The best books about China

150 authors have picked their favorite books about China and why they recommend each book.

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Forgotten Ally

By Rana Mitter,

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

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, Mittar’s focus is not on policy squabbles or specific military issues but on the overall impact of the war on China and its people. He highlights that country’s remarkable achievement, not in winning battles but in surviving the Japanese onslaught for eight long years despite the early loss of almost…


Who am I?

I am Emeritus Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University. Although I trained at Yale to be a college teacher, I spent most of the first twenty years of my career working in and with the military. I served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam and later as a reservist on active duty during the Grenada –Lebanon Operations in the early 1980s and during the Gulf War.. As a civilian, I worked at the U.S. Army Center of Military History and subsequently as Director of Naval History and of the Naval History and Heritage Command. I  joined George Washington University in 1990. I am the author of six books about military history, two of which, Eagle Against The Sun: The American War With Japan and In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia are directly about the Asia- Pacific War.   


I wrote...

In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

By Ronald Spector,

Book cover of In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia

What is my book about?

On the day of Japan’s surrender, General Douglas MacArthur declared in a radio address “ today freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the March.” The question, after Japan’s “Greater East Asia“ crashed in flames was, whose freedom? And, the freedom to do what In the burnt-out ruins of the old empires of the British, the Dutch, the French, and the Japanese?

Everything was up for grabs and new wars soon broke out all through the territories just “liberated” from the Axis. In Indochina and Indonesia Nationalists fought bloody battles against the British Commonwealth forces that had supposedly come to “liberate” them. In China there were two claimants for power,  Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Zedung; in two Korea two as well, Kim Il Sung and Syngmun Rhee. The thousands of Japanese soldiers still in Asia fought for all sides. Indeed, it might appear to some observers that World War II never ended, everybody just switched sides. In the Ruins of Empire was a New York Times Book Review “Editor”s Choice” book.

Shanghai 1937

By Peter Harmsen,

Book cover of Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze

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.


Who am I?

A native of Nanjing (Nanking), China, Shouhua Qi has published extensively in both the United States and China on academic as well as transcultural issues. He is the author of more than twenty books, including fiction, nonfiction, literary translation, and scholarly monographs. Qi’s first novel, Purple Mountain, is about the Rape of Nanking, a horrendous tragic event that happened in his hometown in the winter of 1937-08. A screenplay Qi co-wrote based on the novel has been optioned for production.


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Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

By Shouhua Qi,

Book cover of Purple Mountain: A Story of the Rape of Nanking

What is my book about?

An unprecedented historical novel, Purple Mountain presents a riveting, profoundly intimate portrait of Nanjing and its people during the first six days after its fall to the Japanese army. Within the city, walls are men and women, young and old, soldiers and civilians, Chinese and a dozen foreigners, all caught up in the whirling, turbulent fires of history.

Becoming Enlightened

By Dalai Lama XIV,

Book cover of Becoming Enlightened

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 about the Dalai Lama and the ancient philosophy that governs himself and his people. There is something profound here to be discovered for anyone thinking deeply about life, death, Buddhism, and enlightenment.


Who am I?

Loren Mayshark is the author of three non-fiction books. His first book Death: An Exploration won the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award in the category of Death & Dying and was selected as the honorable mention recipient for the book of the year in the 2016 Foreword INDIES Awards in the category of Grief/Grieving (Adult Nonfiction). Mayshark has a BA in World History with a minor in World Religion from Manhattanville College.


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Death: An Exploration: Learning To Embrace Life's Most Feared Mystery

By Loren Mayshark,

Book cover of Death: An Exploration: Learning To Embrace Life's Most Feared Mystery

What is my book about?

This book will help anyone who is interested in learning more about death, coping with a loss, approaching death, or explaining death to a child. It is an exploratory journey that includes multiple viewpoints, including Steve Jobs’s embrace of his death, Ray Kurzweil’s striving for immortality, and Joseph Campbell’s view of death as the “ornament of life.” The book looks at death from the perspectives of atheists, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, among many others. Interestingly, it considers the often unexplored aspects such as the curious relationship between death and ayahuasca. It is a guidebook, offering insights and comfort on a topic that many find frightening or macabre.

The Message

By Mai Jia,

Book cover of The Message

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 it was written in China and published outside of the country with permission from the government.


Who am I?

I am a professor at Mississippi State University and a historian of World War II in general and, more specifically, of WWII intelligence history. My interest stems from a research topic that my Ph.D. advisor recommended and that became the subject of my dissertation – Operation Fortitude, which was the deception plan that provided cover for the Normandy Invasion. While my own research interests are focused on the intelligence history of the Normandy invasion, I am increasingly drawn to intelligence history or novels that showcase the people, technologies, and other theaters of war.


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Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

By Mary Kathryn Barbier,

Book cover of Spies, Lies, and Citizenship: The Hunt for Nazi Criminals

What is my book about?

In the 1970s news broke that former Nazis had escaped prosecution and were living the good life in the United States. Outrage swept the nation, and the public outcry put extreme pressure on the U.S. government to investigate these claims and to deport offenders. The subsequent creation of the Office of Special Investigations marked the official beginning of Nazi-hunting in the United States, but it was far from the end.

Drawing from this report as well as other sources, Spies, Lies, and Citizenship exposes scandalous new information about infamous Nazi perpetrators, including Andrija Artukovic, Klaus Barbie, and Arthur Rudolph, who were sheltered and protected in the United States and beyond, and the ongoing attempts to bring the remaining Nazis, such as Josef Mengele, to justice.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper

By Fuchsia Dunlop,

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

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 and poignant case she makes for overcoming them.

Who am I?

Derek Sandhaus is an award-winning American author of several books on Chinese history and culture. He worked as an editor, publisher, and tour guide in Shanghai, then moved to Chengdu and turned to drink. In 2018 he co-founded Ming River Sichuan Baijiu with China’s oldest distillery, and now spends most of his time talking about Chinese alcohol to anyone who will listen. He currently lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and a very well-traveled dog.


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Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

By Derek Sandhaus,

Book cover of Drunk in China: Baijiu and the World's Oldest Drinking Culture

What is my book about?

China is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of liquor, with alcohol infusing all aspects of its culture, from religion and literature to business and warfare. Yet to the outside world, China’s most famous spirit, baijiu, remains a mystery. This is about to change, as baijiu is now being served in cocktail bars beyond its borders.

Drunk in China follows Derek Sandhaus’s journey of discovery into the world’s oldest drinking culture. He travels throughout the country and around the globe to meet with distillers, brewers, snake-oil salesmen, archaeologists, and ordinary drinkers. He examines the many ways in which alcohol has shaped Chinese society and its rituals. Along the way, he uncovers a tradition spanning more than nine thousand years and explores how recent economic and political developments have conspired to push Chinese alcohol beyond the nation’s borders for the first time. As Chinese society becomes increasingly international, its drinking culture must also adapt to the times. Can the West also adapt and clink glasses with China? 

Slippery Noodles

By Hsiang Ju Lin,

Book cover of Slippery Noodles

Thick with Chinese-language citations, and seasoned heavily with recipes from the pages of history, Lin’s book is a real insider’s view of how it feels not only to taste Chinese food, but live inside the world it creates. She retells famous stories from the history of food in China, and quotes extensively from manuals that are otherwise unavailable to English-speaking readers. A wonderful buffet of a book, that you can pick at and graze upon for days.


Who am I?

Jonathan Clements is a historian specialising in East Asia, and the author of A Brief History of China, The Art of War: A New Translation, and Confucius: A Biography. Several of his books have been translated and published in Chinese. He has presented three seasons of Route Awakening (National Geographic), an award-winning TV series about icons of Chinese culture. From 2013-2019, he was a visiting professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.


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The Emperor's Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals

By Jonathan Clements,

Book cover of The Emperor's Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals

What is my book about?

Jonathan Clements tracks the diverse history of China through its food and drink, from the sacrificial cauldrons of the Bronze Age to the contending styles of a modern Chinatown. He outlines how changes in politics, technology, and ingredients have altered “Chinese” food over the centuries, as the nation copes with new peoples, crops, and climate conditions.

Clements focuses on the personalities connected to Chinese food – the drunken priest-kings of the Shang dynasty; the Tang noblewomen experimenting with tea and lychees; the stand-off between Mongols and Muslims over halal meat. Later chapters carry the impact of Chinese food out of its homeland and around the world, as migrant communities cater to local tastes and encounter new challenges. “Chinese” food is different, yet again, depending on if you eat it in small-town Canada, a Mumbai mall, or a Singapore street market.

How to Cook and Eat in Chinese

By Buwei Yang Chao,

Book cover of How to Cook and Eat in Chinese

First published in 1945, and reissued in many later editions, Chao’s book was immensely influential on the spread of American food in China. An academic and medical professional who fell into Chinese food-advocacy by accident, she presents a series of everyday recipes, “things for folk like you and me” that were nevertheless impossibly exotic at the time she was writing. Her book is a fascinating time capsule of attitudes and assumptions in the era before America could boast of a Chinese restaurant in every suburb, but also a no-nonsense cookbook for the beginner.


Who am I?

Jonathan Clements is a historian specialising in East Asia, and the author of A Brief History of China, The Art of War: A New Translation, and Confucius: A Biography. Several of his books have been translated and published in Chinese. He has presented three seasons of Route Awakening (National Geographic), an award-winning TV series about icons of Chinese culture. From 2013-2019, he was a visiting professor at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China.


I wrote...

The Emperor's Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals

By Jonathan Clements,

Book cover of The Emperor's Feast: A History of China in Twelve Meals

What is my book about?

Jonathan Clements tracks the diverse history of China through its food and drink, from the sacrificial cauldrons of the Bronze Age to the contending styles of a modern Chinatown. He outlines how changes in politics, technology, and ingredients have altered “Chinese” food over the centuries, as the nation copes with new peoples, crops, and climate conditions.

Clements focuses on the personalities connected to Chinese food – the drunken priest-kings of the Shang dynasty; the Tang noblewomen experimenting with tea and lychees; the stand-off between Mongols and Muslims over halal meat. Later chapters carry the impact of Chinese food out of its homeland and around the world, as migrant communities cater to local tastes and encounter new challenges. “Chinese” food is different, yet again, depending on if you eat it in small-town Canada, a Mumbai mall, or a Singapore street market.

The Third Eye

By T. Lobsang Rampa,

Book cover of The Third Eye

A long time ago, I used to own part of a Jazz club. There was a jazz guitar player named Sunny Greenwich and he turned me onto this book. It is a compelling story of an English man who was a reincarnated Tibetan lama. This book changed my life and it gave me a vision of who we really are, why we are, and how we are. And, how we are all connected to our spiritual selves. When our bodies die they go back to their spiritual selves, and we are just out here to gain experience. This book sent me to some good places and helped open my eyes so I could see the next book on my path.


Who am I?

Tommy Chong is a Canadian-American actor, writer, director, musician, cannabis rights activist, and comedian. He is known for the Cheech and Chong comedy albums and movies along with many other roles. He is a poet and a philosopher and these are his picks for the books that mark his spiritual journey through life.


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The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint

By Tommy Chong,

Book cover of The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint

What is my book about?

Beginning with Tommy's experiences growing up in Canada in the forties and fifties as a mixed-race kid and going on to become a comedy legend, The I Chong is at once a memoir, a spiritual exploration of his time in prison, and a political indictment of the eroding civil liberties in post-9/11 American society. He tells the unbelievable story of his trip down the rabbit hole of America's war on drugs and of his experiences in the federal prison system, and he offers up timely observations on combating the conservative political forces at work in this country. Introspective, inspiring, and incendiary, The I Chong is a unique chronicle of one man's life and how his humorous and spiritual point of view saved him during his wrongful incarceration at the hands of an administration without boundaries.

The Life of Milarepa

By Lobsang P. Lhalungpa, Unknown,

Book cover of The Life of Milarepa: A New Translation from the Tibetan

For me personally, this book changed my life more than any other, opening me up to the inspiring possibility that a deeply imperfect person could become enlightened through sincere and mighty efforts. This work is one of the world's great stories. The name Milarepa has inspired people for a millenium throughout Central Asia, being almost synonymous with being a yogi and with redemption through heartfelt efforts. It includes Milarepa's life story and some of the many poems which he spontaneously composed to educate and enlighten others as he wandered through the Himalayas.


Who am I?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

I wrote...

The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

By Lorne Ladner,

Book cover of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

What is my book about?

Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But by seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.

Clinical psychologist and Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Dr. Lorne Ladner rescues compassion from this marginalized view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Ladner provides a clear explanation of what healthy compassion is and why it is so essential to our lives. Combining the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology, The Lost Art of Compassion presents clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living.

Enlightened Beings

By Jan Willis,

Book cover of Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition

This book does a remarkable job of exploring the nature of spiritual biography itself. It compares and contrasts Western hagiographical traditions with the unique ways that Tibetans (and other Central Asians) use outer, inner, and secret biographies not only to share the stories of great Buddhist masters but also to share history, inspiration, and implicit teachings to apply to one's own practice of the path. Willis explores these themes in complex ways and also provides translations of the life stories of 6 Tibetan lamas of the Ganden tradition who combined profound scholarly and deep yogic pursuits in unique ways.

Who am I?

I'm a clinical psychologist who also writes about and teaches Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and meditation. I've had the great good fortune to be closely mentored by a number of elder Tibetan teachers who were educated in old Tibet.  Over the decades, when seeking wisdom and compassion in the midst of life's challenges, I've repeatedly found inspiration, education, solace, and guidance along my own path in the enlightened and enlightening life stories of a number of the great scholar/yogis of the Himalayan Buddhist traditions. 

I wrote...

The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

By Lorne Ladner,

Book cover of The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

What is my book about?

Compassion is often seen as a distant, altruistic ideal cultivated by saints, or as an unrealistic response of the naively kind-hearted. But by seeing compassion in this way, we lose out on experiencing the transformative potential of one of our most neglected inner resources.

Clinical psychologist and Tibetan Buddhist practitioner Dr. Lorne Ladner rescues compassion from this marginalized view, showing how its practical application in our life can be a powerful force in achieving happiness. Ladner provides a clear explanation of what healthy compassion is and why it is so essential to our lives. Combining the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychology, The Lost Art of Compassion presents clear, effective practices for cultivating compassion in daily living.

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