The best books about China 📚

Browse the best books on China as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945

Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945

By Rana Mitter,

Why this book?

For many years, American views of the China’s role in World War II were strongly influenced by Barbara Tuchman’s best-selling, Stilwell and the American Experience in China published in 1971. Tuchman painted China’s war effort as brave but costly and ineffective thanks to the incompetence and corruption of Chiang Kai Shek. Portrayed as a kind of Chinese George Washington in the U.S. media, Tuchman saw Chiang as being in fact, far less interested in defeating the Japanese than in ensuring that his regime survived the war in a position to vanquish its domestic rivals, especially Mao Zedong’s Communists 

In contrast,…

From the list:

The best books to understand the Asia Pacific War from 1937-1945

Book cover of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze

Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze

By Peter Harmsen,

Why this book?

This was a major battle that happened in 1937, right before the Rape of Nanking. After the fall of Shanghai, the Japanese army would march toward, Nanking (Nanjing), the capital of China then. Although it was front page news throughout much of the world then, few people other than historians know it today. It is no hyperbole to call the battle Stalingrad on the Yangtze. The book reads like an engrossing historical novel.

From the list:

The best books about the Pacific Theater in WW2

Book cover of Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism

Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism

By Edgar Snow,

Why this book?

This was a bestseller when it was first published in 1937, when the War of Resistance against Japan (essentially WWII in the Pacific) was on the cusp of going all out. It was a must read for anyone back then who wanted to know what was going on in the Far East and it is still a must read for anyone today who wants to understand China.

From the list:

The best books about the Pacific Theater in WW2

Book cover of Becoming Enlightened

Becoming Enlightened

By Dalai Lama XIV,

Why this book?

This is the longest book on the list and the one I have read most recently. I keep coming back to this book again and again for insights and inspiration. The ageless wisdom of the Dalai Lama comes alive in a book that is not only informative but is actionable. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism this gem not only is a deep dive into the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism but it goes into the theme of Enlightenment in a way that I have never found elsewhere.


This book is filled with insights that reveal so much…

From the list:

The best brief books on the art of living and dying

Book cover of The Message

The Message

By Mai Jia,

Why this book?

The Message is a novel about five codebreakers and one traitor. Set in China during World War II when the Chinese resistance challenged the Japanese backed puppet government, this is a complex counterintelligence novel, written by a Chinese storyteller, who is no stranger to the Chinese intelligence services. By telling the same story from two different perspectives, Mai Jia, as a colleague recently suggested, intentionally problematized the truth because both versions were plausible. I recommend this book because it provides insight into the multilayered intelligence story of wartime China, it is one of the few books on this topic, and…

From the list:

The best books on World War II intelligence history

Book cover of Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China

By Fuchsia Dunlop,

Why this book?

In China there’s an expression that roughly translates, “It’s not a meal without alcohol.” The converse is equally true: Chinese alcohol yearns to be paired with food. This list would thus be incomplete without a book that seriously delves into Chinese food culture. And in many ways, my own journey into Chinese spirits was an unintentional compliment to Dunlop’s earlier book. We both learned from local experts, followed our respective passions around China, and spent the bulk of our time in the idyllic Sichuanese capital of Chengdu. I especially appreciate Dunlop’s willingness to explore uncomfortable cultural dissonances, and the compelling…
From the list:

The best books on Chinese alcohol and drinking culture

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