100 books like Whispers and Moans

By Yeeshan Yang,

Here are 100 books that Whispers and Moans fans have personally recommended if you like Whispers and Moans. 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 The World of Suzie Wong

Tom Carter Author Of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

From my list on Chinese prostitution and vice.

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; my anthology Unsavory Elements was intended as a well-meaning tribute to the expatriate experience, however my own essay – a bawdy account of a visit to a rural brothel – was understandably demonized. The following five books expand on that illicit theme.

Tom's book list on Chinese prostitution and vice

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

This story is so sweet and funny, I must have read it a dozen times since first arriving in China. That a Western male writer conceived a female Chinese character as charming and relatable as Suzie without ever straying into offensive farce really says something about the author, Richard Mason’s, craft. His prose is old-school eloquent, and deftly includes the smallest details that bring Suzie, a naughty yet affectionate hooker with a big heart, and her 1950s Hong Kong brothel settings, to vivid life. If I had only five desert-island books, The World of Suzie Wong would be one of them.

By Richard Mason,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The World of Suzie Wong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Penguin Books reintroduces the timeless story of the love affair between a British artist and a Chinese prostitute.

Robert is t he only resident of the Nam Kok hotel not renting his room by the hour when he meets Suzie at the bar. She becomes his muse and they fall in love. But even in Hong Kong, where many white expatriates have Chinese mistresses, their romance could jeopardize the things they each hold dear. Set in the mid-1950s, The World of Suzie Wong is a beautifully written time capsule of a novel. First published more than fifty years ago, it…


Book cover of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

Tom Carter Author Of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

From my list on Chinese prostitution and vice.

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; my anthology Unsavory Elements was intended as a well-meaning tribute to the expatriate experience, however my own essay – a bawdy account of a visit to a rural brothel – was understandably demonized. The following five books expand on that illicit theme.

Tom's book list on Chinese prostitution and vice

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Starting out as a serial in an 1890s Shanghainese magazine, yet remaining unpublished until 2005 following the discovery of its English translation among the belongings of the late Eileen Chang, The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai is an unparalleled historical classic set in the pleasure quarters of the Qing Dynasty. Unlike the hyper-erotic writings of Li Yu and Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng, the author, Bangqing Han, opted for a tempered realism unique for its period. Clocking in at 600 pages, and densely layered with multiple character arcs that are a bit difficult to keep track of, Sing-Song Girls may require more than one reading.

By Bangqing Han,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Desire, virtue, courtesans (also known as sing-song girls), and the denizens of Shanghai's pleasure quarters are just some of the elements that constitute Han Bangqing's extraordinary novel of late imperial China. Han's richly textured, panoramic view of late-nineteenth-century Shanghai follows a range of characters from beautiful sing-song girls to lower-class prostitutes and from men in positions of social authority to criminals and ambitious young men recently arrived from the country. Considered one of the greatest works of Chinese fiction, The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai is now available for the first time in English. Neither sentimental nor sensationalistic in its portrayal…


Book cover of Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China

Tom Carter Author Of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China

From my list on Chinese prostitution and vice.

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; my anthology Unsavory Elements was intended as a well-meaning tribute to the expatriate experience, however my own essay – a bawdy account of a visit to a rural brothel – was understandably demonized. The following five books expand on that illicit theme.

Tom's book list on Chinese prostitution and vice

Tom Carter Why did Tom love this book?

Whilst studying in the U.S. in the early-2000s, Tiantian Zheng decided to return to her home city of Dalian, in northeast China, to embed herself for over two years with sex workers at local karaoke parlors. There, she witnessed, and at times personally endured, all manner of customer abuse, police crackdowns, government corruption, and catty relationships between hostesses, while somehow managing to keep copious secret notes for her ethnographic fieldwork (which eventually became Red Lights). It is an eye-opening but purely academic text, not a mass-market page-turner, which will primarily be of interest only to those of us researching socioeconomic conditions in China.

By Tiantian Zheng,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In China today, sex work cannot be untangled from the phenomenon of rural-urban migration, the entertainment industry, and state power. In Red Lights, Tiantian Zheng highlights the urban karaoke bar as the locus at which these three factors intersect and provides a rich account of the lives of karaoke hostesses-a career whose name disguises the sex work and minimizes the surprising influence these women often have as power brokers.

Zheng embarked on two years of intensely embedded ethnographic fieldwork in her birthplace, Dalian, a large northeastern Chinese seaport of over six million people. During this time, Zheng lived and worked…


Book cover of Northern Girls: Life Goes On

Margaret Hillenbrand Author Of On the Edge: Feeling Precarious in China

From my list on the cultural lives of China’s migrant workers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of Chinese studies, and I’m especially interested in what the close study of culture can reveal about aspects of contemporary Chinese life that are usually dominated by the perspectives of historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists. I’m fascinated not so much by how cultural practices reflect social change but by how they sometimes make it happen, particularly in societies where overt political action is blocked. As my book picks show, I’m intrigued by the inventiveness and drive of people who create culture, often new forms of culture, under conditions of oppression, exploitation, and duress.

Margaret's book list on the cultural lives of China’s migrant workers

Margaret Hillenbrand Why did Margaret love this book?

I really enjoyed this bracing and saucy novel as a cheery counterpoint to the many much bleaker artistic works about migrant life. It charts the life and times of the young women who journeyed to the economic heartlands of South China in search of work during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The protagonist is Xiaohong, a young woman so mesmerizingly voluptuous that everyone in the novel, from its narrator down to the most incidental character, is hopelessly distracted by her bosom. At times, I did find this metaphor for personal capital in a precarious era a bit overblown.

But as Xiaohong moves from job to job – hair salon, toy factory, hotel, hospital – I realized that the fixation with her body is a way of marking both her vulnerability and her resilience as a woman on the move, if not necessarily on the up, in a society that has…

By Sheng Keyi,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Qian Xiaohong is born in a sleepy Hunan village, where the new China rush toward development is a distant rumor. A buxom, naïve 16-year-old, she joins the mass migration to the boomtown of Shenzhen where she navigates dangerous encounters with ruthless bosses, jealous wives, sympathetic hookers and corrupt policemen. Moving through a grinding succession of dead end jobs, Xiaohong finds solace in her close ties with her fellow "northern girls," who quickly learn to rely on each other for humor and the enjoyment of life's simple pleasures. This coming-of-age novel explores the inner lives of a generation of young, rural…


Book cover of Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong

Stephen Vines Author Of Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World's Largest Dictatorship

From my list on Hong Kong and China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to Hong Kong as a journalist in 1987, expecting to stay a few years and then move on to the next story. But the former British colony quickly got its teeth into me, not least because I was there during the tumultuous years of transition to Chinese rule. I am always in the market to understand more about this wonderful place, which I left reluctantly in 2021 in fear that the fast-bellowing crackdown on freedom of speech was coming my way. Departure has, if anything, given me a greater appetite for reading more about Hong Kong and China. I hope these books will explain why this is so.

Stephen's book list on Hong Kong and China

Stephen Vines Why did Stephen love this book?

Louisa Lim has a deep knowledge of Hong Kong. In this book, she uses her considerable journalistic skills to reflect the voices of the people involved in the 2019/20 protest movement.

She also examines the profound cultural changes that have taken place in Hong Kong, offering real insight from a side view.

By Louisa Lim,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

An award-winning journalist and longtime Hong Konger indelibly captures the place, its people, and the untold history they are claiming, just as it is being erased.

The story of Hong Kong has long been dominated by competing myths: to Britain, a “barren rock” with no appreciable history; to China, a part of Chinese soil from time immemorial, at last returned to the ancestral fold. For decades, Hong Kong’s history was simply not taught, especially to Hong Kongers, obscuring its origins as a place of refuge and rebellion. When protests erupted in…


Book cover of Modern China: a Guide to a Century of Change

Stephen Vines Author Of Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World's Largest Dictatorship

From my list on Hong Kong and China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to Hong Kong as a journalist in 1987, expecting to stay a few years and then move on to the next story. But the former British colony quickly got its teeth into me, not least because I was there during the tumultuous years of transition to Chinese rule. I am always in the market to understand more about this wonderful place, which I left reluctantly in 2021 in fear that the fast-bellowing crackdown on freedom of speech was coming my way. Departure has, if anything, given me a greater appetite for reading more about Hong Kong and China. I hope these books will explain why this is so.

Stephen's book list on Hong Kong and China

Stephen Vines Why did Stephen love this book?

This is a monumental work; you could describe it as a mini encyclopedia covering a vast swathe of information about post-revolutionary China. 

First published in 2000, it needs updating, but I always have it to hand because it is so well-written and informative. Hutchings is a distinguished journalist with a historian’s mind, so in each of the pithy entries, he skillfully brings the subjects he covers alive.

By Graham Hutchings,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the new millennium all eyes are on China, which many believe has the potential in the near future to rise to world prominence as a political leader and an economic powerhouse. Yet several aspects of Chinese society remain an obstacle to internal growth and of deep concern to the outside world.

In Modern China Graham Hutchings offers a timely and useful reference guide to the people, places, ideas, and events crucial to an understanding of this rising power. The focus is on society and politics and their impact on both China and the world. After an introduction that discusses…


Book cover of For The Love Of Hong Kong: A Memoir From My City Under Siege

Steve Tsang Author Of A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997

From my list on Hong Kong’s history and politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born in colonial Hong Kong, and my teenage rebellion was anti-colonialism. So I went on a journey to rediscover ‘mother China’ by reading and visiting the Mainland. What I saw and learned first-hand contradicted what I had read of China, primarily Communist Party propaganda. The realization that colonial Hong Kong treated its people so much better than in socialist China made me think, and started my interest in researching the history of Hong Kong. A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997 is the result, and based on years of research into the evolution of Hong Kong’s people, its British colonial rulers, as well as China’s policies towards Hong Kong.

Steve's book list on Hong Kong’s history and politics

Steve Tsang Why did Steve love this book?

This is a short and very personal account by a young journalist born and brought up in Hong Kong.  As her parents are academics who had also played activist roles in Hong Kong, Hana got to know some of Hong Kong’s democracy activists and fighters from a very young age. She writes with passion about why the young people of Hong Kong fight for democracy in Chinese Hong Kong, where the prospect of success was very dim, if not non-existent. If you are interested in how Hong Kong’s young people think about democracy, this is a good starting point.

By Hana Meihan Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For The Love Of Hong Kong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journalist Hana Meihan Davis comes from a long line of democracy activists in Hong Kong. Today, they are either in exile or facing arrest.

Hong Kong, once a bastion of liberty and free speech, is now under the control of a repressive Chinese regime determined to silence dissent. In this searing, deeply personal memoir, Davis takes readers into the heart of her city that has come under siege -- and tells the astounding stories of the brave individuals who are resisting tyranny in a life-or-death struggle for freedom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hana Meihan Davis is a journalist and aspiring architect…


Book cover of The Age of Water

Joe Kilgore Author Of Misfortune’s Wake

From my list on expat adventures.

Why am I passionate about this?

In a previous career, I traveled extensively to many parts of the world. I always found new cultures, old traditions, strange languages, and exotic environments fascinating. Perhaps even more fascinating, were the expats I found who had traded in their home country for an existence far from where they were born and different from how they were reared. In many instances, I’ve attempted to incorporate—in Heinlein’s words—this stranger in a strange land motif in my work. It always seems to heighten my interest. I hope the reader’s as well. 

Joe's book list on expat adventures

Joe Kilgore Why did Joe love this book?

This novel brings readers up close and personal with Hong Kong. Clarke is a young Englishman doing a banking stint in the fabled city. He lives a relatively sedate existence in his corporately antiseptic neighborhood. But one day he decides to get off his beaten path and winds up having his life changed dramatically. He becomes enamored with a shantytown prostitute, embroiled in the geopolitical struggle with Mainland China, and involved in a potential swindle of international proportions. In addition to spinning an interesting tale, Craft is also able to weave in the ticking time bomb of environmental hazards that plague the area without pious preaching and totally within the confines of the story he’s telling. 

By Sean Craft,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Rivers had become toxic and the ocean shore is a sea of plastic: there's money to be made. But for Philip Clarke, handsome, clever, and decidedly available, that world seemed a distraction from an altogether different one, where the possibilities of pleasure overwrote the machinery of commerce.

Newly arrived in Hong Kong, his island world lay somewhere between the looming shadow of China, and its strange double downtown, where bankers and brokers breathed the same crowded air as a new breed of political activists. In his mind, he was thankfully immune from both.

But the tranquillity of his island home…


Book cover of The Impossible City

Stephen Vines Author Of Defying the Dragon: Hong Kong and the World's Largest Dictatorship

From my list on Hong Kong and China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I came to Hong Kong as a journalist in 1987, expecting to stay a few years and then move on to the next story. But the former British colony quickly got its teeth into me, not least because I was there during the tumultuous years of transition to Chinese rule. I am always in the market to understand more about this wonderful place, which I left reluctantly in 2021 in fear that the fast-bellowing crackdown on freedom of speech was coming my way. Departure has, if anything, given me a greater appetite for reading more about Hong Kong and China. I hope these books will explain why this is so.

Stephen's book list on Hong Kong and China

Stephen Vines Why did Stephen love this book?

In many ways this is the quintessential Hong Kong book because its very style and approach is, as the title says, somewhat impossible, mixing the intensely personal with the political, closely observed reflections and a large collection of unique Hong Kong voices.

Written during and after the 2019/20 protests, Cheung throws her net wide to give the reader an intimate picture of the real Hong Kong, an exasperating and wonderful place. She is the youngest of the authors I have recommended and, therefore, closer to the generation who gave rise to the protests. People often speak of the unique Hong Kong spirit in Hong Kong, and this book gives profound insight into what that means.

By Karen Cheung,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A boldly rendered—and deeply intimate—account of Hong Kong today, from a resilient young woman whose stories explore what it means to survive in a city teeming with broken promises.

“[A] pulsing debut . . . about what it means to find your place in a city as it vanishes before your eyes.”—The New York Times Book Review

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The Washington Post

Hong Kong is known as a place of extremes: a former colony of the United Kingdom that now exists at the margins of an ascendant China; a city rocked by mass protests,…


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