10 books like Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty

By Shih-Shan Henry Tsai,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty. Shepherd is a community of 7,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Chinese Clothing

By Hua Mei,

Book cover of Chinese Clothing

So you wish to paint your lips red like ancient Chinese women but are worried about confusing your Tang from your Ming. Get your make-up right with this manual. This succinct and wonderfully illustrated book is a treasure for lovers of Chinese fashion history or historical novelists like myself who may not be fluent in mandarin and depend on English publications. Creating vivid descriptions of concubines or Ming court characters is made easy when you can visualise exactly how people dressed or painted their faces during the different periods of China’s long history, including the Ming dynasty. I loved this book as it informed me about hairstyles, make-up, shoes, hats, clothing, and even the different insignias embroidered on eunuch clothing depending on their rank. With attention to variations across ethnicities and insights on historical and social changes, this book is a must-have.  

Chinese Clothing

By Hua Mei,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Chinese clothing has undergone continuous transformations throughout history, providing a reflection of the culture in place at any given time. A wealth of archaeological findings coupled with ancient mythology, poetry and songs enable us to see the development of distinctive Chinese fashions through the ages. This illustrated introductory survey takes the reader through traditional Chinese clothing, ornamentation and ceremonial wear, discusses the importance of silk and the diverse costumes of China's ethnic groups before considering modern trends and China's place in the fashion world today.


Naxi Dongba Pictograph Dictionary

By He Pinzheng,

Book cover of Naxi Dongba Pictograph Dictionary

While researching the Ming dynasty and its tea horse trade, I had the joy of traveling to Lijiang in China’s Yunnan province. Lijiang is home to the Naxi (or Nakhi) whose Mu clan rose in prominence during the Ming dynasty. The Naxi people are unique in that they employ the world’s only living pictographic writing system. 

This tiny dictionary is filled with pictographs and their meaning, both in English and in Mandarin. Pictographs are grouped by topics significant to the Naxi culture, such as behaviour, family life, housing, and plants. This book extends one’s view of China, a country which should not be perceived as purely populated by the Han ethnic majority. The common symbols employed in the Naxi language provide valuable insights into the Naxi value system.

Naxi Dongba Pictograph Dictionary

By He Pinzheng,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Naxi Dongba Pictograph Dictionary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


1421

By Gavin Menzies,

Book cover of 1421: The Year China Discovered America

Long subject to debate due to its assertion that China discovered America, this book remains an astounding Ming dynasty source that should not be overlooked based on a single controversial claim. It has a decidedly maritime, diplomatic, and economic focus, offering a comprehensive – often technical – account of the 1421 Ming fleet’s expedition with attention to historical figures like Admiral Zheng He. It vividly paints Ming dynasty China as an economic might that traded extensively for various world products and received tributes and envoys from places as far as Malindi in southeast Africa. Published in 2002, the book has a certain prophetic quality: it highlights early Ming China’s trade dominance on the world stage as though Menzies sensed that history could repeat itself. Today, China is once again seen as an economic superpower.

1421

By Gavin Menzies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked 1421 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On March 8, 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China to "proceed all the way to the ends of the earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas." When the fleet returned home in October 1423, the emperor had fallen, leaving China in political and economic chaos. The great ships were left to rot at their moorings and the records of their journeys were destroyed. Lost in the long, self-imposed isolation that followed was the knowledge that Chinese ships had reached America seventy years before Columbus and had circumnavigated the globe a…


When China Ruled the Seas

By Louise Levathes,

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

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.

When China Ruled the Seas

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…


A Tale of Two Melons

By Sarah Schneewind,

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

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.

A Tale of Two Melons

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.


Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail

By Kenneth M. Swope,

Book cover of Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598

Contrary to previous scholarship, Ming China was not in military decline at the end of the 16th century, and the Wanli Emperor was not an ineffectual ruler during the conflict in Korea with the Japanese. Swope also demonstrates the importance of guns in the conflict, with the Japanese army strong in harquebuses and the Chinese army strong in cannon.

Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail

By Kenneth M. Swope,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dragon's Head and A Serpent's Tail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The invasion of Korea by Japanese troops in May of 1592 was no ordinary military expedition: it was one of the decisive events in Asian history and the most tragic for the Korean peninsula until the mid-twentieth century. Japanese overlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi envisioned conquering Korea, Ming China, and eventually all of Asia; but Korea's appeal to China's Emperor Wanli for assistance triggered a six-year war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers and encompassing the whole region. For Japan, the war was ""a dragon's head followed by a serpent's tail"": an impressive beginning with no real ending.

Kenneth M. Swope has…


The Confusions of Pleasure

By Timothy Brook,

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

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. 

The Confusions of Pleasure

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…


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

By Grace Lin,

Book cover of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

I love this story because it feels like a folk tale come to life, and has gorgeous illustrations and a kind and resourceful hero. When Minli leaves her poor village in search of the Man of the Moon at Never-Ending Mountain, seeking a way to improve her family’s situation, she befriends a cast of colorful characters including a talking dragon, goldfish, and stone lions. Each encounter reveals a clue that leads Minli along her journey. You’ll feel Minli’s internal struggle when the girl faces a hard choice. Happy Ending: Her selfless sacrifice breeds fortune for her village and family.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

By Grace Lin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Where the Mountain Meets the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the valley of Fruitless mountain, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut with her parents. While her father regales her with old folktales of the Jade Dragon and the Old Man in the Moon, Minli's mother chides him for filling her head with stories. But inspired by these stories, Minli spends one of her precious copper pennies on a beautiful goldfish, which is said to be able to change the fortune of the owner. Her mother reprimands her for the silly purchase, but, it pays off when the goldfish talks and offers to show her the…


A Floating Life

By Simon Elegant,

Book cover of A Floating Life: The Adventures of Li Po: A Historical Novel

This novelized biography of a poet some consider China’s greatest pleases me over and over again. Rendering Li Po (sometimes Li Bai) as a libertine living on a barge, drinking too much and partaking with gusto in the pleasures of the flesh at the red-candle district near which he moors, really helps bring alive the great man’s life and work. There’s also a bit about his relationship with Du Fu, more of a straight arrow. Those two, along with Wang Wei really offer a picture of the Daoist life I so adore and the feeling of watching the world spin out of control in war but also the peace and solitude of a mountain retreat.

A Floating Life

By Simon Elegant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The studious young son of a vintner takes down the life and exploits of Li Po, China's legendary poet, as the poet recalls his outlandish adventures


China and Africa

By Daniel Large,

Book cover of China and Africa: The New Era

The ascent to power of Xi Jinxing in China in 2013 heralded a new era in China’s overseas engagements and in its domestic politics and economic policy; what Elizabeth Economy has called the “third revolution.” This fascinating book by Large brings the story of China’s engagements in Africa up to date. It is packed with fascinating details and analysis and shows how China’s interests on the continent are shifting from being primarily economic to being more geopolitical. It is a detailed and nuanced analysis of the changed nature of relations. 

China and Africa

By Daniel Large,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

China has gone from being a marginal to a leading power in Africa in just over two decades. Its striking ascendancy in the continent is commonly thought to have been primarily driven by economic interests, especially resources like oil. This book argues instead that politics defines the 'new era' of China-Africa relations, and examines the importance of politics across a range of areas, from foreign policy to debt, development and the Xi Jinping incarnation of the China model.

Going beyond superficial depictions of China's engagement as predatory or benign, this book explores how Africa is - and isn't - integral…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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