The best books about the Chinese people

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to Chinese people, and here are their favorite Chinese people books.
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What type of Chinese people book?


The Last Quarter of the Moon

By Chi Zijian, Bruce Humes (translator),

Book cover of The Last Quarter of the Moon

Alice Poon Author Of Tales of Ming Courtesans

From the list on novels that take place in China.

Who am I?

I was born and raised in Hong Kong, a city known for its East-Meets-West culture, and my education was fully bilingual (English and Chinese). Chinese History has always fascinated me, a passion that began with reading Jin Yong’s martial arts novels with Chinese historical backdrops. In my senior school years I fell in love with French Literature, and later in adult life became a fan of Emile Zola’s and Leo Tolstoy’s realist novels. As a novelist of historical fiction set in China, my writing is influenced by Jin Yong, Zola and Tolstoy. Both my published novels are biographical in nature with a distinct taste of realism.

Alice's book list on novels that take place in China

Discover why each book is one of Alice's favorite books.

Why did Alice love this book?

This is a very unique novel about the life of a nomadic tribe of hunters and reindeer herders called Evenki who reside in the northern part of Inner Mongolia. The story is told through an old woman at the end of the 20th century looking back at the joyful and tragic events of five generations of her clan. Wild nature is at its most beautiful and most cruel. Then the Japanese invasion, the Chinese lumber trade, and modernization gradually force the tribe to give up their carefree lifestyle. Sadness drips from the story, told in a wistful and quiet tone.

I love the novel for the rich imagery of nature and the human interaction humming underneath.

By Chi Zijian, Bruce Humes (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Quarter of the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A long-time confidante of the rain and snow, I am ninety years old. The rain and snow have weathered me, and I too have weathered them'.

At the end of the twentieth-century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of north-eastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

An idyllic childhood playing by the…

Telling the Truth

By Yang Songlin, Baohui Xie (translator),

Book cover of Telling the Truth: China's Great Leap Forward, Household Registration and the Famine Death Tally

Mobo C.F. Gao Author Of Constructing China: Clashing Views of the People's Republic

From the list on understanding modern China.

Who am I?

I currently teach Chinese studies at the Department of Asian Studies of the University of Adelaide. My publications include several books, and over a hundred book chapters/articles. My book Mandarin Chinese: An Introduction is a standard reference for learners of modern Chinese in English-speaking countries. Two of my books Gao Village: A Portrait of Modern Life in Rural China and Gao Village Revisited: Life of the Rural People in Contemporary China are case studies of Gao Village where I came from. Other books include the Battle of China's Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution and Remembering Socialist China 1949 – 1976 which are reassessments of the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution. 

Mobo's book list on understanding modern China

Discover why each book is one of Mobo's favorite books.

Why did Mobo love this book?

The accepted wisdom about the Chinese Great Leap Forward from 1958 to 1961 both in and outside of China is that the Great Leap Forward famine death toll was 30 million. This book challenges this wisdom. The book’s argument is based on the research of Professor Sun Jingxian who is a mathematician, who, after having examined the domestic migration pattern during the period, comes to the conclusion that the famine death toll was about 4 million.

By Yang Songlin, Baohui Xie (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Telling the Truth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book discusses what is often called the "Great Leap Famine", which occurred in China during the years from 1959 to 1961. Scholarly consensus suggests that 30 million Chinese perished. Yang Songlin's book provides an evidence-based, systematic and substantial rebuff, concluding that a much smaller number of deaths can be verified. This book is of interest to scholars of China and Chinese development and politics, economists, and demographers.

The Shanghai Free Taxi

By Frank Langfitt,

Book cover of The Shanghai Free Taxi: Journeys with the Hustlers and Rebels of the New China

Dori Jones Yang Author Of When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening

From the list on China today.

Who am I?

A Seattle-based author, I have written eight books, including When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China’s Reawakening, about the eight years I spent as Business Week’s reporter covering China, 1982-1990. In it, I give readers an inside look at China’s transformation from Maoism to modernity. A fluent speaker of Mandarin, I have traveled widely in China for over forty years and befriended Chinese people at many levels of society, leading me to a strong belief in the importance of direct cross-cultural communication and deepened mutual understanding.

Dori's book list on China today

Discover why each book is one of Dori's favorite books.

Why did Dori love this book?

By offering free taxi rides in Shanghai, long-time NPR correspondent Frank Langfitt opened his ears to a wide variety of ordinary Chinese from all walks of life. Due to the pandemic, Americans haven’t been able to travel in China lately, so this is the closest a reader can get to actual conversations with Chinese people about life in China today. Most do not seem oppressed!

By Frank Langfitt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A unique, kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society ... A must read' Qiu Xiaolong, author of Shanghai Redemption

As any traveller knows, the best and most honest conversations take place during car rides. So when journalist Frank Langfitt wanted to learn more about the real China, he started driving a cab - and discovered a country amid seismic political and economic change.

The Chinese economic boom, with its impact on the environment, global trade, and the tech industry, has been one of the most important stories of the twenty-first century. Yet few realise that the boom is largely over, and that…

Book cover of Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery

Maura Stone Author Of Five-Star Fleecing

From the list on that make you feel great that you got the innuendos.

Who am I?

I grew up in the lap of Borscht Belt comedy in an entertainment family, the dour child with a precocious predilection for reading archaic literature. My parents gave me a subscription to Punch Magazine and subjected me to countless comedy movies during my formative years strapped to a chair à la Clockwork Orange. Which explains how I ended up an international banker. Until late in life with the publication of my first novel, a satire. After eight successive novels, I realized that I should have listened to the family’s adage, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.”

Maura's book list on that make you feel great that you got the innuendos

Discover why each book is one of Maura's favorite books.

Why did Maura love this book?

Regrettably, while emptying my mother’s house I discarded this book, a comedy I read and reread over the decades. The writing is funny as all get go, undiminished by age, possessing a universal quality. Which is the key to comedy: the ability to make a lot of people laugh over time, distance, cultural backgrounds, etc. Alan King was the master of comedy in this book.

By Alan King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America's wacky, angry man of the suburbs strikes back in this uproarious free-for-all! Alan King once again turns his bright, beady eye on suburbia and finds it uproariously funny. The outrageous Mr. King is America's most peerless destroyer of America's sacred cows. Here's another blast from his loaded cigar that levels AT&T, IBM, the AMA, BBD&O, the IRS, the PTA, and Freud, just for openers. It will leave you leveled, too from laughing.

Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon

By Virginia Loh-Hagan, Timothy Banks (illustrator),

Book cover of Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon

Jillian Lin Author Of Chinese New Year Wishes

From the list on Chinese New Year.

Who am I?

I’m the author of children’s books about Asian history and culture. My two kids are the main reason I started writing books. When they were little, I had to delve into my Chinese roots for a family reunion. That’s when I stumbled on the most amazing stories about the emperors, warriors, artists, and inventors that make up the long and colorful culture and history of China. I decided to bring these stories to life so that my kids could learn more about their heritage. No dates, no dry details – just interesting stories that they could enjoy and learn in the process. Luckily, they liked them so much that they encouraged me to share my stories with the world.

Jillian's book list on Chinese New Year

Discover why each book is one of Jillian's favorite books.

Why did Jillian love this book?

This book is a modern retelling of the ancient Nian-monster legend, which explains the traditions of the Chinese New Year. One of the best features of this story is the brave and strong heroine, Mei – here’s to girl power! Each spring, the Nian dragon terrorizes the local village, but this year, Mei receives a magical staff in her dream to defeat him. As she figures out how to use it, she teaches the villagers ways to protect themselves, including wearing red clothes, setting off firecrackers, and making food offerings. This isn’t just an action-packed story, but it teaches children (6-8 years) to be brave and not give up, no matter how scared they are.

By Virginia Loh-Hagan, Timothy Banks (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nian, the Chinese New Year Dragon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2020 EUREKA Excellence in Nonfiction Awards - Gold Winner 2020 Feather Quill Reviewer's Choice Award Mei hates springtime. Why? Because it's only in the spring that Nian, a fierce dragon, is able to leave his mountain prison under the sea to terrorize the local village. When the villagers hear the rumblings of Nian's hungry stomach, they know that winter has ended and spring is coming. But this year on the night before the first day of spring, a magical warrior visits Mei in her dreams. He tells Mei that it is her destiny to face and defeat Nian. But she…

Book cover of The Social Life of Opium in China

Erika Rappaport Author Of A Thirst for Empire: How Tea Shaped the Modern World

From the list on understand ingtea and other Chinese things.

Who am I?

I grew up in Los Angeles, the mecca of global consumer culture. I became a historian to escape from what I saw as this shallow, surface culture but through my work, I have returned to the mall. My work uses history to show how consumer desires are not natural. Instead, I ask why people consume particular things in particular places, and I show how they attribute meaning to the things they buy. I am not a specialist on China but while researching and writing on tea's global political economy and consumer culture I became fascinated by how China contributed to the making of global tastes, desires, and material culture. These books illuminate the history and cultural life of tea, opium, porcelain, and other things within and beyond China.

Erika's book list on understand ingtea and other Chinese things

Discover why each book is one of Erika's favorite books.

Why did Erika love this book?

We know a lot about how the Chinese state sought to ban, limit, and exclude opium from its borders, but this book uniquely delves into the multifaceted way that the demand for the drug emerged in the first place and then spread down the social scale to become a mass commodity. I especially loved the detailed way in which the author showed how consumers produced a variety of meanings surrounding opium and incorporated it into both elite and popular culture. Writing against so many myths, Yangwen shows us that for much of its history, opium was celebrated not demonized.

By Zheng Yangwen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Social Life of Opium in China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In a remarkable and broad-ranging narrative, Yangwen Zheng's book explores the history of opium consumption in China from 1483 to the late twentieth century. The story begins in the mid-Ming dynasty, when opium was sent as a gift by vassal states and used as an aphrodisiac in court. Over time, the Chinese people from different classes and regions began to use it for recreational purposes, so beginning a complex culture of opium consumption. The book traces this transformation over a period of five hundred years, asking who introduced opium to China, how it spread across all sections of society, embraced…

Love in a Fallen City

By Eileen Chang, Karen S. Kingsbury (translator),

Book cover of Love in a Fallen City

Janet Beard Author Of The Atomic City Girls

From the list on women’s experiences of World War II.

Who am I?

Growing up near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, I was aware that the city had historical significance but also that it wasn’t particularly famous, at least to people from outside the region. I’ve always been drawn to these sorts of overlooked stories from history, which are, not coincidentally, often women’s stories. Women made up the majority of workers in Oak Ridge during World War II, and for decades afterward, their stories were generally viewed as less important than male-dominated narratives of the war. But I’ve always believed that women’s stories are no less interesting than men’s. These books look at history’s worst conflict from unique perspectives that foreground the female experience. 

Janet's book list on women’s experiences of World War II

Discover why each book is one of Janet's favorite books.

Why did Janet love this book?

Though these collected stories were popular in Chang’s native China when first published in the 1940s, decades passed before they were translated into English. The title story brings war-torn Hong Kong to life, but even against the most dramatic political backdrop, Chang’s focus is firmly on women and relationships. Though the time and place may seem remote, readers will find universal emotions in these carefully constructed tales. 

By Eileen Chang, Karen S. Kingsbury (translator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Love in a Fallen City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Masterful short works about passion, family, and human relationships by one of the greatest writers of 20th century China. 

A New York Review Books Original


“[A] giant of modern Chinese literature” –The New York Times


"With language as sharp as a knife edge, Eileen Chang cut open a huge divide in Chinese culture, between the classical patriarchy and our troubled modernity. She was one of the very few able truly to connect that divide, just as her heroines often disappeared inside it. She is the fallen angel of Chinese literature, and now, with these excellent new translations, English readers can…

The Art of Chinese Poetry

By James J. Y. Liu,

Book cover of The Art of Chinese Poetry

Yang Ye Author Of Vignettes from the Late Ming: A Hsiao-p'in Anthology

From the list on understanding China.

Who am I?

I am a Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Riverside. I was brought up in the family of a Chinese poetry scholar. Arriving in the States for my graduate studies at Harvard in 1982, I have engaged myself in academia here ever since. Acutely aware of, and deeply fascinated by, the cultural similarities and differences of China and the West, I have continued my learning experience, in my thirty years of college teaching, often from direct exchanges with my students. The books on my list of recommendations include both required texts chosen for my courses, and those I want to share with what Virginia Woolf called the Common Reader.

Yang's book list on understanding China

Discover why each book is one of Yang's favorite books.

Why did Yang love this book?

How does the Chinese language, with all its linguistic idiosyncrasies, including its structure, implications, and associations of words, auditory effects, and grammatical aspects, serve as a medium of poetic expression? What are some of the traditional Chinese views on poetry? How should one understand Chinese poetry as a way to explore worlds and language per se, its imagery and symbolism, its allusions, quotations and derivations, and its natural tendency towards antithesis? Published nearly six decades ago, this book has not been superseded and, in fact, has become an indispensable classic for the English-speaking reader.

By James J. Y. Liu,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This concise introduction to Chinese poetry serves as a primer for English-speakers eager to expand their understanding and enjoyment of Chinese culture. James J. Y. Liu first examines the Chinese language as a medium of poetic expression and, contrary to the usual focus on the visual qualities of Chinese script, emphasizes the auditory effects of Chinese verse. He provides a succinct survey of Chinese poetry theory and concludes with his own view of poetry, based upon traditional Chinese concepts.

"[This] books should be read by all those interested in Chinese poetry."-Achilles Fang, Poetry

"[This is] a significant contribution to the…

China and the Search for Happiness

By Wolfgang Bauer, Michael Shaw,

Book cover of China and the Search for Happiness: Recurring Themes in Four Thousand Years of Chinese Cultural History

Peter Zarrow Author Of Abolishing Boundaries: Global Utopias in the Formation of Modern Chinese Political Thought, 1880-1940

From the list on utopianism east and west.

Who am I?

When I was a teenager, I thought we could create a perfect world—or if not quite perfect, at least much, much better than the one we are currently destroying. Actually, I still think it’s possible, just a lot harder and a lot more dangerous than I originally thought. I’ve been interested in all the efforts to imagine and create utopias, which sometimes produce hells instead of heavens, ever since. I have evolved (I think it’s progress) from being a high school Maoist to something more mature while watching China’s attempts to improve the lives of its citizens with respect and sympathy.

Peter's book list on utopianism east and west

Discover why each book is one of Peter's favorite books.

Why did Peter love this book?

What the Manuels did for the West, Bauer did for China. Sometimes we think of the Chinese as eminently practical people, but they had their dreams of perfect worlds as well. And these dreams were not necessarily kept to the world of sleep but found expression in the lives of individuals and communities. The Manuels confronted the fact that dreams fade with a touch of cynicism, Bauer with a touch of melancholy.  

Ten Years of Madness

By Feng Jicai,

Book cover of Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of China's Cultural Revolution

Fan Wu Author Of Beautiful as Yesterday

From the list on China’s cultural revolution.

Who am I?

Born and raised in China, I grew up on a remote state-run farm where my parents, as condemned intellectuals during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, lived for 20 years. It wasn't until mid-80s they were allowed to return. I have heard many stories and read many books about this tumultuous period in China. I didn’t know much about my parents’ personal experiences until I was in my 30s. Today’s China is very different but I believe that history extends its roots deep into the present. As a writer, what interests me the most is the impact of history on individuals and society. My latest book is a historical wartime novel set in China and Europe.

Fan's book list on China’s cultural revolution

Discover why each book is one of Fan's favorite books.

Why did Fan love this book?

Oral history as a literary form is relatively new in China. When asked why he wrote the book, Mr. Feng replied that it was because of his guilt as a survivor and as a witness. The Cultural Revolution has devastated and scarred generation after generation in China, yet most people are silent about their personal experiences. Feng conducted numerous interviews with ordinary people who had lived through that period and wrote these intimate stories in the collection. Every voice is different and deeply personal; together, they portray one of the most disturbing and tumultuous times in Chinese history. 

By Feng Jicai,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ten Years of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten Years of Madness is a groundbreaking book that draws some parallels to Studs Terkel's "Working" in that it portrays a wide cross section of the Chinese people, but with a harrowing twist: how they survived the disastrous Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Families were destroyed; an entire generation of artists and intellectuals was lost. These oral histories, expertly conducted and arranged by noted writer and cultural critic Feng Jicai, are essential in preserving the memory of those who survived and those who did not survive China's most calamitous period in its modern history.