100 books like Empress Orchid

By Anchee Min,

Here are 100 books that Empress Orchid fans have personally recommended if you like Empress Orchid. 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 Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Ann O’Loughlin Author Of Escape to the Irish Village

From my list on strong women and female friendship.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am fascinated by the extraordinary things ordinary people do, particularly women. Women show such strength; they juggle so many things every day, and they can draw on huge reserves of power in a crisis. Time and time again, I see how when women pull together, they can conquer anything. A woman on her own can do many things, but when we band together, nothing can stop us. So often, others concentrate on the negative aspects of a group of women together, but I have seen the power of female friendship and how we can reach the stars when we hold each other up. 

Ann's book list on strong women and female friendship

Ann O’Loughlin Why did Ann love this book?

This book was published after the demonstration at Tiananmen Square, Beijing which ended in bloodshed. With this book, I felt finally somebody was giving an honest account of life in China in the 20th Century and  under the Chinese Communist Party.

But this is no regular history book; it is Jung Chang’s personal account following the lives of three generations of women in her own family: Jung Chang herself, her mother, and her grandmother. They endured so much, but I was struck by how united and loving they remained. They managed in the face of adversity to keep their humanity, inner strength, and incredible courage.

I felt empowered by these women, from the grandmother who had endured the torture of having her feet bound as a young girl to the author who showed admirable courage to tell us exactly what China was like right up and through the dark years…

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Wild Swans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Few books have had such an impact as Wild Swans: a popular bestseller which has sold more than 13 million copies and a critically acclaimed history of China; a tragic tale of nightmarish cruelty and an uplifting story of bravery and survival.

Through the story of three generations of women in her own family - the grandmother given to the warlord as a concubine, the Communist mother and the daughter herself - Jung Chang reveals the epic history of China's twentieth century.

Breathtaking in its scope, unforgettable in its descriptions, this is a masterpiece which is extraordinary in every way.


Book cover of Love in a Fallen City

Janet Beard Author Of The Atomic City Girls

From my list on women’s experiences of World War II.

Why am I passionate about this?

Growing up near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I was aware that the city had historical significance but also that it wasn’t particularly famous, at least to people from outside the region. I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of overlooked stories from history, which are, not coincidentally, often women’s stories. Women made up the majority of workers in Oak Ridge during World War II, and for decades afterward, their stories were generally viewed as less important than male-dominated narratives of the war. But I’ve always believed that women’s stories are no less interesting than men’s. These books look at history’s worst conflict from unique perspectives that foreground the female experience. 

Janet's book list on women’s experiences of World War II

Janet Beard Why did Janet love this book?

Though these collected stories were popular in Chang’s native China when first published in the 1940s, decades passed before they were translated into English. The title story brings war-torn Hong Kong to life, but even against the most dramatic political backdrop, Chang’s focus is firmly on women and relationships. Though the time and place may seem remote, readers will find universal emotions in these carefully constructed tales. 

By Eileen Chang, Karen S. Kingsbury (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Love in a Fallen City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Masterful short works about passion, family, and human relationships by one of the greatest writers of 20th century China. 

A New York Review Books Original

 

“[A] giant of modern Chinese literature” –The New York Times

 

"With language as sharp as a knife edge, Eileen Chang cut open a huge divide in Chinese culture, between the classical patriarchy and our troubled modernity. She was one of the very few able truly to connect that divide, just as her heroines often disappeared inside it. She is the fallen angel of Chinese literature, and now, with these excellent new translations, English readers can…


Book cover of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Suzanne Litrel Author Of Jackie Tempo and the Emperor's Seal

From my list on Chinese tradition, revolution, and change.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian, educator, and author with an abiding interest in stories that help bridge cultural divides. I first encountered tales of China as an elementary school student in Singapore. Years later, I studied Chinese and backpacked through China, after which I earned my M.A. in Asian Studies. I would go on to become a high school instructor, and this experience helped me teach AP World History ™ and IB (International Baccalaureate) History. I began writing my Jackie Tempo series as a way of providing accessible content in the classroom. Historical fiction has always helped provide deeper context for me and my students.

Suzanne's book list on Chinese tradition, revolution, and change

Suzanne Litrel Why did Suzanne love this book?

I’ve always turned to historical fiction to deepen my understanding of an era and help spark my imagination for class prep.

This book, set in late nineteenth-century China, helped me better contextualize the challenges confronting Chinese women at that time—and how they overcame, or at least endured them. I recently had the privilege of hearing Lisa See speak on her research and writing—she was quite engaging and shared much about her process.

She’s a passionate, dedicated, and disciplined scholar. This shines through in all her work, especially this bittersweet tale of friendship, love, and heartbreak.

By Lisa See,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Snow Flower and the Secret Fan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Lily is the daughter of a humble farmer, and to her family she is just another expensive mouth to feed. Then the local matchmaker delivers startling news: if Lily's feet are bound properly, they will be flawless. In nineteenth-century China, where a woman's eligibility is judged by the shape and size of her feet, this is extraordinary good luck. Lily now has the power to make a good marriage and change the fortunes of her family. To prepare for her new life, she must undergo the agonies of footbinding, learn nu shu, the famed secret women's writing, and make a…


Book cover of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Nazila Fathi Author Of The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran

From my list on the feeling of having your identity taken from you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I fell in love with historical novels as a kid after I began reading books by French authors Alexandre Dumas, the father and the son. I was the kind of kid who read for days and even nights to finish a story. Books moved me, inspired me, and gave me the strength and wisdom that I have today. I cannot imagine a world without them. 

Nazila's book list on the feeling of having your identity taken from you

Nazila Fathi Why did Nazila love this book?

The dark place Dai depicts in this book during the Chines Cultural Revolution is very similar to the 1980s when I grew up in Iran after the revolution. Through banned novels, the characters in the book, just like me, found a way to escape the grim realities of their lives and found the strength they needed to dream and grow. Their identities, like mine, were shaped by the oppressive environments they lived in and their efforts to reinvent themselves under those conditions.

By Dai Sijie,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1971: Mao's cultural Revolution is at its peak. Two sons of doctors, sent to 're-education' camps, forced to carry buckets of excrement up and down mountain paths, have only their sense of humour to keep them going. Although the attractive daughter of the local tailor also helps to distract them from the task at hand.

The boys' true re-education starts, however, when they discover a hidden suitcase packed with the great Western novels of the nineteenth century. Their lives are transformed. And not only their lives: after listening to the stories of Balzac, the little seamstress will never be the…


Book cover of The Good Earth

Melissa Addey Author Of The Fragrant Concubine

From my list on the concubines of imperial China.

Why am I passionate about this?

A tiny mention of the legendary ‘fragrant concubine’ in a travelogue had me search out more information… and more and more until I’d researched and written the stories of four imperial concubines in the Qing era (18th century China). Some rose to power, while others fell to madness. Their extraordinary lives within the high red walls of the Forbidden City fascinated me. Along the way I found a banished empress and a real woman who had endless myths grow up around her, as well as secondary characters like the Italian Jesuit turned court painter. An irresistible era and way of life to explore, in all its shades of light and darkness.

Melissa's book list on the concubines of imperial China

Melissa Addey Why did Melissa love this book?

I could have chosen any of Pearl S Buck’s books, as they are all beautifully written. But this one was the first one I read and what I remember most vividly is the tiny details of daily life, in a rags-to-riches story of a peasant man in China. One of the journey’s most emotional changes comes when he gets a concubine, and I liked reading about a concubine in a fairly ordinary household (rather than the usual imperial/upper-class settings) and the ripples it makes in family life. 

By Pearl S. Buck,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Good Earth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Chinese peasant overcomes the forces of nature and the frailties of human nature to become a wealthy landowner.


Book cover of Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas

Melissa Addey Author Of The Fragrant Concubine

From my list on the concubines of imperial China.

Why am I passionate about this?

A tiny mention of the legendary ‘fragrant concubine’ in a travelogue had me search out more information… and more and more until I’d researched and written the stories of four imperial concubines in the Qing era (18th century China). Some rose to power, while others fell to madness. Their extraordinary lives within the high red walls of the Forbidden City fascinated me. Along the way I found a banished empress and a real woman who had endless myths grow up around her, as well as secondary characters like the Italian Jesuit turned court painter. An irresistible era and way of life to explore, in all its shades of light and darkness.

Melissa's book list on the concubines of imperial China

Melissa Addey Why did Melissa love this book?

An extraordinary tale of a chokingly claustrophobic household in historical China, in which four women (wives and concubines) jealously vie for attention and privilege. As the stakes grow higher, so do the dangers inherent in their choices. Made into the film Raise the Red Lantern by Zhang Yimou, for me, this is the gold standard on this theme.

By Su Tong, Michael S. Duke (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Raise the Red Lantern as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The brutal realities of the dark places Su Tong depicts in this collection of novellas set in 1930s provincial China -- worlds of prostitution, poverty, and drug addiction -- belie his prose of stunning and simplebeauty. The title novella, "Raise the Red Lantern," which became a critically acclaimed film, tells the story of Lotus, a young woman whose father's suicide forces her to become the concubine of a wealthy merchant. Crushed by loneliness, despair, and cruel treatment, Lotus finds her descent into insanity both a weapon and a refuge.

"Nineteen Thirty-Four Escapes" is an account of a family's struggles during…


Book cover of The Moon In The Palace

Lauren Willig Author Of Two Wars and a Wedding

From my list on historical fiction in unusual time periods.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the era of sweeping historical epics, traveling with the turn of a page from Gaius Marius’s Rome to Victoria’s England and everything in between. I’ve always loved books that immerse you in places and time periods you know nothing about—and when I couldn’t find enough of them, I started writing my own. While my long-ago history PhD work is in Tudor-Stuart England (my specialty was the English Civil War), what I love most is being a historical dilettante and getting to hop around the historical record—which may be why my books can take you anywhere from Napoleon’s court to 1920s Kenya to Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt!

Lauren's book list on historical fiction in unusual time periods

Lauren Willig Why did Lauren love this book?

One of my favorite things about historical fiction is getting to feel like I’m living in another time and place.

Weina dai Randel’s book took me to 7th century Tang Dynasty China with a woman forced to learn the dangerous intrigues of the Emperor’s court. You can feel the silk beneath your fingers and hear the whispers of the courtiers as you navigate the palace with Mei. Bonus: This is book one of two, so you will get to visit the Tang Dynasty again!

By Weina Dai Randel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Moon In The Palace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Randel's gorgeous debut novel seductively pulls back the curtain to reveal the heartbreaking world of...China."-Stephanie Dray, NYT bestselling Author of America's First Daughter
A thrilling work of historical fiction, bringing romance, intrigue, and the unexpected rise of an Empress to intoxicating life under the inscrutable moon.
In Tang Dynasty China, a concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor's attention. Many hope to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of…


Book cover of The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Liza Street Author Of Blood Bounty

From my list on historical fantasy with a touch of romance.

Why am I passionate about this?

As an author and a lifelong lover of books, I read all genres. My favorites are set in fantastical worlds with unique settings. The mash-up of history and fantasy is endlessly compelling to me, and I always want to see a romantic subplot (or main plot!) in the books I read. I want a happily-ever-after even when the strange world and its villains are conspiring against the main characters. 

Liza's book list on historical fantasy with a touch of romance

Liza Street Why did Liza love this book?

This truly lovely historical novella is set in a fantastical version of ancient China and incorporates mythology that I’m certain I didn’t completely understand. However, the bittersweet tale, told by a former handmaiden named Rabbit to a traveling cleric, is gorgeous enough to stand without any background knowledge. This is a tale I will return to more than once, for its compelling story and nostalgic tone.

By Nghi Vo,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Empress of Salt and Fortune as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2020 Crawford Award!
Winner of the 2021 Hugo Award!
A Hugo Award-Winning Series!

A 2021 Locus Award Finalist
A 2021 Ignyte Award Finalist
A Goodreads Choice Award Finalist

"Dangerous, subtle, unexpected and familiar, angry and ferocious and hopeful... The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a remarkable accomplishment of storytelling."―NPR

A 2020 ALA Booklist Top Ten SF/F Debut | A Book Riot Must-Read Fantasy of 2020 | A Paste Most Anticipated Novel of 2020 | A Library Journal Debut of the Month | A Buzzfeed Must-Read Fantasy Novel of Spring 2020 | A Washington Post Best SFF…


Book cover of Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

Sheridan Prasso Author Of The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

From my list on Asian women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have specialized in writing about Asia since first moving to Hong Kong as a journalist in 1989, and spent the past three decades trying to improve understandings between East and West. My Asian women friends repeatedly asked me why Western men expected them to pour their drinks and serve them food. I answered “because that’s what they saw in the movies.” The James Bond films perpetuating these images of servile Asian women scrubbing white mens’ backs in the bathtub were pervasive when they were growing up. I decided to uncover and explain where this history of imagery and the stereotypes they result in come from – and, as someone with an anthropological background, also explain cultural practices that foster misunderstandings. 

Sheridan's book list on Asian women

Sheridan Prasso Why did Sheridan love this book?

This book takes what you think you know about China’s Last Empress, Cixi, and turns it upside down. Far from the monster created by puerile Western conquerors to justify their imperial domination over China, this historical account uncovers the reality behind the woman who held great power in China. This reality is core to the destruction of the Dragon Lady stereotype in Western culture that I lay out in my book.

By Sterling Seagrave,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of The Soong Dynasty gives us our most vivid and reliable biography yet of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi, remembered through the exaggeration and falsehood of legend as the ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the Chinese throne in 1861.


Book cover of Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine who Launched Modern China

Susan Broomhall Author Of The Identities of Catherine de’ Medici

From my list on women and power in history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm Professor and Director of the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre at the Australian Catholic University. I've always been interested in the power of ideologies about gender to shape people’s lives, and in the experiences of women in times past. I started off exploring these topics in early modern Europe and then looked at how women, and ideas about gender, shaped the ways European peoples engaged in the world at this period. This has helped me to see the very significant ways that the lives of women and men are always shaped by gender ideologies across the globe and across time, and the innovative ways that people respond to the challenges and opportunities that they encounter.

Susan's book list on women and power in history

Susan Broomhall Why did Susan love this book?

Jung Chang, best known as the author of Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, here turns her considerable creative skill to the story of the woman who rose to the height of power in one of the world’s most important empires. Cixi’s trajectory from concubine to mother of the Tongzhi Emperor reminds us how sexual and reproductive labour are often critical to women’s access to power. 

Chang locates Cixi’s personal experiences, enjoying extreme luxury in secluded palaces yet displaying keen interest in the outside world that China was forced to confront, against a grand narrative of extraordinary changes to the empire Cixi was charged to safeguard. Chang presents a strongly sympathetic analysis of Cixi but the complex ambitions, many contradictions and perceived failures of this powerful woman ensure that she will remain the subject of continued debate.

By Jung Chang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) is the most important woman in Chinese history. She ruled China for decades and brought a medieval empire into the modern age.

At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor's numerous concubines and sexual partners. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China - behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who…


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