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

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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

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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

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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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Book cover of The Banquet Bug

The Banquet Bug

By Geling Yan

Why this book?

Released in my native Britain as The Uninvited, Yan’s novel offers an unexpected angle on Chinese food by presenting the banquet as the place in China where alliances are forged, deals are done, and palms are greased. Her hero is a member of the Beijing underclass who somehow finds himself gate-crashing big society feasts. Pretending to be a journalist ready to be “entertained”, he discovers food he never dreamed of, but also comes to develop a sense of social responsibility. He starts to inhabit the part he is playing, and becomes not an uninvited guest, but a crusader on the…

From the list:

The best books on Chinese food

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Book cover of Slippery Noodles

Slippery Noodles

By Hsiang Ju Lin

Why this book?

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.

From the list:

The best books on Chinese food

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