100 books like Raise the Red Lantern

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

Here are 100 books that Raise the Red Lantern fans have personally recommended if you like Raise the Red Lantern. 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 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 Empress Orchid

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?

A nobody-concubine rises to become Empress of China, making her way through the rituals and backstabbing of the imperial court. This is the closest to my own books and I loved the detail and the insights into the latter part of the Qing era, as well as the feeling of time running out for the imperial way of life. 

By Anchee Min,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To rescue her family from poverty and avoid marrying her slope-shouldered cousin, seventeen-year-old Orchid competes to be one of the Emperor's wives. When she is chosen as a lower-ranking concubine she enters the erotically charged and ritualised Forbidden City. But beneath its immaculate facade lie whispers of murders and ghosts, and the thousands of concubines will stoop to any lengths to bear the Emperor's son. Orchid trains herself in the art of pleasuring a man, bribes her way into the royal bed, and seduces the monarch, drawing the attention of dangerous foes. Little does she know that China will collapse…


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 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.

Why am I passionate about this?

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 Rickshaw Beijing: City People & Politics in the 1920s

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?

Another beautifully written book, this one about how Beijing residents of all backgrounds found their identities in a tumultuously changing environment and how they fought with and against each other for political agency. Readers see into the lives of policemen, rickshaw-pullers, tram conductors, and the middle classes. It reminds me of how history is made brick by individual brick.

By David Strand,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the 1920s, revolution, war, and imperialist aggression brought chaos to China. Many of the dramatic events associated with this upheaval took place in or near China's cities. Bound together by rail, telegraph, and a shared urban mentality, cities like Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing formed an arena in which the great issues of the day--the quest for social and civil peace, the defense of popular and national sovereignty, and the search for a distinctively modern Chinese society--were debated and fought over. People were drawn into this conflicts because they knew that the passage of armies, the marching of protesters, the…


Book cover of Inscribed Landscapes: Travel Writing from Imperial China

Yang Ye Author Of Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

From my list on understanding China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. I was brought up in the family of a Chinese poetry scholar. Arriving in the States for my graduate studies at Harvard in 1982, I have engaged myself in academia here ever since. Acutely aware of, and deeply fascinated by, the cultural similarities and differences of China and the West, I have continued my learning experience, in my thirty years of college teaching, often from direct exchanges with my students. The books on my list of recommendations include both required texts chosen for my courses, and those I want to share with what Virginia Woolf called the Common Reader.

Yang's book list on understanding China

Yang Ye Why did Yang love this book?

This is a singular anthology of pre-modern Chinese travel writing from the first century A.D. to the 19th century, copiously illustrated with paintings, portraits, maps, and drawings. It offers a unique resource for Western travelers to China and for students of Chinese art, culture, history, and literature.

By Richard E. Strassberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Alongside the scores of travel books about China written by foreign visitors, Chinese travelers' impressions of their own country rarely appear in translation. This anthology is the only comprehensive collection in English of Chinese travel writing from the first century A.D. through the nineteenth. Early examples of the genre describe sites important for their geography, history, and role in cultural mythology, but by the T'ang dynasty in the mid-eighth century certain historiographical and poetic discourses converged to form the 'travel account' (yu-chi) and later the 'travel diary' (jih-chi) as vehicles of personal expression and autobiography. These first-person narratives provide rich…


Book cover of The Golden Days

Why am I passionate about this?

To experience another's thoughts and emotions, one first has to feel them. Eyes, lips, tongue, and teeth are involved before the brain/heart can engage. Translation of poetry is the same. My mother has sung Chinese poetry to me since forever, and English poetry came alive for me through verse speaking. I studied and taught as I wrote for many years. I cannot say I find my way into every poem I come across, but the poems I translate are ones I know and love. That is why I am passionate about translation. For me, it is not a secondary experience but a primary, primal performance art!

Susan's book list on translated books that capture the magic of the original, making what’s unfamiliar, foreign or ancient, accessible

Susan Wan Dolling Why did Susan love this book?

I read this English translation before I even read the book in Chinese, even though Chinese readers in Hong Kong where I grew up all read it as teenagers or young adults. The popular title of the novel is Dream of the Red Chamber, in both English and its original Chinese, but I immediately agreed with Hawkes that The Story of the Stone, one among its many titles, is much more expressive and fitting.

The eighteenth-century aristocratic family is a hugely complex world we are introduced to, but Hawkes’ faithful, resourceful, and unpretentious translation makes getting to know the multitude of characters easy and unforgettable.

Even though it is set in eighteenth-century China, for a twentieth/twenty-first-century English reader like myself, the family dynamics, tragedy, and romance here are palpable thanks to Hawke’s understanding and translation.

By Cao Xueqin, David Hawkes (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors 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…


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.

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?

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 Confucianism in China: An Introduction

Stephen C. Angle Author Of Growing Moral: A Confucian Guide to Life

From my list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first time I ever had Chinese food was as a 20-year-old junior in college, on the first night of studying abroad for a semester in Nanjing, China. (Luckily, I liked it.) Confucianism was not in my upbringing, at least not explicitly or on purpose. I happened upon China as a freshman at Yale in the 1980s, immersed myself in the language, and went on to earn a PhD in Chinese philosophy. I have taught at Wesleyan University since 1994, and my favorite comment from students is that they find my classes among the most “relevant” things they take—even when we’re studying twelfth-century medieval Confucianism. 

Stephen's book list on how ancient Confucianism tells us to live well now

Stephen C. Angle Why did Stephen love this book?

Most books on the history of Confucianism are dry and concentrated on the earliest period, during and soon after Confucius lived. I’m not saying Confucius himself wasn’t important, but the greatness of Tony Swain’s book is that it manages to be both fascinating and engaging, even occasionally snarky, while also bringing the story of Confucianism all the way up to the twenty-first century. If you want to think about Confucianism as something important today, it helps to understand the evolving ways the tradition has been lived throughout the centuries. 

By Tony Swain,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This accessible history of Confucianism, or the 'Way of the Ru', emphasizes the religious dimensions of the tradition. It clearly explains the tradition's unique and subtle philosophical ideals as well as the 'arts of the Ru' whereby seemingly simple acts such as reading, sitting quietly, good manners, and attending to family and state responsibilities, became ways of ultimate transformation.

This book explains the origins of the Ru and documents their impact in imperial China, before providing extensive coverage of the modern era. Confucianism in China: An Introduction shows how the long history of the Ru is vital to comprehending China…


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