In Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese wages an underground war against the Communist resistance.

Late one night, five intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime, are escorted to an isolated mansion outside the city. The secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them is leaving until the traitor is unmasked.

It should be a straightforward case of…


Book cover of China’s War with Japan 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival

Malcolm H. Murfett Author Of Naval Warfare 1919-1945: An Operational History of the Volatile War at Sea

From my list on Asian theatre in the Second World War.

Why am I passionate about this?

I lived and taught in Asia for over 30 years and love the place to bits. Leaving Oxford for Singapore may have seemed like a daring adventure in 1980, but it complemented my doctoral research and introduced me to a wonderful set of students who have enriched my life ever since. Asia has a fascination for me that I can’t resist. I have written and edited 15 books on naval and defence themes, much of which have been set in the Asian continent. An associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for the past 25 years, I am also the editor for the series Cold War in Asia. 

Malcolm's book list on Asian theatre in the Second World War

Malcolm H. Murfett Why did Malcolm love this book?

In my opinion, you cannot fully understand the Pacific War without grasping the tragedy of the undeclared Sino-Japanese War which preceded Pearl Harbor by virtually four and a half years. Remarkably, however, the story is not well known. It’s often passed over as if it was of hardly any consequence at all. Far from being a minor item on the road to war, however, China’s horrendous struggle with Japan is pivotal because it managed to suck in arguably the best troops of the Imperial Japanese Army and kept them fighting throughout the duration of the Pacific War. This ensured that they couldn’t be released to go elsewhere because China refused to give in. Mitter’s excellent book reveals why this dramatic fight for survival influenced Chinese leaders both then and now.

By Rana Mitter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked China’s War with Japan 1937-1945 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Duke of Westminster Medal for Military Literature

Different countries give different opening dates for the period of the Second World War, but perhaps the most compelling is 1937, when the 'Marco Polo Bridge Incident' plunged China and Japan into a conflict of extraordinary duration and ferocity - a war which would result in many millions of deaths and completely reshape East Asia in ways which we continue to confront today.

With great vividness and narrative drive Rana Mitter's book draws on a huge range of new sources to recreate this terrible conflict. He writes both about the…


Book cover of China in the Tokugawa World

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Author Of Samurai: An Encyclopedia of Japan's Cultured Warriors

From my list on Tokugawa Japan.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent all of my career teaching and writing about Japan. Within that country’s long history, the Tokugawa or early modern period (1600-1868) has always fascinated me, going back to my teenage years when I went to Japanese film festivals in Boston with my father and brothers. This fascination stems in part from the period’s vibrancy, color, drama, and the wealth of historical documentation about it that has survived warfare as well as the ravages of time. From these rich sources of knowledge, historians and other scholars have been able to weave rich narratives of Japan’s early modern past.

Constantine's book list on Tokugawa Japan

Constantine Nomikos Vaporis Why did Constantine love this book?

This book pairs well with Kaempfer’s History, because it challenges the notion that Japan was cut off from the rest of the world except for its relations with the Dutch VOC. The author (disclosure: my Ph.D. adviser at Princeton) challenges this idea of seclusion through his focus on Japan’s relationship with its closest Asian neighbors, particularly China, through the port of Nagasaki. The book skillfully analyzes the impact of the China trade on Japan’s political, economic, and cultural history. Based on a series of lectures, this relatively short book (160 pages) is quite an enjoyable read, even for people who already know a lot about the period.

By Marius B. Jansen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book challenges the traditional notion that Japan was an isolated nation cut off from the outside world and its influence in the early modern era. This familiar story of seclusion, argues master historian Marius B. Jansen, results from viewing the period solely in terms of Japan's ties with the West, at the expense of its relationship with closer Asian neighbours. Taking as his focus the port of Nagasaki and its thriving trade with China in the 16th century through the 19th centuries, Jansen not only corrects this misperception but offers an important analysis of the impact of the China…


Book cover of Local Insights, Global Ethics for Business

Kleio Akrivou Author Of The Challenges of Capitalism for Virtue Ethics and the Common Good: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

From my list on capitalism, ethics, and the self.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have cross-disciplinary expertise (ethics and moral philosophy, philosophical anthropology and moral psychology), and my work focuses on personalist virtue ethics, moral human development, and the links between ethics and economics; I am a person who loves nature and animals, and I’m thrilled to do good work. I was educated and worked internationally, with academic degrees in different Europe countries and the USA, and 30 years of work and academic experience in Europe, the USA, and SE Asia. I live with my family near London, U.K.. I am passionate about enabling a more sustainable society that however remains rooted in human dignity and avoids instrumentalizing the person

Kleio's book list on capitalism, ethics, and the self

Kleio Akrivou Why did Kleio love this book?

I love the clarity and the bold historically informed orientation, and that the proposal on how to act for the common good takes ideas from different virtue ethics around the world (from Aristotle’s European to Asian ones in Confucius, Watzusian ethics in Japan, etc.).

They are so different from how current politics act with only power in mind. This book is sensitive to local insights and has strong realist basis for global ethics for business. 

By Daryl Koehn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Local Insights, Global Ethics for Business as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book evaluates strategies for managing ethical conflict. Macro-approaches that attribute select values to entire peoples and claim supremacy for these values are suspect. A micro-approach, focusing on the ethics of individual thinkers, is better. The study uses the ethics of Confucius and Tetsuro Watsuji to derive a process-based universal ethic that respects local differences yet is not relativistic.


Book cover of The Making of Japanese Manchuria, 1904-1932

Jeremy A. Yellen Author Of The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere: When Total Empire Met Total War

From my list on the Japanese Empire.

Why am I passionate about this?

Jeremy A. Yellen is a historian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His research focuses on modern Japan’s international, diplomatic, and political history. He maintains a strong interest in the history of international relations and international order.

Jeremy's book list on the Japanese Empire

Jeremy A. Yellen Why did Jeremy love this book?

This skillful history links politics, economics, and military concerns to the development of Japan’s empire in Manchuria. Beginning with the end of the Russo-Japanese War and concluding with the takeover of Manchuria from 1931, Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka shows how Manchuria remained a looming presence within Japanese political life. More strikingly, he argues against the idea that Japanese imperialism in the 1930s represented a radical break from the past. Far from it, he shows the construction of Manchukuo and Japanese foreign policy “as the denouement of an older story as much as the beginning of a new.”  

By Yoshihisa Tak Matsusaka,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Making of Japanese Manchuria, 1904-1932 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this history of Japanese involvement in northeast China, the author argues that Japan's military seizure of Manchuria in September 1931 was founded on three decades of infiltration of the area. This incremental empire-building and its effect on Japan are the focuses of this book.

The principal agency in the piecemeal growth of Japanese colonization was the South Manchurian Railway Company, and by the mid-1920s Japan had a deeply entrenched presence in Manchuria and exercised a dominant economic and political influence over the area. Japanese colonial expansion in Manchuria also loomed large in Japanese politics, military policy, economic development, and…


Book cover of Shike

J. K. Swift Author Of Acre

From my list on with realistic fight scenes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love a good fight scene! It doesn’t need to be long and gruesome, but it must be visceral and make me nervous for those involved. Don’t get me wrong, I also love a good first-kiss scene but unfortunately, my past has made me more adept at recognizing and writing one over the other. I started training in martial arts at the age of nine and continued for thirty years. I don’t train much these days but I took up bowmaking a few years back and now spend a lot of time carving English longbows and First Nations’ bows. I recently also took up Chinese archery.

J. K.'s book list on with realistic fight scenes

J. K. Swift Why did J. K. love this book?

An oldie, but I loved this book! It was actually two books when originally published (Time of the Dragons and Last of the Zinja). Set mostly in Mongolia and Japan, it tells the story of a warrior monk who falls in love with a Japanese princess who becomes a consort to Kubilai Khan (Ghenghis Khan’s grandson). As a kid, I loved the TV show Kung-Fu with David Carradine and Jebu (the main character) is a much bigger, badder version of Cane. Like Cane, Jebu is a half-blood but his barbarian side is the one that shows through so he is huge and red-haired. Lots of good action in this one. 

By Robert Shea,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Beautiful young Taniko struggles under oppression as the mistress of the cruel Kublai Khan, and Jebu, a young monk, is transformed into a fierce warrior, in a saga of the ancient Orient during a time of bloodshed


5 book lists we think you will like!

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