100 books like Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail

By Kenneth M. Swope,

Here are 100 books that Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail fans have personally recommended if you like Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail. 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 Sanctioned Violence in Early China

Peter A. Lorge Author Of The Reunification of China: Peace through War under the Song Dynasty

From my list on Chinese military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in Chinese military history stems from an early interest in books on strategy like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and in East Asian martial arts. I have pursued both since high school, translating Sun Tzu as a senior thesis in college (and now returning to it professionally), and practicing a number of martial arts over the last forty years (and writing a book on the history of Chinese martial arts). Although there are plentiful historical records for all aspects of Chinese military history, the field remains relatively neglected, leaving it wide open for new studies. I continue to pursue my teenage interests, writing the books I wanted to read in high school.

Peter's book list on Chinese military history

Peter A. Lorge Why did Peter love this book?

This is the classic study of the changes in violence and war in Chinese society from the Spring and Autumn Period to the Warring States Period. Lewis demonstrates that war, hunting, and the sacrifices of the Spring and Autumn chariot-riding aristocracy were key to demonstrating membership in that class. Political power moved from the feudal rulers to their ministers, who were lower-ranking members of the aristocratic class, and the struggle for power among those men transformed warfare and society. Violence was transformed from a class-defining activity into a state-building tool that had to be controlled by the feudal ruler.

By Mark Edward Lewis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book provides new insight into the creation of the Chinese empire by examining the changing forms of permitted violence--warfare, hunting, sacrifice, punishments, and vengeance. It analyzes the interlinked evolution of these violent practices to reveal changes in the nature of political authority, in the basic units of social organization, and in the fundamental commitments of the ruling elite. The work offers a new interpretation of the changes that underlay the transformation of the Chinese polity from a league of city states dominated by aristocratic lineages to a unified, territorial state controlled by a supreme autocrat and his agents. In…


Book cover of Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900

Peter A. Lorge Author Of The Reunification of China: Peace through War under the Song Dynasty

From my list on Chinese military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in Chinese military history stems from an early interest in books on strategy like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and in East Asian martial arts. I have pursued both since high school, translating Sun Tzu as a senior thesis in college (and now returning to it professionally), and practicing a number of martial arts over the last forty years (and writing a book on the history of Chinese martial arts). Although there are plentiful historical records for all aspects of Chinese military history, the field remains relatively neglected, leaving it wide open for new studies. I continue to pursue my teenage interests, writing the books I wanted to read in high school.

Peter's book list on Chinese military history

Peter A. Lorge Why did Peter love this book?

This is the best Chinese military history in any language. Scholarly, yet readable, it lays out the military, political, and social history of a complicated period in great detail. Despite challenging source material, Graff manages to create a coherent and comprehensible narrative.

By David Graff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Medieval Chinese Warfare 300-900 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortly after 300 AD, barbarian invaders from Inner Asia toppled China's Western Jin dynasty, leaving the country divided and at war for several centuries. Despite this, the empire gradually formed a unified imperial order. Medieval Chinese Warfare, 300-900 explores the military strategies, institutions and wars that reconstructed the Chinese empire that has survived into modern times.
Drawing on classical Chinese sources and the best modern scholarship from China and Japan, David A. Graff connects military affairs with political and social developments to show how China's history was shaped by war.


Book cover of The Culture of War in China: Empire and the Military under the Qing Dynasty

Peter A. Lorge Author Of The Reunification of China: Peace through War under the Song Dynasty

From my list on Chinese military history.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in Chinese military history stems from an early interest in books on strategy like Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and in East Asian martial arts. I have pursued both since high school, translating Sun Tzu as a senior thesis in college (and now returning to it professionally), and practicing a number of martial arts over the last forty years (and writing a book on the history of Chinese martial arts). Although there are plentiful historical records for all aspects of Chinese military history, the field remains relatively neglected, leaving it wide open for new studies. I continue to pursue my teenage interests, writing the books I wanted to read in high school.

Peter's book list on Chinese military history

Peter A. Lorge Why did Peter love this book?

This is a series of six essays that present a “new Qing history” approach to 17th and 18th century Chinese military history, specifically the culture involved in the military campaigns from 1636 to 1799.  Waley-Cohen not only presents a more positive view of the Qing’s Manchu rulers, but also the centrality of military activities and culture to Chinese culture.  The Qing government enthusiastically promoted its martial accomplishments, and martial culture was in turn reflected in visual culture, religion, and popular culture.

By Joanna Waley-Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Was the primary focus of the Qing dynasty really civil rather than military matters? In this ground-breaking book, Joanna Waley-Cohen overturns conventional wisdom to put warfare at the heart of seventeenth and eighteenth century China. She argues that the civil and the military were understood as mutually complementary forces. Emperors underpinned military expansion with a wide-ranging cultural campaign intended to bring military success, and the martial values associated with it, into the mainstream of cultural life. The Culture of War in China is a striking revisionist history that brings new insight into the roots of Chinese nationalism and the modern…


Book cover of The White Lotus War: Rebellion and Suppression in Late Imperial China

David G. Atwill Author Of Sources in Chinese History: Diverse Perspectives from 1644 to the Present

From my list on 19th-century China’s rebellions, uprisings, and wars.

Why am I passionate about this?

Just after graduating from college in 1989, I spent the year teaching in the city of Kunming – a “small” city of several million in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. In some ways, I have never left. My year there set me on a life-long trajectory of exploring some of China’s most remote corners from Tibet to Beijing. Intrigued by the way China’s borderlands reflected China’s diverse ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions, I eventually wrote my first book The Chinese Sultanate on the Panthay Rebellion (1856-1872). Today I teach at Penn State University seeking to share my experiences in China (and the world) with my students in the university classroom.

David's book list on 19th-century China’s rebellions, uprisings, and wars

David G. Atwill Why did David love this book?

Few include the White Lotus War in their discussion of nineteenth-century rebellions. Yet, in many ways, it provides the perfect starting point. Lasting over eight years, plowing a path of destruction across five central Chinese provinces, and emphatically marking the end to nearly a century of peace and commercial prosperity, the White Lotus War is an ominous harbinger of what was to follow. Chinese historian Yingcong Dai highlights the many disparate factors – from bureaucratic negligence and administrative apathy to the rise of secret societies and charismatic religious leaders – that transformed otherwise weakly connected local protests into a massive revolt that threatened to upend the Qing imperial state (1644-1911). As a specialist on Chinese warfare and imperial governance, the author pulls back the curtain on a rarely told tale that brings turn-of-the-18th-century China to life.

By Yingcong Dai,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The White Lotus War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The White Lotus War (1796-1804) in central China marked the end of the Qing dynasty's golden age and the fatal weakening of the imperial system itself. What started as a local rebellion grew into a serious political crisis, as the central government was no longer able to operate its military machine.

Yingcong Dai's comprehensive investigation reveals that the White Lotus rebels would have remained a relatively minor threat, if not for the Qing's ill-managed response. Dai shows that the officials in charge of the suppression campaign were half-hearted about the fight and took advantage of the campaign to pursue personal…


Book cover of A Tale of Two Melons: Emperor and Subject in Ming China

Laurie Dennis Author Of The Lacquered Talisman

From my list on entering the world of imperial China.

Why am I passionate about this?

My background is in journalism, and I have traveled widely in China, including visits to Fengyang, Anhui Province, and other sites important to the Ming founding, though I currently reside in Wisconsin. The Lacquered Talisman is the first in a planned series on the Ming founding, one of the most thrilling and dramatic dynastic transitions in China’s long history. I became addicted long ago to this 14th-century tale, in part because it is such a key moment in Chinese history and yet is so unknown in the English-speaking world. Since I write historical fiction, I have curated a list of both history and fiction about imperial China for you to enjoy.

Laurie's book list on entering the world of imperial China

Laurie Dennis Why did Laurie love this book?

On July 28, 1372, a group of high officials presented the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty with two melons on a lacquer tray. The melons grew from the same stalk – an anomaly that was judged a lucky omen. Schneewind uses this seemingly minor matter to study the daily workings of court life and the complex relationships between rulers and subjects. I had the great luck to travel with the author to Nanjing, the first Ming capital, and visit some of the locales she analyzed for this book, including the tomb complex where the founder and his empress are buried.  Schneewind’s short and readable study of two melons offers a sense of the high stakes and grand scale of imperial life, and I admire how she was able to connect so much to such a small gift of ripe fruit.

By Sarah Schneewind,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A commoner's presentation to the emperor of a lucky omen from his garden, the repercussions for his family, and several retellings of the incident provide the background for an engaging introduction to Ming society, culture, and politics, including discussions of the founding of the Ming dynasty; the character of the first emperor; the role of omens in court politics; how the central and local governments were structured, including the civil service examination system; the power of local elite families; the roles of women; filial piety; and the concept of ling or efficacy in Chinese religion.


Book cover of Three Kingdoms: A Historical Novel

Olivia Milburn Author Of Kingdoms in Peril, Volume 1: The Curse of the Bao Lords

From my list on epic historical narratives from around the world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a translator specializing in Chinese historical novels, and also an academic researching marginalized groups in Chinese history—ethnic minorities, the disabled, people with mental health issues, and so on. The treatment of marginalized people tells you a lot about what is going on within mainstream society. I’ve always been interested in stories about people from distant times and places, and I have a particular love of long sagas, something that you can really get your teeth into. Kingdoms in Peril covers five hundred years of history: I translated this for my own enjoyment and was surprised when I realized that I’d managed to write 850,000 words for fun!

Olivia's book list on epic historical narratives from around the world

Olivia Milburn Why did Olivia love this book?

If I were ever going to be marooned on a desert island, and was only allowed one book, this would be my choice.

Three Kingdoms is a book worth rereading, in fact, this is something you can spend the rest of your life thinking about. This epic account of the fall of the Han dynasty has everything—political scheming, great battle scenes, tragic love stories, double and triple-crossing, heroes and villains, bravery and cowardice, and best of all, these are real people, and their choices and failings have real-life consequences, some of which we are still living with today.

By Guanzhong Luo, Moss Roberts (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A material epic with an astonishing fidelity to history."-New York Times Book Review

Three Kingdoms tells the story of the fateful last reign of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), when the Chinese empire was divided into three warring kingdoms. Writing some twelve hundred years later, the Ming author Luo Guanzhong drew on histories, dramas, and poems portraying the crisis to fashion a sophisticated, compelling narrative that has become the Chinese national epic. This abridged edition captures the novel's intimate and unsparing view of how power is wielded, how diplomacy is conducted, and how wars are planned and fought. As…


Book cover of Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty

Laura Rahme Author Of The Ming Storytellers

From my list on China’s Ming Dynasty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an honours graduate in aerospace engineering and psychology and I have written five historical novels. My debut novel, The Ming Storytellers, is set during China’s Ming dynasty and was well-reviewed by the Historical Novel Society. To pen this 600-page saga, I spent six years researching the Ming dynasty while studying a year of mandarin. I have travelled to Beijing, along the Great Wall, and to China’s southwestern province of Yunnan. Being a descendant of the Vietnamese royal family gave me access to rich genealogical sources passed down from my scholarly ancestors. These stories of concubines, eunuchs, and mandarins made the past come alive, complementing my research with plausible drama.

Laura's book list on China’s Ming Dynasty

Laura Rahme Why did Laura love this book?

My favorite Ming dynasty source. It is rich with details on the eunuch institution during the Ming dynasty including its supply chain— the parts of society and of the world where eunuchs were historically drawn. Described here, are the various agencies within the Beijing Forbidden City where Ming dynasty eunuchs worked: Carpentry, Palace Servants, Palace Foods, Royal Clothing, the Nursing Home, and others, including a Toilet Paper agency. Readers not only gain insights on the imperial palace’s operations, but also on the eunuch ranking system, the emperors’ policies concerning eunuchs, and the rise of powerful eunuchs in the Ming secret police (Eastern Depot) and in Ming diplomacy. The latter came to its apogee with Admiral Zheng He, himself a eunuch, leading the Ming fleet during seven world voyages.

By Shih-Shan Henry Tsai,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This study of Chinese eunuchs illuminates the entire history of the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, and provides broad information on various aspects of pre-modern China.


Book cover of Manchu

Michael A. DeMarco Author Of Wuxia America: The Timely Emergence of a Chinese American Hero

From my list on uniquely fantastic, yet possible heroic skills.

Why am I passionate about this?

Life is pretty dull without passion. Since early childhood I was attracted to Chinese philosophy, then to all the cultural aspects that reflect it. At the same time, I felt the blood in my veins drawing me to ancestral roots. Learning about other cultures helps us learn about our own. I’ve been driven by sympathy for the immigrant experience, the suffering, and sacrifices made for a better, peaceful life. What prepared me to write Wuxia America includes my academic studies, living and working in Asia, and involvement in martial arts. My inspiration for writing stems from a wish to encourage ways to improve human relations.

Michael's book list on uniquely fantastic, yet possible heroic skills

Michael A. DeMarco Why did Michael love this book?

I loved Elegant’s book because he included a highly detailed account of the period, an account only possible by a top China scholar.

Manchu is a fictional work set within a vivid history of 17th-century China when the Manchus from northeast Asia battled native Han Chinese causing the fall of the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644). The great conflict is brought to life in a personal way, including the interactions of heroic characters, Eastern and Western. The result highlights varied perceptions of politics, warfare, and social relations. 

I appreciate Elegant’s blend of academic precision and detail with creative storytelling to make history so interesting. He encases facts in an emotional plot. Elegant is a master wordsmith who stimulates thought, valuable for understanding the Manchu period as well as individual introspection. 

By Robert S Elegant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A young, exiled British mercenary plays out his fortunes against a rich, exotic tapestry of love and warfare as China's last glorious Ming dynasty falls to the northern Manchu hordes


Book cover of The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China

Laura Hostetler Author Of Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China

From my list on geo-politics and rise of the nation state in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

As Professor of History and Global Asian Studies and Director of the Engaged Humanities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I'm interested in intersections at the margins between cultural systems. I first became drawn to Chinese history after visiting the country in 1982 and returned to teach English there before undertaking graduate studies. My work on eighteenth-century China focuses on ethnography and cartography as tools of empire building during its period of growth and expansion. My current project, Bridging Worlds: Reflections on a Journey, chronicles a quest for personal integration when obtaining an education has too often become predicated on the ability to cut oneself off from aspects of one’s own inner knowing and lived experience.

Laura's book list on geo-politics and rise of the nation state in China

Laura Hostetler Why did Laura love this book?

In The Confusions of Pleasure Timothy Brook captures the consternation of a local official as he witnesses the cultural and economic changes wrought by the rise of private wealth in the late Ming, (c. 1600). Unable to raise adequate revenue or to adapt the conservative agrarian foundations of its legitimacy to changing times, the Ming eventually collapses from within, unable to protect itself from marauding bands led by a disgruntled former government post station worker and subsequent invasion by a foreign force. Yet, those who are able to adapt to changing times survive. The resonances for our own day are multiple and apt. 

By Timothy Brook,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Ming dynasty was the last great Chinese dynasty before the Manchu conquest in 1644. During that time, China, not Europe, was the center of the world: the European voyages of exploration were searching not just for new lands but also for new trade routes to the Far East. In this book, Timothy Brook eloquently narrates the changing landscape of life over the three centuries of the Ming (1368-1644), when China was transformed from a closely administered agrarian realm into a place of commercial profits and intense competition for status. "The Confusions of Pleasure" marks a significant departure from the…


Book cover of When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433

Laura Rahme Author Of The Ming Storytellers

From my list on China’s Ming Dynasty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an honours graduate in aerospace engineering and psychology and I have written five historical novels. My debut novel, The Ming Storytellers, is set during China’s Ming dynasty and was well-reviewed by the Historical Novel Society. To pen this 600-page saga, I spent six years researching the Ming dynasty while studying a year of mandarin. I have travelled to Beijing, along the Great Wall, and to China’s southwestern province of Yunnan. Being a descendant of the Vietnamese royal family gave me access to rich genealogical sources passed down from my scholarly ancestors. These stories of concubines, eunuchs, and mandarins made the past come alive, complementing my research with plausible drama.

Laura's book list on China’s Ming Dynasty

Laura Rahme Why did Laura love this book?

Another much-loved book about the Ming dynasty’s naval fleet but this time, all seven maritime expeditions led by Admiral Zheng He are dutifully described. It outlines the evolution in ancient Chinese ship construction which saw the development of the formidable Ming ‘treasure fleet’. The reader can explore the Chinese mariners’ lives and occupations at sea, their navigation techniques, Ming China’s world trade and its diplomatic relationships, and the Ming fleet’s fascinating destinations, including Champa (now South Vietnam), Sumatra, Kuli (Kozhikode in India), Mogadishu, Malindi, and Hormuz. Cultural and socio-political details relating to the period are seamlessly weaved into this account which closely follows the life and works of Admiral Zheng He.

By Louise Levathes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A hundred years before Columbus and his fellow Europeans began making their way to the New World, fleets of giant Chinese junks commanded by the eunuch admiral Zheng He and filled with the empire's finest porcelains, lacquerware, and silk ventured to the edge of the world's `four corners.' It was a time of exploration and conquest, but it ended in a retrenchment so complete that less than a century later, it was a crime to go to sea in a multimasted ship. In When
China Ruled the Seas, Louise Levathes takes a fascinating and unprecedented look at this dynamic period…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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