48 books like Emperor of China

By Jonathan D. Spence,

Here are 48 books that Emperor of China fans have personally recommended if you like Emperor of 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 The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, and Invention

Bret Hinsch Author Of The Rise of Tea Culture in China: The Invention of the Individual

From my list on Chinese history that will surprise you.

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated my life to the study of Chinese history. I received a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard and have spent my career teaching Chinese history at universities in Taiwan. I am the author of eleven books and many academic articles and book reviews about Chinese history. As an American who has spent decades lecturing about Chinese history in Mandarin to Taiwanese students, I have an uncommon perspective on the subject.  

Bret's book list on Chinese history that will surprise you

Bret Hinsch Why did Bret love this book?

This book is full of “wow” moments. The author describes the history of numerous inventions to show the ingenuity of Chinese civilization. Some of these inventions are well known, like paper and the compass. But most of them come as a surprise. Until about two hundred years ago, China was far ahead of the rest of the world in most types of technology. In some respects, such as agricultural tools and steel smelting, China was two thousand years ahead of Europe. When you read this book, you will realize that for most of history, Europe was like a marginal third-world society and China was the center of things.  

By Robert Temple,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Revised, full-color illustrated edition of the multi-award-winning, international bestseller that charts the unparalleled and astounding achievement of ancient China

• Brings to life one hundred Chinese “firsts” in the fields of agriculture, astronomy, engineering, mathematics, medicine, music, technology, and warfare

• Based on the definitive work of the world’s most famous Sinologist, Joseph Needham (1900-1995), author of Science and Civilisation in China

• Organized by field, invention, and discovery for ease of reference

Undisputed masters of invention and discovery for 3,000 years, the ancient Chinese were the first to discover the solar wind and the circulation of the blood and…


Book cover of The Last Embassy: The Dutch Mission of 1795 and the Forgotten History of Western Encounters with China

Bret Hinsch Author Of The Rise of Tea Culture in China: The Invention of the Individual

From my list on Chinese history that will surprise you.

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated my life to the study of Chinese history. I received a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard and have spent my career teaching Chinese history at universities in Taiwan. I am the author of eleven books and many academic articles and book reviews about Chinese history. As an American who has spent decades lecturing about Chinese history in Mandarin to Taiwanese students, I have an uncommon perspective on the subject.  

Bret's book list on Chinese history that will surprise you

Bret Hinsch Why did Bret love this book?

In 1795 a group of Dutch diplomats traveled across China from a port in the south to Beijing in the north. At this time, few Westerners had ever traveled beyond the coast, so when the embassy returned to the Netherlands, several members wrote accounts of their unusual journey. This book gives an enormous amount of fascinating detail about what it was like to travel in imperial China, and about the lifestyles in various regions of the country. At times the diplomats enjoyed luxury and refinement, but they also had to endure hardship and mistreatment. The book evokes what daily life was like in China prior to the Western impact.

By Tonio Andrade,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the acclaimed author of The Gunpowder Age, a book that casts new light on the history of China and the West at the turn of the nineteenth century

George Macartney's disastrous 1793 mission to China plays a central role in the prevailing narrative of modern Sino-European relations. Summarily dismissed by the Qing court, Macartney failed in nearly all of his objectives, perhaps setting the stage for the Opium Wars of the nineteenth century and the mistrust that still marks the relationship today. But not all European encounters with China were disastrous. The Last Embassy tells the story of the…


Book cover of Mao's Great Famine: The History of China's Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962

Zhang-Yue Zhou Author Of Achieving Food Security in China: The Challenges Ahead

From my list on understanding China’s great famine.

Who am I?

My desire for food-related studies originates from my personal experience of starvation. Born in 1957 in rural China, I soon stepped into China’s Great Famine (1958-1962). During this famine, over 30 million people died of hunger, mostly peasants, including my grandpa (my mother’s father). As a growing child, I was hungry and today I still remember how my family struggled to feed us. After becoming a student at an agricultural university, I had the opportunity to think and started to ponder over food-related issues. After graduation, I became an academic and have since focused my energy on studies concerning food, chiefly, China’s food supply and food security. 

Zhang-Yue's book list on understanding China’s great famine

Zhang-Yue Zhou Why did Zhang-Yue love this book?

Few Western intellectuals are aware of the scale of the atrocities during China’s Great Famine. If they had been and had written more on the famine, there could have been a greater impact on popular consciousness.

Yet, Dikötter cared to painstakingly search through local archives, and with his fine book, depicted the well-hidden human miseries to a much broader global audience. This is another book by a person who is foreign to China that greatly inspired me to look into improving China’s food security.

In this prize-winning book, Dikötter confirms that the famine was the worst man-made human catastrophe, not a natural calamity. Book prize judges regarded it as stunningly original and hugely important.

By Frank Dikötter,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Mao's Great Famine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking history of China's Great Famine: winner of the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize 2011 'A gripping and masterful portrait of the brutal court of Mao, based on new research but also written with great narrative verve' Simon Sebag Montefiore 'Harrowing and brilliant' Ben Macintyre 'A critical contribution to Chinese history' Wall Street Journal Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million Chinese people were worked, starved or beaten to death. Mao Zedong threw his country into a frenzy with the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up with and overtake the West in less than fifteen years. It led to…


Book cover of Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan

Bret Hinsch Author Of The Rise of Tea Culture in China: The Invention of the Individual

From my list on Chinese history that will surprise you.

Who am I?

I’ve dedicated my life to the study of Chinese history. I received a Ph.D. in History and East Asian Languages from Harvard and have spent my career teaching Chinese history at universities in Taiwan. I am the author of eleven books and many academic articles and book reviews about Chinese history. As an American who has spent decades lecturing about Chinese history in Mandarin to Taiwanese students, I have an uncommon perspective on the subject.  

Bret's book list on Chinese history that will surprise you

Bret Hinsch Why did Bret love this book?

Even though this is a work of anthropology, it also provides unique insights into rural history. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Margery Wolf did fieldwork in a poor village in rural Taiwan. At that time, modernization was just beginning to affect the countryside, so most aspects of village life were still traditional. Although Taiwanese society differed from the mainland in certain ways, in most aspects of life there carried on the traditions of Chinese village life. This book looks at rural society from a female perspective. Due to poverty, both women and men had few options. They did whatever it took to survive. Many of the people the author interviewed seem very discontent with their lives, but they usually had no other choice.

By Margery Wolf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Studies of Chinese society commonly emphasizze men's roles and functions, a not unreasonable approach to a society with patrilineal kinship structure. But this emphasis has left many important gaps in our knowledge of Chinese life.

This study seeks to fill some of these gaps by examining the ways rural Taiwanese women manipulate men and each other in the pursuit of their personal goals. The source of a woman's power, her home in a social structure dominated by men, is what the author calls the uterine family, a de facto social unity consisting of a mother and her children.

The first…


Book cover of Moment in Peking

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.

Who am I?

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?

Moment in Peking is an elegy to a lost world and a past way of life.

The main character, Yao Mulan, falls victim to human traffickers in 1900 as her family flees from Beijing. Although she is soon rescued, this experience turns her life in new and unexpected directions. We follow Yao Mulan through war, famine, and revolution, the fall of the Qing dynasty, the tumultuous Republican era, the rise of warlords, and the Japanese invasion in 1936, facing every challenge with indomitable courage.

This is a great evocation of early twentieth century Chinese history, from the perspective of someone who lived through terrible events.

By Lin Yutang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The English Works of Lin Yutang collected and published this time lists more than 10 influential original works including A Leaf in the Storm, The Wisdom of Laotse and Lady Wu besides My Country and My People, Moment in Peking, The Art of Living published by our press. It is the first time for such a collection to be published in China and also for some of them to appear in original English. In addition, in order to better introduce and display Lin Yutang and his works, we have collected precious photos from his former residence in Taipei and his…


Book cover of The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man's Life in a North China Village, 1857-1942

Peter Zarrow Author Of After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924

From my list on how imperial China became modern China.

Who am I?

Like many Americans of my generation (boomer) who became China scholars, I witnessed the civil rights and anti-war struggles and concluded that we in the West could learn from the insights of Eastern thought and even Chinese Communism. I ended up specializing in modern political thought—I think of this field as the land of “isms”—nationalism, socialism, liberalism, and the like. I have lived in China and Japan, and spent twelve years as a historical researcher in Taiwan before returning to America to teach at the University of Connecticut. Today, I would not say China has the answers, but I still believe that the two most important world powers have a lot to learn from each other.

Peter's book list on how imperial China became modern China

Peter Zarrow Why did Peter love this book?

This beautifully written book gives a picture of the life and times of one ordinary man. Unusually, he maintained a daily diary throughout his entire life, which was mostly lived in a remote—but certainly not isolated—village. Harrison highlights the tumultuous political, social, and economic changes China was undergoing through the lens of a man who lived from the Qing Empire through the 1911 Revolution and the warlord era and into the rise of the Communist movement.

By Henrietta Harrison,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this beautifully crafted study of one emblematic life, Harrison addresses large themes in Chinese history while conveying with great immediacy the textures and rhythms of everyday life in the countryside in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Liu Dapeng was a provincial degree-holder who never held government office. Through the story of his family, the author illustrates the decline of the countryside in relation to the cities as a result of modernization and the transformation of Confucian ideology as a result of these changes. Based on nearly 400 volumes of Liu's diary and other writings, the book illustrates what it…


Book cover of Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928

Peter Zarrow Author Of After Empire: The Conceptual Transformation of the Chinese State, 1885-1924

From my list on how imperial China became modern China.

Who am I?

Like many Americans of my generation (boomer) who became China scholars, I witnessed the civil rights and anti-war struggles and concluded that we in the West could learn from the insights of Eastern thought and even Chinese Communism. I ended up specializing in modern political thought—I think of this field as the land of “isms”—nationalism, socialism, liberalism, and the like. I have lived in China and Japan, and spent twelve years as a historical researcher in Taiwan before returning to America to teach at the University of Connecticut. Today, I would not say China has the answers, but I still believe that the two most important world powers have a lot to learn from each other.

Peter's book list on how imperial China became modern China

Peter Zarrow Why did Peter love this book?

I have long thought that one of the key ingredients of modern Chinese nationalism is a strong sense of ethnic identity for the people labeled “Han Chinese.” To a great extent this Han identity, though having ancient roots, was formed, elaborated, and ideologized around the turn of the twentieth century in opposition to the ruling Manchu Qing dynasty. This book shows how and why this happened.

By Edward J. M. Rhoads,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Open-access edition: DOI 10.6069/9780295997483

China's 1911-12 Revolution, which overthrew a 2000-year succession of dynasties, is thought of primarily as a change in governmental style, from imperial to republican, traditional to modern. But given that the dynasty that was overthrown-the Qing-was that of a minority ethnic group that had ruled China's Han majority for nearly three centuries, and that the revolutionaries were overwhelmingly Han, to what extent was the revolution not only anti-monarchical, but also anti-Manchu?

Edward Rhoads explores this provocative and complicated question in Manchus and Han, analyzing the evolution of the Manchus from a hereditary military caste (the "banner…


Book cover of Making China Modern: From the Great Qing to XI Jinping

Kerry Brown Author Of China

From my list on modern Chinese history.

Who am I?

I have been working on China as a student, teacher, diplomat, business person, and academic since 1991. 
Currently, professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, my work involves trying to understand how the country’s deer and more recent history has created the remarkable country that we see today. I have written over 20 books on modern China, and lived there in total 5 and a half years. I have visited every single province and autonomous region, and have lectured on China in over 40 countries, across four continents.

Kerry's book list on modern Chinese history

Kerry Brown Why did Kerry love this book?

To understand where China is now, and where it has been travelling from since 1949 when the People’s Republic was established, you need to grapple with the complex history that preceded that. German sinologist Klaus Muhlhahn expertly does this, succinctly drawing out the key theme of institution-building and showing how this provides the link between the final imperial period of the Qing to its collapse in 1911, and then the slow rise to power of the Communists over the 1920s to the 1940s when China was fragmented and beset by war. Accessible, authoritative, and ambitious.

By Klaus Mühlhahn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Thoughtful, probing...a worthy successor to the famous histories of Fairbank and Spence [that] will be read by all students and scholars of modern China."
-William C. Kirby, coauthor of Can China Lead?

It is tempting to attribute the rise of China to Deng Xiaoping and to recent changes in economic policy. But China has a long history of creative adaptation. In the eighteenth century, the Qing Empire dominated a third of the world's population. Then, as the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion ripped the country apart, China found itself verging on free fall. More recently, after Mao, China managed…


Book cover of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

Tom Carter Author Of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

From my list on Chinese prostitution and vice.

Who am I?

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. Since then, I have published three books about China; my anthology Unsavory Elements was intended as a well-meaning tribute to the expatriate experience, however my own essay – a bawdy account of a visit to a rural brothel – was understandably demonized. The following five books expand on that illicit theme.

Tom's book list on Chinese prostitution and vice

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Starting out as a serial in an 1890s Shanghainese magazine, yet remaining unpublished until 2005 following the discovery of its English translation among the belongings of the late Eileen Chang, The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai is an unparalleled historical classic set in the pleasure quarters of the Qing Dynasty. Unlike the hyper-erotic writings of Li Yu and Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng, the author, Bangqing Han, opted for a tempered realism unique for its period. Clocking in at 600 pages, and densely layered with multiple character arcs that are a bit difficult to keep track of, Sing-Song Girls may require more than one reading.

By Bangqing Han,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Desire, virtue, courtesans (also known as sing-song girls), and the denizens of Shanghai's pleasure quarters are just some of the elements that constitute Han Bangqing's extraordinary novel of late imperial China. Han's richly textured, panoramic view of late-nineteenth-century Shanghai follows a range of characters from beautiful sing-song girls to lower-class prostitutes and from men in positions of social authority to criminals and ambitious young men recently arrived from the country. Considered one of the greatest works of Chinese fiction, The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai is now available for the first time in English. Neither sentimental nor sensationalistic in its portrayal…


Book cover of The Golden Days

Laurie Dennis Author Of The Lacquered Talisman

From my list on entering the world of imperial China.

Who am I?

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?

This is the best translation into English of the first 26 chapters of the most influential classic of Chinese literature. (It also has the English name Dream of Red Mansions.) Generations have swooned over the 18th century love triangle that is at the heart of this epic tale of the Jia family in decline. If you can’t get enough of this elaborate novel of manners, you can listen to the podcast currently chewing on it, Rereading the Stone. I consider this opening volume to be a useful introduction to family life in traditional China (though its lens is focused on high society), including the importance of dreams, rituals, family relationships, gossip, and poetry.

By Cao Xueqin, David Hawkes (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Story of the Stone (c.1760) is one of the greatest novels of Chinese literature. The first part of the story, The Golden Days, begins the tale of Bao-yu, a gentle young boy who prefers girls to Confucian studies, and his two cousins: Bao-chai, his parents' choice of a wife for him, and the ethereal beauty Dai-yu. Through the changing fortunes of the Jia family, this rich, magical work sets worldly events - love affairs, sibling rivalries, political intrigues, even murder - within the context of the Buddhist understanding that earthly existence is an illusion and karma determines the shape…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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