100 books like Manchu Decadence

By Edmund Trelawny Backhouse,

Here are 100 books that Manchu Decadence fans have personally recommended if you like Manchu Decadence. 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 Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom

Tom Carter Author Of An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans

From my list on expats in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

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, with two specifically focusing on the expatriate experience. This quirky yet timeless subgenre is my guilty pleasure; the following are but five of five hundred I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on expats in China

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Arguably Chinese history’s most romanticized foreign resident, Carl Crow is a sort of Gatsby-esque expatriate hailing from glamorous 1920s Shanghai. The dapper ad agency magnate (who was behind those now-iconic “haipai” Chinese calendar girls), penned 16 books about China, most notably Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom. Rivaling The Great Gatsby in decadent cocktail parties, privileged bachelors on the prowl, and shameless colonialist classicism, Flowery focuses strictly on the ritzy lives of Shanghai’s Occidental aristocracy, with only a passing mention of the people whose world they inhabit. To contemporary readers, it may come across as offensively unwoke, but as a historical account of that era’s high society expatriates, it is fascinating.

By Carl Crow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally published in 1940, this is Carl Crow's entertaining autobiography, the story of his more than 25 years of adventures and success in Shanghai during the tumultuous early decades of the 20th century. This book is a tale of East meets West set in the wild and heady days of inter-war China. It is an account of how two cultures clashed, bickering over business deals and social norms as they tried to find a way to live with each other.


Book cover of The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet

Tom Carter Author Of An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans

From my list on expats in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

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, with two specifically focusing on the expatriate experience. This quirky yet timeless subgenre is my guilty pleasure; the following are but five of five hundred I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on expats in China

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Graham Earnshaw, who has resided in the Middle Kingdom for the past 40+ years (longer than any other living expat here today), has also been casually strolling from Shanghai due west toward Tibet over the past two decades. Fluent in Mandarin, his spontaneous conversations with local peasants he has encountered along the way make The Great Walk a delightfully pleasant and profoundly insightful read. Published in 2010 by a small Hong Kong indie press and tragically overlooked by most Sinophiles, I can’t recommend this enough to anyone seeking an upbeat, unpretentious narrative of a foreigner drifting among the Chinese.

By Graham Earnshaw,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What kind of people would you meet if you decided to walk across the world's most populous country? The Great Walk of China is a journey into China's heartland, away from its surging coastal cities. Through surprisingly frank conversations with the people he meets along the way, the Chinese-speaking author paints a portrait of a nation struggling to come to terms with its newfound identity and its place in the world.


Book cover of And The City Swallowed Them

Tom Carter Author Of An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans

From my list on expats in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

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, with two specifically focusing on the expatriate experience. This quirky yet timeless subgenre is my guilty pleasure; the following are but five of five hundred I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on expats in China

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

There are several true-crime books about foreigners who have been killed whilst residing in China, notably Paul French’s Midnight in Peking (which should be read together with its dismissive detractor, A Death in Peking by Graeme Sheppard). Despite its brevity (only 60 pages), Mara Hvistendahl’s And The City Swallowed Them holds its own in the true-crime genre as a well-researched work of investigative journalism covering the stabbing of a Western female model working in Shanghai in 2008. Hvistendahl’s shocking expose focuses in equal parts on the seedier aspects of modern expat life, China’s marginalized peasant working class, and the country’s opaque justice system.

By Mara Hvistendahl,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked And The City Swallowed Them as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At age 22, Diana O’Brien left a small island community on Canada’s Pacific Coast and moved to China to work as a model. Twelve days later, she was stabbed in a Shanghai stairwell. The actions of both police investigators and O'Brien's Chinese modeling agent soon aroused suspicion as her family sought answers from China's opaque legal system. Ultimately, their quest would put them face to face with her accused killer.

At once a page-turning murder mystery and a work of deep investigation, And The City Swallowed Them is a true crime nonfiction story based on dozens of interviews with investigators,…


Book cover of The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai

Tom Carter Author Of An American Bum in China: Featuring the bumblingly brilliant escapades of expatriate Matthew Evans

From my list on expats in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

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, with two specifically focusing on the expatriate experience. This quirky yet timeless subgenre is my guilty pleasure; the following are but five of five hundred I’d love to recommend.

Tom's book list on expats in China

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Decidedly contemporary China’s most provocative foreign writer, Isham Cook has spent the past decade in Beijing penning books about taboo subject matter that heretofore few expat authors have been willing to publicly reveal about their lives here. Specifically, prurience and libertine excess. I liken him as a reincarnated Edmund Backhouse with a hint of Henry Miller and a dash of de Sade. In his putative memoir The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai, Cook reimagines himself as an Asian woman in order to psychoanalyze his past relationships with Chinese girlfriends whom he tormented with polyamory. If nothing else, read this for its sheer audacity.

By Isham Cook,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An erotic thriller of "ambitious, Faulknerian structure" (Kirkus Reviews)exposing what's really going on with relationships in China today.

It is the Shanghai of courtesans and concubines, danger and decadence, updated to 2020. American expat author Isham Cook has disappeared. His last known history is chronicled by an exotic woman who seems right out of 1930s Shanghai herself, Marguerite, a mustachioed Afghan-American who weaves Persian rugs and deals in psychedelics. As she tells it, Isham's story all began with Luna, a beguiling but troubled Chinese woman who happens to have a mustache herself. Also vying for Isham's affection is the charismatic…


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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

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?

If the Opium War represents the greatest threat to China’s global stature, the Taiping Rebellion certainly posed the greatest domestic challenge to the ruling dynasty. On the surface, the bare facts of the rebellion defy belief. Its leader, Hong Xiuquan, after failing the imperial civil service examination, came to believe that he was the younger brother of Jesus Christ and embarks on establishing a kingdom that upends thousands of years of beliefs by instituting a wide array of socially progressive ideas. Using both Chinese and Western sources, Chinese historian Stephen Platt breathes new life into both the extraordinary rise of Hong’s Taiping Kingdom and the imperial state’s ultimately successful response. Beautifully written, Platt’s account offers a captivating account of both the revolutionary ideology of the Taipings and the Chinese Confucian response.

By Stephen R. Platt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the early 1850s, during the twilight of the Qing dynasty, word spread of a major revolution brewing in the provinces. The leader of this movement - who called themselves the Taiping - was Hong Xiuquan, a failed civil servant who claimed to be the son of God and the brother of Jesus Christ. As the revolt grew and battles raged across the empire, all signs pointed to a Taiping victory and to the inauguration of a modern, industrialized and pro-Western China.

Soon, however, Britain and the United States threw their support behind the Qing, rapidly quashing the Taiping and…


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 Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-First Century

Bill Hayton Author Of The Invention of China

From my list on the emergence of modern China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent more than a decade exploring the historic roots of Asia’s modern political problems – and discovering the accidents and mistakes that got us where we are today. I spent 22 years with BBC News, including a year in Vietnam and another in Myanmar. I’ve written four books on East and Southeast Asia and I’m an Associate Fellow with the Asia-Pacific Programme at the London-based thinktank, Chatham House. I love breaking down old stereotypes and showing readers that the past is much more interesting than a series of clichés about ‘us’ and ‘them’. Perhaps through that, we can recognise that our future depends on collaboration and cooperation.

Bill's book list on the emergence of modern China

Bill Hayton Why did Bill love this book?

This book is an excellent introduction to some of the most important characters in modern Chinese history, from nineteenth-century reformers to twentieth-century communist leaders. We meet some of the characters I write about in The Invention of China like the great journalist Liang Qichao and the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen, along with others such as Mao Zedong. The authors link their overlapping lives together showing how the old Qing Empire crumbled and was overthrown and replaced by a new Republic, which was itself overthrown within 40 years. It’s a great way to experience China’s journey from a time when it could be described as the ‘Sick Man of Asia’ to an era in which its ‘strength and power’ unsettled the world.

By Orville Schell, John Delury,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By now everyone knows the basic facts of China's rise to pre-eminence over the past three decades. But how did this erstwhile sleeping giant finally manage to arrive at its current phase of dynamic growth? How, after such a long and painful period of dynastic decline, intellectual upheaval and revolution, foreign occupation and civil war, did a country once derided as the 'sick man of Asia' manage to break out of its old pattern of repeatedly failed reform efforts to burst forth onto the world stage with such an impressive run of hyperdevelopment and wealth creation? How did the century-long…


Book cover of Tao of Sketching: The Complete Guide to Chinese Sketching Techniques

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Brushstrokes in Time

From my list on the heart and soul of China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied modern Chinese history so, when Qu Leilei told me the story of the Stars Art Movement, I couldn’t understand why I hadn't heard their courageous story. I spent three years interviewing Qu Leilei, researching and visiting China with him before writing the Stars story as a historical novel. I am a freelance writer, author, and speaker.

Sylvia's book list on the heart and soul of China

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

I was reviewing Qu Leilei’s Everyone’s life is an Epic at the Ashmolean when a chance encounter changed my life. While writing Qu's profile, I learned about the first contemporary art movement in China - the Stars in Beijing in 1979 - and spent three years interviewing him for the background to Brushstrokes in Time

Leilei’s art is imbued with deep humanity but he is also a fine teacher- hence my recommending The Tao of Sketching. Daoism influenced traditional Chinese art and is a focus for meditation. The empty space is important. If you want to get into that cultural mindset, try Leilei’s books.

By Qu Lei Lei,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Award-winning artist Qu Lei Lei offers an inspirational view of art from the Chinese perspective. Instead of looking at the sketch as an end in itself, he focuses on the work as personal fulfillment for the artist and as a valued meditation. All the essential techniques are here?from choosing and using materials to mixing the ink to mastering brushstrokes. With the natural world as his subject, Lei Lei pulls out key features?water, trees, landscapes?and focuses on practical ways of depicting their different varieties. A master class covers techniques for capturing pets at play, and for conveying the spirit of all…


Book cover of Party Members

Isham Cook Author Of The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai

From my list on written by foreigners in China.

Why am I passionate about this?

Having lived in China for almost three decades, I am naturally interested in the expat writing scene. I am a voracious reader of fiction and nonfiction on China, past and present. One constant in this country is change, and that requires keeping up with the latest publications by writers who have lived here and know it well. As an author of three novels, one short story collection, and three essay collections on China myself, I believe I have something of my own to contribute of documentary value, although I tend to hew to gritty, offbeat themes to capture a contemporary China unknown to the West.

Isham's book list on written by foreigners in China

Isham Cook Why did Isham love this book?

Here we have the most politically incorrect of novels, an unflinchingly vicious take on China by a Westerner, though Party Members (pun on the second word) does have an acknowledged precursor in fellow Englishman Ralph Townsend’s Ways That Are Dark, an equally unsentimental account of China published in 1933. We follow the faceless bureaucrat protagonist, Yang Wei, as he inventively combines his passions for sex and KFC (China’s comfort food of choice) at one and the same time, and eggs on the state-sanctioned thugs who set his mother’s house on fire to clear it for developers – with her inside. To be fair, China is evolving out of the nasty pre-2008 Olympics era Meursault is documenting and this is after all satire. But the novel is not only very funny, it’s required reading precisely due to its pariah status.

By Arthur Meursault,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Deep within the heart of China, far from the glamour of Shanghai and Beijing, lies the Chinese every-city of Huaishi. This worker’s paradise of smog and concrete is home to Party Member Yang Wei, a mediocre man in a mediocre job. His content life of bureaucratic monotony is shattered by an encounter with the advanced consumer goods he has long been deprived of. Aided by the cynical and malicious advice of an unlikely mentor, Yang Wei embarks on a journey of greed, corruption, and murder that takes him to the diseased underbelly of Chinese society. 

Will Yang Wei achieve his…


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