100 books like Shanghai Grand

By Taras Grescoe,

Here are 100 books that Shanghai Grand fans have personally recommended if you like Shanghai Grand. 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 Sea of Poppies

Kendall A. Johnson Author Of The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade

From my list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of literature, literary history, and American Studies based at the University of Hong Kong where I landed thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. Prior to this I was very happily in Philadelphia, researching authors and artists who alluded to lucrative trade in the Far East when rendering scenes of the Far West premised on the promotion or the protest of continental Manifest Destiny. Archival materials at the Library Company and Swarthmore College inspired me to visit the places about which I was writing. Travelling to places that feature in my scholarly projects keeps me busy studying languages and humbly amazed by the enduring cultural varieties of our shared humanity.

Kendall's book list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations

Kendall A. Johnson Why did Kendall love this book?

Sea of Poppies is the first of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy—an epic of global opium trade that features Zachary Reid, a mixed-race American whose story unfolds as it connects Baltimore to Bengal to Canton across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  

Filled with heartbreak and humor the trilogy invokes Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as Ghosh revives the primary sources of the Old China Trade and brings them into refreshing literary life. 

Ghosh’s novel complements another (very different) gem of historically based literary fiction featuring American involvement in opium smuggling and the ensuing First Opium War: Timothy Mo’s Insular Possession

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Sea of Poppies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the heart of this epic saga, set just before the Opium Wars, is an old slaving-ship, The Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean, its crew a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a truly diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt Raja to a widowed villager, from an evangelical English opium trader to a mulatto American freedman. As their old family ties are washed away they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers. An…


Book cover of The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784-1844

Kendall A. Johnson Author Of The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade

From my list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of literature, literary history, and American Studies based at the University of Hong Kong where I landed thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. Prior to this I was very happily in Philadelphia, researching authors and artists who alluded to lucrative trade in the Far East when rendering scenes of the Far West premised on the promotion or the protest of continental Manifest Destiny. Archival materials at the Library Company and Swarthmore College inspired me to visit the places about which I was writing. Travelling to places that feature in my scholarly projects keeps me busy studying languages and humbly amazed by the enduring cultural varieties of our shared humanity.

Kendall's book list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations

Kendall A. Johnson Why did Kendall love this book?

This is the authoritative historical account of heritage wealth related to American participation in the Old China Trade (before and after the First Opium War). 

Downs details the kinship alliances of US family firms over a century and describes the logistics of trade as well as the historical archives related to it.

In a canon of authoritative scholarship on early US trade with China, The Golden Ghetto stands next to the subsequent fine books by Jay Dolin, James Fichter, John Haddad, Dane Morrison, Dael Norwood, John Pomfret, and Dong Wang, and the scholarship addressing Qing-era trade regulation by Paul A. Van Dyke and John D. Wong.

By Jacques Downs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Before the opening of the treaty ports in the 1840s, Canton was the only Chinese port where foreign merchants were allowed to trade. The Golden Ghetto takes us into the world of one of this city’s most important foreign communities―the Americans―during the decades between the American Revolution of 1776 and the signing of the Sino-US Treaty of Wanghia in 1844. American merchants lived in isolation from Chinese society in sybaritic, albeit usually celibate luxury. Making use of exhaustive research, Downs provides an especially clear explanation of the Canton commercial setting generally and of the role of American merchants. Many of…


Book cover of Pacific Crossing: California Gold, Chinese Migration, and the Making of Hong Kong

Kendall A. Johnson Author Of The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade

From my list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of literature, literary history, and American Studies based at the University of Hong Kong where I landed thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. Prior to this I was very happily in Philadelphia, researching authors and artists who alluded to lucrative trade in the Far East when rendering scenes of the Far West premised on the promotion or the protest of continental Manifest Destiny. Archival materials at the Library Company and Swarthmore College inspired me to visit the places about which I was writing. Travelling to places that feature in my scholarly projects keeps me busy studying languages and humbly amazed by the enduring cultural varieties of our shared humanity.

Kendall's book list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations

Kendall A. Johnson Why did Kendall love this book?

The Opium Wars never reduced Chinese people to pathetic victimization. 

Sinn spotlights the agency of brokerage and the circulatory migration of Chinese laborers and merchants, from different regions within China, as they underwent passage to-and-fro the Pacific Ocean with the United States. 

This is also the story of Hong Kong’s rise as an influential hub of exchange with merchants brokering flows of capital and economic power beyond state control. 

In tracing circuits of travel and brokerage, Sinn animates various cultural senses of being Chinese, Hong Kong, and American, embracing legacies of familial adaptability and endurance. 

She conveys the diversity within Chinese-American communities while framing the Chinese diaspora in transnationally nuanced senses of home and family that defy simple categorization based on the strict legality of citizenship.

By Elizabeth Sinn,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the nineteenth century tens of thousands of Chinese men and women crossed the Pacific to work, trade, and settle in California. Drawn initially by the gold rush, they took with them skills and goods and a view of the world which, though still Chinese, was transformed by their long journeys back and forth. They in turn transformed Hong Kong, their main point of embarkation, from a struggling infant colony into a prosperous international port and the cultural center of a far-ranging Chinese diaspora. Making use of extensive research in archives around the world, Pacific Crossing charts the rise of…


Book cover of Everything in Style: Harriett Low's Macau

Kendall A. Johnson Author Of The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade

From my list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of literature, literary history, and American Studies based at the University of Hong Kong where I landed thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship in 2008. Prior to this I was very happily in Philadelphia, researching authors and artists who alluded to lucrative trade in the Far East when rendering scenes of the Far West premised on the promotion or the protest of continental Manifest Destiny. Archival materials at the Library Company and Swarthmore College inspired me to visit the places about which I was writing. Travelling to places that feature in my scholarly projects keeps me busy studying languages and humbly amazed by the enduring cultural varieties of our shared humanity.

Kendall's book list on the fog of Opium Wars in US-China relations

Kendall A. Johnson Why did Kendall love this book?

Lamas’s work offers a deep dive into the life of the young American woman Harriett Low who lived in Macau from 1829 to 1833. 

Harriett accompanied her aunt and her uncle, who supervised trade of Russell & Company up the Pearl River in Canton. Although the Qing-era regulations forbade foreign (Western) women from traveling beyond Macau, Harriett broke this law. 

In Macao, she wrote about her daily life, of falling in love, and having the British painter George Chinnery render her portrait. Most importantly for readers today, she wrote about her life (and reading) in diary letters that she sent to her sister back in the US. 

Lamas engaging account draws on Arthur W. Hummel and Nan P. Hodges’s masterful publication of Low’s diaries. As Lamas notes, Harriett’s life after her residence in Macao was underwhelming. However, the Low family fortune echoed across the century. 

Harriett’s nephew Seth Low served…

By Rosemarie Lamas,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Macau in the 1820s and 1830s was the centre of life for foreigners trading with China through the only permitted gateway of Canton. To this European enclave on the China coast in 1829 came Harriett Low, a young American accompanying her aunt and uncle, a trader from Salem, Massachusetts. Throughout her five-year stay, she wrote a diary that both shows her lively personality and gives us a rich picture of life in Macau. Rosmarie Lamas focuses on that picture of Macau, embedding extracts from the diary into her text to create an interesting account of that place and its society.…


Book cover of The Last Kings of Shanghai: The Rival Jewish Dynasties That Helped Create Modern China

Claire Chao Author Of Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

From my list on China’s greatest city Shanghai.

Why am I passionate about this?

“Old Shanghai” is in my blood: though raised in Hong Kong, I was surrounded by all things Shanghai through my parents and their friends, who had grown up during Shanghai’s 1930s heyday. The classical culture … the modern glamour … the breathtaking scandals! Since childhood I’ve searched for connections to my heritage; this fascination led me, years later, to write Remembering Shanghai with my mother, by then in her eighties. Having immersed myself in Shanghai history and culture most of my life, I am passionate about intimate, authentic stories that are told against a rich historical backdrop—the kind that make reviewers say “you can’t make this up!”

Claire's book list on China’s greatest city Shanghai

Claire Chao Why did Claire love this book?

A great deal has been written about the Jewish refugees who flooded into Shanghai during World War II, but that’s not the case with the story of the wealthy Sephardic Jewish families who arrived in the early days of opium trading and built fabulous fortunes. In Last Kings of Shanghai, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jonathan Kaufman weaves the epic tale of the Sassoons and the Kadoories, stretching from Baghdad to Shanghai to London and Hong Kong. It’s a story of business acumen and political intrigue, of wartime survival and the choices that saw one family perpetuate its wealth and influence in China, and the other fade into history.

By Jonathan Kaufman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Last Kings of Shanghai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In vivid detail... examines the little-known history of two extraordinary dynasties."--The Boston Globe

"Not just a brilliant, well-researched, and highly readable book about China's past, it also reveals the contingencies and ironic twists of fate in China's modern history."--LA Review of Books

An epic, multigenerational story of two rival dynasties who flourished in Shanghai and Hong Kong as twentieth-century China surged into the modern era, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist

The Sassoons and the Kadoories stood astride Chinese business and politics for more than one hundred seventy-five years, profiting from the Opium Wars; surviving Japanese occupation; courting Chiang Kai-shek; and…


Book cover of The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams, and the Making of Modern China

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?

A brilliant account of the two Opium Wars showing how they have been remembered in particular ways in order to make modern political points. Lovell shows us how political operators on both sides used the question of the opium trade to further their own interests. It exposes the nasty business of imperialism but also takes down a lot of myths about the wars. The book allows us to see the conflicts both in terms of what happened at the time, and how views over those events changed over the following century and a half. She explores the international history of opium and how it became linked with racist representations of Chinese overseas and how this continues to affect relations between peoples and governments today.

By Julia Lovell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A gripping read as well as an important one.' Rana Mitter, Guardian

In October 1839, Britain entered the first Opium War with China. Its brutality notwithstanding, the conflict was also threaded with tragicomedy: with Victorian hypocrisy, bureaucratic fumblings, military missteps, political opportunism and collaboration. Yet over the past hundred and seventy years, this strange tale of misunderstanding, incompetence and compromise has become the founding episode of modern Chinese nationalism.

Starting from this first conflict, The Opium War explores how China's national myths mould its interactions with the outside world, how public memory is spun to serve the present, and how…


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 Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom Author Of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink

From my list on twentieth-century Shanghai.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been fascinated by history since I spent a year in Britain as a ten-year-old. I became hooked on novels set in ancient Greece and Rome and found it incredibly exotic to walk through old buildings and imagine the lives of the people who had walked through those same doors. In college, I began studying history in earnest and grew intrigued by China, especially Chinese cities during periods of upheaval and transformation. My first passion was Shanghai history, and I spent time there in the mid-1980s before the soaring Pudong skyscrapers that are now among its most iconic structures were built. I have since shifted my attention to Hong Kong, a city I had enjoyed visiting for decades but had not written about until after I completed my last book on Shanghai. My fascination with cities that are in China but enmeshed in global processes and are sites of protest has been a constant.

Jeffrey's book list on twentieth-century Shanghai

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Shanghai, which was once called the “Hollywood of Asia,” has always been a cinematic city par excellence, so a good way to describe the charms of this book is via movie terms. In one sense, it zooms in tightly on a specific day in the history of the city and what was happening in a single setting. It mixes close-ups of a horse race and some people who came to watch it, though, with wide-angle shots and flashbacks. The author, a skilled historian with deep knowledge of Chinese history and a stylish writer, moves effortlessly between Shanghai in the early 1940s as the Japanese military’s World War II era grip on the city and much of China was tightening and earlier points in its past. He also moves fluidly between the racecourse—a potent symbol, as during the height of the British imperial period, Britons would often build these to mark…

By James Carter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

12 November 1941: war and revolution are in the air. At the Shanghai Race Club, the elite prepare their best horses and most nimble jockeys for the annual Champions Day races. Across the city and amid tight security, others celebrated the birth of Sun Yat-Sen in a new centre which challenged European imperialism. Thousands more Shanghai residents attended the funeral of China's wealthiest woman. But the biggest crowd gathered at the track; no one knew it, but Champions Day heralded the end of European Shanghai. Through this snapshot of the day's events, the rich and complex history that led to…


Book cover of A Last Look: Western Architecture in Old Shanghai

Claire Chao Author Of Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

From my list on China’s greatest city Shanghai.

Why am I passionate about this?

“Old Shanghai” is in my blood: though raised in Hong Kong, I was surrounded by all things Shanghai through my parents and their friends, who had grown up during Shanghai’s 1930s heyday. The classical culture … the modern glamour … the breathtaking scandals! Since childhood I’ve searched for connections to my heritage; this fascination led me, years later, to write Remembering Shanghai with my mother, by then in her eighties. Having immersed myself in Shanghai history and culture most of my life, I am passionate about intimate, authentic stories that are told against a rich historical backdrop—the kind that make reviewers say “you can’t make this up!”

Claire's book list on China’s greatest city Shanghai

Claire Chao Why did Claire love this book?

Hard to imagine now, but when Tess Johnston arrived in Shanghai as an American diplomat in 1981, no one was researching or writing much about Old Shanghai. Fascinated by the city’s old Western buildings, she collaborated with Shanghainese photographer Deke Erh to piece together the stories behind the once-grand architecture. Photographed in the 1980s and ’90s, A Last Look provides a provocative visual history of Old Shanghai, accompanied by succinct text penned in Johnston’s personable style. This oeuvre is not only an appealing entrée into a lost era but has become a precious remembrance, as many of its subject buildings and neighborhoods have since been demolished. Although the book is out of print, it’s worth ordering a used copy.

By Tess Johnston,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Book by Johnston, Tess


Book cover of Shanghai Baby

Tom Carter Author Of China: Portrait of a People

From my list on naughty Chinese girls.

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. It was during this journey that I discovered the following five female writers, whose catty, carnal memoirs accompanied me like jealous mistresses vying for attention.

Tom's book list on naughty Chinese girls

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Like her or not, the reigning queen of the naughty girl subgenre of Chinese literature decidedly is Wei Hui, whose debut, Shanghai Baby, was a cultural phenomenon that resulted in public book burnings, an international media frenzy, dozens of imitators, and one so-bad-it’s-good movie adaptation starring Bai Ling. Not that Wei Hui is a particularly well-regarded writer – Shanghai Baby is basically a knockoff of shallow Western-style chick-lit, about a designer-brand-obsessed young woman who has an affair with a married foreigner – but in 1999 it was groundbreaking for kicking the publishing doors down for the post-1970s generation of Chinese writers.

By Wei Hui,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Publicly burned in China for its sensual nature and irreverent style, this novel is the semi-autobiographical story of Coco, a cafe waitress, who is full of enthusiasm and impatience for life. She meets a young man, Tian Tian, for whom she feels tenderness and love, but he is reclusive, impotent and an increasing user of drugs. Despite parental objections, Coco moves in with him, leaves her job and throws herself into writing.

Shortly afterwards she meets Mark, a married Westerner. The two are uncontrollably attracted and begin a highly charged, physical affair. Torn between her two lovers, and tormented by…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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