19 books directly related to the Qing dynasty 📚

All 19 Qing dynasty books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Culture of War in China: Empire and the Military under the Qing Dynasty

By Joanna Waley-Cohen,

Book cover of The Culture of War in China: Empire and the Military under the Qing Dynasty

Why this book?

This is a series of six essays that present a “new Qing history” approach to 17th and 18th century Chinese military history, specifically the culture involved in the military campaigns from 1636 to 1799.  Waley-Cohen not only presents a more positive view of the Qing’s Manchu rulers, but also the centrality of military activities and culture to Chinese culture.  The Qing government enthusiastically promoted its martial accomplishments, and martial culture was in turn reflected in visual culture, religion, and popular culture.

The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10, Late Ch'ing 1800–1911, Part 1

By John K. Fairbank,

Book cover of The Cambridge History of China: Volume 10, Late Ch'ing 1800–1911, Part 1

Why this book?

The Qing dynasty is covered in both volumes 10 and 11 of this wonderful series. Volume 10 contains essays that earlier in my career I would always go back to—not for the riveting prose but for the solid information. John K. Fairbank (1907-1991), the father of U.S. Sinology and longtime professor at Harvard University, invited the finest Sinologists to contribute to these volumes. Pick and choose from among the excellent chapters including: Joseph Fletcher (Inner Asia and Sino-Russian relations), John K. Fairbank (the treaty port system), Philip A. Kuhn (the Taiping Rebellion) in volume 10; and Immanuel C. Y. Hsu (foreign relations), Marius Jansen (Japan and the 1911 Revolution) in volume 11. Beware that the two volumes are very much scholarly works—in both the positive and negative meanings of the word, scholarly.

The White Lotus War: Rebellion and Suppression in Late Imperial China

By Yingcong Dai,

Book cover of The White Lotus War: Rebellion and Suppression in Late Imperial China

Why this book?

Few include the White Lotus War in their discussion of nineteenth-century rebellions. Yet, in many ways, it provides the perfect starting point. Lasting over eight years, plowing a path of destruction across five central Chinese provinces, and emphatically marking the end to nearly a century of peace and commercial prosperity, the White Lotus War is an ominous harbinger of what was to follow. Chinese historian Yingcong Dai highlights the many disparate factors – from bureaucratic negligence and administrative apathy to the rise of secret societies and charismatic religious leaders – that transformed otherwise weakly connected local protests into a massive revolt that threatened to upend the Qing imperial state (1644-1911). As a specialist on Chinese warfare and imperial governance, the author pulls back the curtain on a rarely told tale that brings turn-of-the-18th-century China to life.

Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989

By Bruce A. Elleman,

Book cover of Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989

Why this book?

Outsiders do not grasp the frequency let alone the magnitude of the civil and foreign wars that ravaged China well into the Maoist era. Sometimes China was the aggressor and sometimes the victim and, in its many civil wars, the Chinese government was always brutal. Concise chapters describe each conflict.

The Deer and The Cauldron: The First Book

By Louis Cha, John Minford (translator),

Book cover of The Deer and The Cauldron: The First Book

Why this book?

There is an argument to be made that Jin Yong (aka Louis Cha) is modern China’s version of William Shakespeare. From Cha’s unimaginably rich and bottomless imagination come unforgettable stories and characters that have had a huge impact on not only contemporary China but the rest of the world. Writing in the category of wuxia (martial arts fiction) he sold 100 million copies of his books, making him China’s most famous author. Countless films and TV shows have been based on his stories, that typically portray the under classes struggling against overlords. One of my favorite memories of travels in China was sitting at the tea house inside Hong Kong’s Peninsula hotel and spending the day reading this book and munching on dim sum. If I’d stepped out and been hit by a bus, I would have died a happy monk.

My Several Worlds

By Pearl S. Bucks,

Book cover of My Several Worlds

Why this book?

Pearl S. Bucks was the first American woman who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was brought to China by her missionary parents when she was an infant. She continued to spend much of the first half of her life in China from 1892 to 1934. This autobiography covers her growing up in China and returning to the U.S. Good-hearted and open-minded, she was the very few foreigners who had intimate access to ordinary Chinese people's lives and souls, which remain mysterious to most outsiders to this day. As a sharp-eyed observer and skillful writer, she gave an extraordinary account of the major events such as the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, the Boxer Rebellion, and the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. The missionary work brought her to China in the first place, but in the end, she admitted failure in bringing God to China. Pearl S. Bucks was one of the brilliant minds of her time, and her book is incredibly relevant today. As one of the critical American chroniclers of China, she offered remarkable insights and objectivity, which could help readers understand why China is what it is today.

Making China Modern: From the Great Qing to XI Jinping

By Klaus Mühlhahn,

Book cover of Making China Modern: From the Great Qing to XI Jinping

Why this book?

To understand where China is now, and where it has been travelling from since 1949 when the People’s Republic was established, you need to grapple with the complex history that preceded that. German sinologist Klaus Muhlhahn expertly does this, succinctly drawing out the key theme of institution-building and showing how this provides the link between the final imperial period of the Qing to its collapse in 1911, and then the slow rise to power of the Communists over the 1920s to the 1940s when China was fragmented and beset by war. Accessible, authoritative, and ambitious.

The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

By Bangqing Han,

Book cover of The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai

Why 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.

Empress Orchid

By Anchee Min,

Book cover of Empress Orchid

Why this book?

Empress Wu, the protagonist of my historical duology The Empress of Bright Moon, was often mistaken for the Empress Cixi in this novel, which often prompted me to explain that Empress Wu lived in the seventh century and she was the only female who ruled China in her name. But Empress Cixi, perhaps, was the only equivalent to her, as Cixi wielded great power and ruled the country from behind a thick, embroidered curtain in the late nineteenth century. Well-researched, the novel chronicled the rise of a cunning concubine, a woman of the reigning ethnic group over the Han people, and offered a rare insight into the journey of the indomitable woman and China at the end of the nineteenth century. 

The Rebellion Engines

By Jeannie Lin,

Book cover of The Rebellion Engines

Why this book?

This is about a mathematics prodigy in a steampunk version of 19th century China, who wants to study at the Imperial Academy in Peking….except that she’s a young woman and not allowed to enroll in the all-male academy. Needless to say, this does not stop Anlei, who disguises herself as a man, scores top marks on the exam, and falls in love with one of her fellow students at the same time. Brilliantly lush writing, inventive world-building, and a mathematical romance to make my nerdy heart sing.

Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928

By Edward J. M. Rhoads,

Book cover of Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861-1928

Why this book?

I have long thought that one of the key ingredients of modern Chinese nationalism is a strong sense of ethnic identity for the people labeled “Han Chinese.” To a great extent this Han identity, though having ancient roots, was formed, elaborated, and ideologized around the turn of the twentieth century in opposition to the ruling Manchu Qing dynasty. This book shows how and why this happened.

The Good Earth

By Pearl S. Buck,

Book cover of The Good Earth

Why this book?

There is a reason why The Good Earth won the Pulitzer Prize, is a regular on best books lists and was featured in Oprah’s Book Club. I have reread this story so many times over the years. It is a heart-wrenching tale of a farmer and his wife struggling to survive in 1920s China. The story follows the birth of their children, the extremes of both wealth and destitution, and the fragility of farm life. Ultimately their children turn their backs on the land that sustained the family for so long. It is a timeless tale of family relationships, severe hardship, love, loss, and the will to survive. A true classic. (If you like to watch the movie after reading the book, the 1937 film won a few Academy Awards as well).

China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

By Peter C. Perdue,

Book cover of China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia

Why this book?

Peter C. Perdue gives an exhaustive account of the Qing Dynasty’s conquest of Xinjiang - which, according to many historians, was the first time a Chinese Dynasty consolidated its rule over the whole of the region. This history has important implications for claims regarding the legitimacy of Chinese rule over Xinjiang.

Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal

By Patrick Fuliang Shan,

Book cover of Yuan Shikai: A Reappraisal

Why this book?

Very few people outside China have even heard of Yuan Shikai, the last prime minister of the Qing Empire who became president of the Republic of China before briefly declaring himself to be a new emperor. If it hadn’t been for Yuan, however, China would look very different today. He held the country together for a few crucial years after the revolution but then took some decisions that split it apart. He has been vilified ever since as a buffoon and a dictator, but this book asks us to take him seriously as a neglected and important figure in China’s transition. Although the book focuses too much on trying to decide whether Yuan was a good or bad person, it does what it promises and ‘reappraises’ an important life.

The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man's Life in a North China Village, 1857-1942

By Henrietta Harrison,

Book cover of The Man Awakened from Dreams: One Man's Life in a North China Village, 1857-1942

Why this book?

This beautifully written book gives a picture of the life and times of one ordinary man. Unusually, he maintained a daily diary throughout his entire life, which was mostly lived in a remote—but certainly not isolated—village. Harrison highlights the tumultuous political, social, and economic changes China was undergoing through the lens of a man who lived from the Qing Empire through the 1911 Revolution and the warlord era and into the rise of the Communist movement.

Loonshots: Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

By Safi Bahcall,

Book cover of Loonshots: Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

Why this book?

This book tackles a core paradox of breakthrough innovations – that they often start in the mind of an ignored, discredited, and dismissed person. That person needs just enough resources to tinker with the idea for long enough that its potential can be realized. But to have a truly transformational impact, the idea has to go beyond just one person’s or a small team’s understanding to be embraced by a large number of champions and users. The book is an utterly delightful read, with innovations as varied as the steam engine and advanced biotech receiving Safi’s witty and knowledgeable touch.  

A Village with My Name: A Family History of China's Opening to the World

By Scott Tong,

Book cover of A Village with My Name: A Family History of China's Opening to the World

Why this book?

Also formerly a public radio reporter based in Shanghai, Scott Tong takes us inside his own extended family, scattered across China. Personal stories of the relatives he found reveal not just their troubled histories but also the unvarnished stories of their varying ability to adapt to the opportunities of a modernizing China. Published in March 2019.

Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768

By Philip A. Kuhn,

Book cover of Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768

Why this book?

Set in the heyday of Qing glory—or some might say at the beginning of its decline—Philip Kuhn traces a panic that swept through rural China in which commoners feared for the safety of their children’s lives at the hands of imagined bands of “soulstealers.” Alternately tracing allegations of incidents and the imperial response, which the reader gradually comes to understand is fueled by its own brand of paranoia, the author describes the intricate workings of bureaucratic procedure and justice in Qing China in which the emperor sometimes felt foiled by his own ‘deep state.’

Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi

By Jonathan D. Spence,

Book cover of Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi

Why this book?

The eighteenth-century Kangxi Emperor was one of the most successful rulers in Chinese history, and he had a fascinating life. But Jonathan Spence was not content to write a standard academic biography. Instead, he writes from a first-person perspective. The reader does not look at Kangxi’s life from the outside but sees the world from the emperor’s point of view. Spence was a talented stylist, so the book is not only a profound study of Chinese history but also an innovative piece of literature.