100 books like City of Lingering Splendour

By John Blofeld,

Here are 100 books that City of Lingering Splendour fans have personally recommended if you like City of Lingering Splendour. 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 The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

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 old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Books on Chinese cities by foreigners have long lamented the redevelopment juggernaut’s steamrolling of old buildings and neighborhoods (Juliet Bredon’s Peking for one). Meyer’s exhaustively researched study of the Beijing neighborhood in which he lived in the early 2000s takes this a step further to a grassroots political call for action, before “replicas replace architectural heritage across China.” By illuminating his neighbors’ lives and their histories and reaching back into the city’s past, Meyer attempts to immortalize the disappearing Dashilar neighborhood literally in the form of a book, which if nothing else will be of future documentary value. Driving the old-vs.-new dichotomy too hard, however, obscures the more interesting question of how Chinese cities today are creatively blending the old and the new, as again they have long done in the past. As a longtime Beijing resident, I am stuck with the present and nonetheless find that history doesn’t stop…

By Michael Meyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Journalist Michael Meyer has spent his adult life in China, first in a small village as a Peace Corps volunteer, the last decade in Beijing--where he has witnessed the extraordinary transformation the country has experienced in that time. For the past two years he has been completely immersed in the ancient city, living on one of its famed hutong in a century-old courtyard home he shares with several families, teaching English at a local elementary school--while all around him "progress" closes in as the neighborhood is methodically destroyed to make way for high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and other symbols of…


Book cover of Peking: A Historical and Intimate Description of Its Chief Places of Interest

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

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 old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Even though it was ahead of its time, Juliet Bredon’s Peking, published in 1931, is less well known than Arlington and Lewisohn’s comparable guide to the city, In Search of Old Peking released in 1935, both books written by longtime expats fully informed of their adopted country; Bredon was niece to the famous China Customs official Sir Robert Hart. Both books are chock full of historical detail and passionate about their subject matter and still serve well today as guides to Beijing’s temples and palaces. Bredon’s is the more eloquently written and captivating, and for me, the more personable companion in guiding the armchair traveler through Peking’s labyrinthine lanes. Along with her expert advice on buying antiques, I can relate to her spontaneous descriptions of street life as if I were sitting next to her in her rickshaw: “Who can forget the delicious surprise of his first journey…

By Juliet Bredon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Step back in time to Beijing as it was in the 1920's as Juliet Bredon guides the reader to a magnificent time of the past. The more one studies this fascinating city, old, proud and secretive, the more one realises the tantalizing difficulties of learning, even from the Chinese themselves, anything but the merest outline of its history and monuments, many of which are in existence today. Who can forget the soft enchantment of Buddhist temples, the green peace of tombs haunted by fearless things, "doves that flutter down at call, fishes rising to be fed?" Having lived in Peking…


Book cover of A Death in Peking: Who Really Killed Pamela Werner?

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

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 old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Graeme Sheppard’s account of the 1937 murder of Englishwoman Pamela Werner, A Death in Peking, has been overshadowed by Paul French’s more widely known Midnight in Peking, unfortunately so. Whereas French builds his case on dubious claims and sensationalizes his narrative with gothic embellishments centered around the haunted “Fox Tower” where Werner’s body was supposedly found (a location contradicted by contemporary newspaper accounts), Sheppard sticks to the facts and arrives at a strikingly different and more convincing conclusion regarding the identity of the murderer. And if French’s page-turner is modelled more on the mystery novel genre than true-crime reportage, Sheppard’s starker account is nonetheless equally engrossing in its pursuit of the truth. In the process of his methodical sifting of the evidence, he brings to light an old Beijing grounded in reality. I myself have conducted guided tours of the old Legation neighborhoods and their sheer geography compels…

By Graeme Sheppard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Death in Peking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The brutal murder of 19-year-old Pamela Werner in the city of Peking one night in January 1937 shocked the world, but the police never found or named the murderer. A best-selling book, Midnight in Peking, declared the murderer to be an American dentist, but English policeman Graeme Sheppard, 30 years with Scotland Yard, decided that conclusion was flawed, spent years investigating all aspects of the case and came up with an entirely different conclusion. So who did it? Who killed Pamela? This book provides never-revealed evidence and a different perpetrator.


Book cover of Encounters with Ancient Beijing: Its Legacy in Trees, Stone and Water

Isham Cook Author Of At the Teahouse Cafe: Essays from the Middle Kingdom

From my list on old Beijing.

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 old Beijing

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

American turned-Japanese-citizen and wife of a Japanese ambassador, Virginia Stibbs Anami thoroughly researched and expertly photographed hundreds of ancient spots in and around Beijing between 1983-2003 and assembled a perfectly conceived jigsaw puzzle of a book. Finagling her way into places normally forbidden to foreigners and to Chinese as well, Anami writes with a beautiful economy, whether of a temple with an ancient tree over 1,000 years old, an equally old stone stele with a fascinating story behind its inscriptions, or the remains of a long-forgotten waterway or channel, even revisiting the same spots over the decades to see if they'd changed (often for the worse). It all adds up to an impression of great depth, and with the accompanying crystalline photos, a book that’s more than the sum of its parts. What captured my attention most of all is the care about her subject matter and her attention to…

By Virginia Anami,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Encounters with Ancient Beijing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An interesting and informative account of many of the architectural and landscape details of Beijing. The pages are crammed with useful information about the city, featuring interviews with what the author calls 'Unforgettable People': ordinary Beijing folk who have some link with the trees, stone and water of the city. With color photos and index. Author Virginia Anami is a Scholar of East Asian studies. Her interest in traditional Chinese culture, especially that of the ancient capital of Beijing, has taken her on frequent bicycles tours of Beijing¡¯s streets and lanes in her leisure time, and on drives to the…


Book cover of Tao of Sketching: The Complete Guide to Chinese Sketching Techniques

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Brushstrokes in Time

From my list on the heart and soul of China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied modern Chinese history so, when Qu Leilei told me the story of the Stars Art Movement, I couldn’t understand why I hadn't heard their courageous story. I spent three years interviewing Qu Leilei, researching and visiting China with him before writing the Stars story as a historical novel. I am a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Sylvia's book list on the heart and soul of China

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

I was reviewing Qu Leilei’s Everyone’s life is an Epic at the Ashmolean when a chance encounter changed my life. While writing Qu's profile, I learned about the first contemporary art movement in China - the Stars in Beijing in 1979 - and spent three years interviewing him for the background to Brushstrokes in Time

Leilei’s art is imbued with deep humanity but he is also a fine teacher- hence my recommending The Tao of Sketching. Daoism influenced traditional Chinese art and is a focus for meditation. The empty space is important. If you want to get into that cultural mindset, try Leilei’s books.

By Qu Lei Lei,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Award-winning artist Qu Lei Lei offers an inspirational view of art from the Chinese perspective. Instead of looking at the sketch as an end in itself, he focuses on the work as personal fulfillment for the artist and as a valued meditation. All the essential techniques are here?from choosing and using materials to mixing the ink to mastering brushstrokes. With the natural world as his subject, Lei Lei pulls out key features?water, trees, landscapes?and focuses on practical ways of depicting their different varieties. A master class covers techniques for capturing pets at play, and for conveying the spirit of all…


Book cover of Rickshaw Boy

Michael Meyer Author Of The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed

From my list on set in China’s diverse regions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I arrived in China in 1995 as one of the country’s first Peace Corps volunteers, and for over a decade lived in rural Sichuan, historic Beijing, and arcadian Jilin. These settings inform my trilogy of books about daily life in corners of the country overlooked by correspondents. I’ve won a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two Lowell Thomas Awards for travel writing, and I am currently a Fulbright Scholar in Taiwan. I’m a member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, a recipient of a 2017 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Fellowship, and a Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where I teach nonfiction writing. 

Michael's book list on set in China’s diverse regions

Michael Meyer Why did Michael love this book?

If you read only one book set in Beijing, let it be this one. During the Japanese occupation, a rickshaw puller named Xiangzi ping-pongs between success and misfortune in his quest to one day own a vehicle of his own. The author, a Manchu who grew up in the capital’s dense net of hutong alleyways, knows his material and his city unlike any Beijing writer before or since, especially its fatalist sense of humor. The editor of its first American edition changed the ending so everyone lived happily-ever-after. Lao She knew better; three decades later, he was among the most prominent casualties of the Red Guards.

By Lao She,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Lao She’s great novel.”
—The New York Times

 

A beautiful new translation of the classic Chinese novel from Lao She, one of the most acclaimed and popular Chinese writers of the twentieth century,  Rickshaw Boy chronicles the trials and misadventures of a poor Beijing rickshaw driver. Originally published in 1937, Rickshaw Boy—and the power and artistry of Lao She—can now be appreciated by a contemporary American audience.


Book cover of Beijing Doll

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From my list on naughty Chinese girls.

Why am I passionate about this?

Peeking over the American fence, I found myself in China in 2004 as the nation was transitioning from its quaint 1980s/90s self into the futuristic “China 2.0” we know it today. My occupation, like many expats, was small-town English teacher. I later departed for what would become a two-year backpacking sojourn across all 33 Chinese provinces, the first foreigner on record to do so. It was during this journey that I discovered the following five female writers, whose catty, carnal memoirs accompanied me like jealous mistresses vying for attention.

Tom's book list on naughty Chinese girls

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Chun Sue is like the literary little sister to Mian Mian and Wei Hui, copying her elder sisters and trying to follow in their footsteps – but stumbling because their heels were still too big for her to wear. In fact, despite its derivative nature, Beijing Doll did quite well, landing Chun on the cover of Time Magazine in 2004 and turning her into a pseudo-celebrity for her punky, tough-girl persona (a stark contrast to Wei’s slinky, sexy image). Western adult readers may roll their eyes at the melodramatic musings of middle-school heartbreak, but read within the context of its confining culture, Beijing Doll is no less an important addition to the annals of Chinese literature.

By Chun Sue,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Banned in China for its candid exploration of a young girl's sexual awakening yet widely acclaimed as being "the first novel of 'tough youth' in China" (Beijing Today), Beijing Doll cuts a daring path through China's rock-and-roll subculture. This cutting edge novel -- drawn from the diaries the author kept throughout her teenage years -- takes readers to the streets of Beijing where a disaffected generation spurns tradition for lives of self expression, passion, and rock-and-roll. Chun Sue's explicit sensuality, unflinching attitude towards sex, and raw, lyrical style break new ground in contemporary Chinese literature.


Book cover of Once Upon A Time in the East: A Story of Growing up

Hallgrímur Helgason Author Of The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning

From my list on me-against-the-world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Hallgrimur Helgason is an Icelandic artist and writer born in Reykjavik in 1959. He started out as a painter but then also took up writing. Since 1990 he has published eleven novels, the most well-known being 101 Reykjavik, which was turned into a popular film, The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning, and The Woman at 1000°. Helgason has also published 4 books of poetry and is an active political columnist. His books have been translated into 14 languages and three of them have been nominated for the Nordic Prize of Literature. Helgason won the Icelandic Literature Prize three times. In 2020 he was awarded the French medal Officier de l’ordre des arts et des lettres.

Hallgrímur's book list on me-against-the-world

Hallgrímur Helgason Why did Hallgrímur love this book?

The great Chinese British powerhouse writes about her childhood in a poor coastal village in post-Mao’s China where she’s made to live with her grandparents and life is rough and hard, especially for a girl. It’s a very atmospheric tale, that paints a vivid picture of this incredible society. It’s also a Cinderella story, about a suffering child that, thanks to incredible stubbornness and stamina, rises up to become one of the twelve (out of a million or so) applicants that are accepted into the Chinese Film School in Beijing each year. She later moves to England and her descriptions of the west are super fresh and priceless.

By Xiaolu Guo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Once Upon A Time in the East as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Xiaolu Guo meets her parents for the first time when she is almost seven. They are strangers to her.

When she is born her parents hand her over to a childless peasant couple in the mountains. Aged two, and suffering from malnutrition on a diet of yam leaves, they leave Xiaolu with her illiterate grandparents in a fishing village on the East China Sea. It's a strange beginning.

A Wild Swans for a new generation, Once Upon a Time in the East takes Xiaolu from a run-down shack to film school in a rapidly changing Beijing, navigating the everyday peculiarity…


Book cover of Longevity Park

Karen Laura Thornber Author Of Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care

From my list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care.

Why am I passionate about this?

Karen Thornber is Harry Tuchman Levin Professor in Literature and Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard. Her work brings humanistic insights to global challenges.  Thornber is the author of the award-winning scholarly books Empire of Texts in Motion and Ecoambiguity as well as most recently Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care. Current projects include books on gender justice in Asia, mental health, inequality/injustice, sustainability/climate change, and indigeneity.

Karen's book list on aging and end-of-life decisions and care

Karen Laura Thornber Why did Karen love this book?

This expertly translated Chinese novel tells the compelling story of a family in Beijing with an aging patriarch. Narrated largely from the perspective of the rural nurse hired to care for him, Longevity Park reveals the many difficulties facing Chinese individuals as they age as well as the difficulties facing Chinese families with an aging loved one. These challenges resonate with those of individuals and families globally, including pervasive stigmas against the elderly, particularly those who are not as agile mentally or physically as they once were; and the particular hurdles facing family members with their own mental health and other concerns. Zhou’s novel also eloquently describes the many hurdles facing healthcare providers.

By Zhou Daxin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

China is ageing. Its shrinking households, overworked and overstretched, struggle to carry the burden of care for their elderly. Retired Beijing judge Uncle Xiao is one among millions of old\-timers who face a hopeless choice: accept a lonely decline, or chase dubious miracle cures. Then into his life steps Miss Zhong, a young rural nurse with her own share of problems. The two have little in common, but as time delivers tragedies they learn that family can take many forms. Will this unlikely pair weather lifes storms together, and will Xiao find warmth in his sunset years?


Book cover of Party Members

Isham Cook Author Of The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai

From my list on written by foreigners in 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 of documentary value, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on written by foreigners in China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Here we have the most politically incorrect of novels, an unflinchingly vicious take on China by a Westerner, though Party Members (pun on the second word) does have an acknowledged precursor in fellow Englishman Ralph Townsend’s Ways That Are Dark, an equally unsentimental account of China published in 1933. We follow the faceless bureaucrat protagonist, Yang Wei, as he inventively combines his passions for sex and KFC (China’s comfort food of choice) at one and the same time, and eggs on the state-sanctioned thugs who set his mother’s house on fire to clear it for developers – with her inside. To be fair, China is evolving out of the nasty pre-2008 Olympics era Meursault is documenting and this is after all satire. But the novel is not only very funny, it’s required reading precisely due to its pariah status.

By Arthur Meursault,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Deep within the heart of China, far from the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing, lies the Chinese every-city of Huaishi. This worker’s paradise of smog and concrete is home to Party Member Yang Wei, a mediocre man in a mediocre job. His content life of bureaucratic monotony is shattered by an encounter with the advanced consumer goods he has long been deprived of. Aided by the cynical and malicious advice of an unlikely mentor, Yang Wei embarks on a journey of greed, corruption, and murder that takes him to the diseased underbelly of Chinese society. 

Will Yang Wei achieve his…


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