100 books like Life and Death in Shanghai

By Cheng Nien,

Here are 100 books that Life and Death in Shanghai fans have personally recommended if you like Life and Death in Shanghai. 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 Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of China's Cultural Revolution

Fan Wu Author Of Beautiful as Yesterday

From my list on China’s cultural revolution.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.

Fan's book list on China’s cultural revolution

Fan Wu Why did Fan love this book?

Oral history as a literary form is relatively new in China. When asked why he wrote the book, Mr. Feng replied that it was because of his guilt as a survivor and as a witness. The Cultural Revolution has devastated and scarred generation after generation in China, yet most people are silent about their personal experiences. Feng conducted numerous interviews with ordinary people who had lived through that period and wrote these intimate stories in the collection. Every voice is different and deeply personal; together, they portray one of the most disturbing and tumultuous times in Chinese history. 

By Feng Jicai,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ten Years of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten Years of Madness is a groundbreaking book that draws some parallels to Studs Terkel's "Working" in that it portrays a wide cross section of the Chinese people, but with a harrowing twist: how they survived the disastrous Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Families were destroyed; an entire generation of artists and intellectuals was lost. These oral histories, expertly conducted and arranged by noted writer and cultural critic Feng Jicai, are essential in preserving the memory of those who survived and those who did not survive China's most calamitous period in its modern history.


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 Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

Deborah Shlian Author Of Rabbit in the Moon

From my list on China's myths, religions, politics, and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I chose the dramatic backdrop of the Tiananmen massacre because after my first trip to China in the 1980’s I became a host family for mainland students studying at UCLA where I was Medical Director of Student Health. During those weeks in 1989 many students communicated with friends and family back in China using our fax machine. From their perspective, the conflict was a generational struggle between the very old leaders, many of whom marched with Mao and who were desperate to hang onto power (and therefore for my plot would want to get their hands on an elixir to double their lifespan), and the younger generation anxious for reforms.

Deborah's book list on China's myths, religions, politics, and culture

Deborah Shlian Why did Deborah love this book?

This is the second book by Peter Hessler that I have read (River Town was the first). Having visited China several times since the 1980s, when the country was first open to visitors from the West to my more recent trips, I have seen so much change. What I like about this book is how Hessler, a reporter who has lived and taught English in China, tries to describe and explain these changes.

By Peter Hessler,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Peter Hessler's previous book River Town was a prize-winning, poignant and deeply compelling portrait of China. Now, in Oracle Bones, Hessler returns to the country, excavating its long history and immersing himself in the lives of young Chinese as they migrate from the traditional Chinese countryside to the booming ever-changing cities and try to cope with their society's modern transformation.


Book cover of The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom

Deborah Shlian Author Of Rabbit in the Moon

From my list on China's myths, religions, politics, and culture.

Why am I passionate about this?

I chose the dramatic backdrop of the Tiananmen massacre because after my first trip to China in the 1980’s I became a host family for mainland students studying at UCLA where I was Medical Director of Student Health. During those weeks in 1989 many students communicated with friends and family back in China using our fax machine. From their perspective, the conflict was a generational struggle between the very old leaders, many of whom marched with Mao and who were desperate to hang onto power (and therefore for my plot would want to get their hands on an elixir to double their lifespan), and the younger generation anxious for reforms.

Deborah's book list on China's myths, religions, politics, and culture

Deborah Shlian Why did Deborah love this book?

I am delighted to recommend this book. Not only is it a fascinating true story, but it is also a page-turner. The story starts in 1937 when Joseph Needham, an English biochemist, falls in love with a Chinese student. He travels to China with her, where he begins a lifelong quest to document the scientific contributions of ancient China.

By Simon Winchester,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In sumptuous and illuminating detail, Simon Winchester, the bestselling author of The Professor and the Madman ("Elegant and scrupulous"—New York Times Book Review) and Krakatoa ("A mesmerizing page-turner"—Time) brings to life the extraordinary story of Joseph Needham, the brilliant Cambridge scientist who unlocked the most closely held secrets of China, long the world's most technologically advanced country.

No cloistered don, this tall, married Englishman was a freethinking intellectual, who practiced nudism and was devoted to a quirky brand of folk dancing. In 1937, while working as a biochemist at Cambridge University, he instantly fell in love with a visiting Chinese…


Book cover of Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories

Noel Anenberg Author Of The Karma Kaper

From my list on majestic stories that lift our spirits.

Why am I passionate about this?

I enjoyed writing The Karma Kaper. Just as there's tragedy and comedy in every aspect of our lives there's humor in crime. It's fun bringing that humor to my audience. I also believe in justice for all. Sadly, as American courts are currently more concerned with criminals' rights than victims' rights there are no guarantees victims will receive the justice they deserve. No one can predict if a jury of 12 will find a defendant who has committed a crime guilty. Then, there's the highest court of appeal - fiction! Between the covers of a novel, a crafty writer can ensure just verdicts and devise macabre punishments for the bad guys! It doesn't get any better! 

Noel's book list on majestic stories that lift our spirits

Noel Anenberg Why did Noel love this book?

Flannery O’Connor’s saturnine stories of the American South are jewels of American literature.

They are laced with humor and violence but are at the same time deeply spiritual. In fact, the Catholic Church banned her work until it was discovered that her stories were written to show Grace in the lives of her parochial characters.

In Everything That Rises Must Converge, a story from A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories published in 1955, O'Connor writes about Julian, a young college-educated writer who lives with his mother in a decadent neighborhood that lost its prominence as the Old South faded.

His mother who believes she must uphold the dignity of her family's antebellum name insists on "keeping up appearances." For instance, she likes to tell folks that Jason's first job as a writer "selling typewriters" was a good sign because "Rome wasn't built in a day."

She…

By Flannery O'Connor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Everything That Rises Must Converge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Flannery O'Connor was working on Everything That Rises Must Converge at the time of her death. This collection is an exquisite legacy from a genius of the American short story, in which she scrutinizes territory familiar to her readers: race, faith, and morality. The stories encompass the comic and the tragic, the beautiful and the grotesque; each carries her highly individual stamp and could have been written by no one else.


Book cover of Wolf Totem

Fan Wu Author Of Beautiful as Yesterday

From my list on China’s cultural revolution.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.

Fan's book list on China’s cultural revolution

Fan Wu Why did Fan love this book?

Rong’s Wolf Totem is not a typical Cultural Revolution book, and its focus is on relationships between humans and the wildlife of the grasslands. The protagonist is an urban youth, who’s a Han (the majority ethnic group in China), sent to inner Mongolia for “reeducation.” While trying to raise a wolf cub captured from the wild, he encounters a cultural clash between the Han Chinese and the locals, learns about the wolf and other wildlife, and reflects on history, nature, and humanity. 

By Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Wolf Totem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen volunteers to live in a remote settlement on the border of Inner and Outer Mongolia, where he discovers life of apparent idyllic simplicity amongst the nomads and the wild wolves who roam the plains. But when members of the People's Republic swarm in from the cities to bring modernity and productivity to the grasslands, the peace of Chen's solitary existence is shattered, and the delicate balance between humans and wolves is disrupted. Only time will tell whether the grasslands' environment and culture will ever recover...

Wolf Totem has been a sensation ever since it shot to…


Book cover of The Count of Monte Cristo

Tristan Nettles Author Of The Shepherd: A Bronze Age Tale

From my list on books to read when living on a small island.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up reading, mostly due to a speech impediment that left me awkward and shy. I was lucky enough to experience world travel at a young age. My parents' divorce set me on a different path. Five middle schools and seven high schools later, I volunteered as a Marine Corps infantryman. I left the USA in 2015 to travel the world, from Micronesia to Nepal to Honduras and even Ukraine, where I fought with the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. 

Tristan's book list on books to read when living on a small island

Tristan Nettles Why did Tristan love this book?

This is the single greatest work of fiction ever written, reaching heights close to perfection. A life-changing read with utterly fascinating plots and caricatures that swallows hours with joyous ease.

This book is the book I set all other books against as the ultimate judge to decide its ultimate rating, thus making the Count of Monte Cristo the perfect ten.

By Alexandre Dumas, Robin Buss (translator),

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Count of Monte Cristo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The epic tale of wrongful imprisonment, adventure and revenge, in its definitive translation

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantes is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to use the treasure to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas' epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialized…


Book cover of To Live

Fan Wu Author Of Beautiful as Yesterday

From my list on China’s cultural revolution.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.

Fan's book list on China’s cultural revolution

Fan Wu Why did Fan love this book?

I first read the book when I was at college in China, and over the years, I’ve read it several times. In China, Yu Hua is one of the few leading writers known as both a literary master and a popular writer with huge commercial success. His charm is well demonstrated in To Live, which has become a classic in modern Chinese literature. It’s a story of a common Chinese man named Fugui living through one after another social and political changes. The story is dramatic, sad, humorous, and sarcastic at times yet never sentimental and judgmental, and it draws you in with a simple but compelling question: after you lose everything dear to you, can you still go on to live? 

By Yu Hua, Michael Berry (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Originally banned in China but later named one of that nation’s most influential books, a searing novel that portrays one man’s transformation from the spoiled son of a landlord to a kindhearted peasant. 

“A work of astounding emotional power.” —Dai Sijie, author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

From the author of Brothers and China in Ten Words: this celebrated contemporary classic of Chinese literature was also adapted for film by Zhang Yimou. After squandering his family’s fortune in gambling dens and brothels, the young, deeply penitent Fugui settles down to do the honest work of a farmer. Forced…


Book cover of Woman from Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp

Fan Wu Author Of Beautiful as Yesterday

From my list on China’s cultural revolution.

Why am I passionate about this?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.

Fan's book list on China’s cultural revolution

Fan Wu Why did Fan love this book?

When it comes to Mao’s labor camps in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, few books are as powerful and authentic as Yang’s collection of 13 stories. Set against one of the darkest tragedies in China’s modern history, these stories are based on his interviews with the survivors of a forced-labor camp in China’s northwestern desert. The incarcerated were mostly condemned intellectuals and government officials, and to them, starvation and death were daily threats. Despite the unimaginable suffering, there was love, compassion, and dignity, which gives you hope about humanity.

By Xianhui Yang,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Woman from Shanghai, Xianhui Yang, one of China’s most celebrated and controversial writers, gives us a work of fact-based fiction that reveals firsthand—and for the first time in English—what life was like in one of Mao’s most notorious labor camps.

Between 1957 and 1960, nearly three thousand Chinese citizens were labeled “Rightists” by the Communist Part and banished to Jianiangou in China’s northwestern desert region of Gansu to undergo “reeducation” through hard labor. These exiles men and women were subjected to horrific conditions, and by 1961 the camp was closed because of the stench of death: of the rougly…


Book cover of Waiting

Jack B. Rochester Author Of Wild Blue Yonder

From my list on coming of age novels that tell fascinating stories anyone can relate to.

Why am I passionate about this?

A youthful summer with my grandparents transformed me into a voracious reader, but I don’t recall what turned me into becoming a lifelong writer and editor. My first two teenaged short stories concerned a rock and a stoplight. My writing got better, and I’ve never stopped reading. As a grad student teaching literature, I longed to see my name on a book cover. Today, it’s on 20 books. My career was in publishing; I wrote and edited nonfiction for decades until 2007, when I turned to writing novels. My most recent is a collection of my early poetry. I also enjoy helping writers become published on The Fictional Café.

Jack's book list on coming of age novels that tell fascinating stories anyone can relate to

Jack B. Rochester Why did Jack love this book?

Emotion, in particular love, knows no bounds of race, culture, past, or future. I think love reaches uncommon heights in times of stress, which accounts for falling in love with abandon–like in wartime. Or when culture curbs or forbids love’s expression.

So here in this book, Lin Kong, a doctor, feels constrained during the Chinese Cultural Revolution–perhaps seeing through its façade of freedom, particularly in his own marriage. And upon that conundrum rests the plot: Lin’s waiting 18 years (by law) for divorce so he can be with the woman he desires. But the longer he waits, the more he desires her; then, once the waiting is over, desire leaves him.

Perhaps it is better for Lin to live in never-ending desire? Was his grass greener on the other side? 

By Ha Jin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Waiting as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For more than seventeen years, Lin Kong, a devoted and ambitious doctor, has been in love with an educated, clever, modern woman, Manna Wu. But back in his traditional home village lives the humble, loyal wife his family chose for him years ago. Every summer, he returns to ask her for a divorce and every summer his compliant wife agrees but then backs out. This time, after eighteen years' waiting, Lin promises it will be different.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in China, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Shanghai?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about China, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Shanghai.

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