Books about China

Page 4 (books 61 to 80)

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Lonely Planet: China, 1988

821 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-86442-003-X Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers History book Travel book
I have the 1988 edition of the Lonely Planet guide. This was written for the first back-packer tourists when China opened its doors to tourism. The descriptions of historic sites is still useful but the rest is now out-of-date: places to stay; transport and places to eat. The style is very informal, as a well informed, young traveler would write. It has a basic 160 page guide to everything a traveler needs to know covering history, culture and language. Later editions have been updated and improved but I would still go for the Eyewitness China guide instead.
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Mandarin Chinese: The Rough Guide Phrasebook, Rough Guides, Penguin Books, 1999

284 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-1848367333 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers Language book
This is a pocket book reference for the traveler with a little knowledge of Chinese. It gives characters and a phonetic spelling of words. It is arranged as a set of useful phrases then an English to Chinese dictionary followed by Chinese to English and finally groups of related Chinese words. A handy guide.
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Mao : A Life, Philip Short, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988

782 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 0-340-60624-X Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
There are a number of biographies of Mao Zedong available. Nigel Short has written a comprehensive and authoritative work on this often divisive subject. There are over 100 pages of notes and references. It is quite a hard read as the author immersed himself in the detail and many people and places are mentioned in passing without descriptive background. In terms of political balance Short gets it about right - neither too adulatory nor too denigratory.
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Massacres of Christians by heathen Chinese and horrors of the Boxers, Harold Irwin Cleveland, Miller, 1900

612 pages. 3.0 stars ASIN B00088SG0A Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text History book Chinese traditions book
Disregard the title, this is not a polemic about the evil Chinese; in fact it is really a China reference guide covering all aspects of China as they were in 1900. It is fascinating to read attitudes and misunderstandings that were prevalent at the time. It is a bit disorderly and misleading, the chapter on China and India for example is more about Christian missionary work on China. Subjects covered include: geography (provinces, mountains, rivers); education; missionaries; Korea; Japan; England and Russia; Treaty ports; Army and Navy; the Emperor; Mandarins; Railways; Tea; Opium etc.. Basically a reference to all that was known at the time. It does have a detailed chronology and background to the Boxer Rebellion which gives the book its title - the hot topic at the time.
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Modern China: A companion to a rising power, Graham Hutchings, Harvard University Press, 2003

530 pages. 2.5 stars ASIN B01K9AI7XM Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book Modern history book
An encyclopedia of entries from Agriculture to Zhu Rongji rather than a standard history. This makes it pretty impossible to read from cover to cover. It is about 'modern' history so leaves out mention of anything pre-1900, it also has good entries on each province and institution. Graham Hutchings has a generally anti-Communist and pro-Western outlook that makes it a useful counterbalance to accounts that originate from China. He is reluctant to say anything good came from the Communist Era 1949-1985. The text highlights links to other topics which is helpful. Overall it is a useful reference for the modern period, but only in conjunction with other sources. It has a bibliography but no source references for individual encyclopedia entries.
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Monkey, Wu Ch'eng-en: translated by A.Waley, Penguin Classics, 1961

351 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-14-044111-5 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Chinese traditions book Philosophy book Literature
Monkey is the best known and most widely loved tale from ancient China. It tells the often amusing tale of how a Buddhist monk brought back scriptures from India to China. However the main character is the playful, irreverent, energetic Monkey - still often seen in films, cartoons and books. The tale does not say much about Chinese people or traditions but does give some insight into the Chinese view of Buddhism.
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Mowrer in China, Mowrer, Penguin,1938

216 pages. 3.5 stars ASIN B0006DCDDI Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Modern history book
This little old Penguin book was written by one of the best foreign correspondents of his day. He viewed events in the 1930s with an experienced and perceptive eye. There are few first-hand accounts of China under Chiang Kaishek and the Nationalists. After the foundation of the PRC nationalists and their sympathizers were hounded and nothing good was said about the Republican period. This book highlights the great difficulties faced by the Republican government in those days. He interviewed key members of the famous Song family and experienced the Japanese invasion at first hand. Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the Republican perspective in those dark days.
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Mr. China, Tim Clissold, Harper Business, 2004

252 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0060761400 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
The author was one of the first to invest foreign capital on a large scale in the period 1995-2002. It was not successful. The book recounts the engaging personalities and underhand tactics of the Chinese business people they invested with. Much is learned about the Chinese way of doing business and the pitfalls of funding joint venture capital. There is little on the basic economics of doing business it is more a narrative of events at this extra-ordinary time of the gradually opening door into China.
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Myths and Legends of China, Werner, Dover, 1922

453 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 0-486-28092-6 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text Chinese traditions book
A survey of a country's myths and legends is a very difficult task. By their nature they are hard to tie down and there are usually many alternative stories that have developed over the centuries. The book is handicapped by using wade-giles for names; and lacks cross-references and source information. It was originally published in 1922 and the language and attitudes reflect this period. It covers Buddhist and Daoist figures as well as folk heroes. The myths and legends of China are not widely described and it is useful as a reference.
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Nagel's Encyclopedia guide: China, Nagel, 1978

1503 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-2826307310 Details/purchase Color illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book Travel book
Up to about 1970 Nagel produced the definitive guides to all the major countries in the World, they were required travelling companions for diplomats and tourists. They are voluminous guides and concentrate on historic sites on a province by province basis. My copy dates to 1978 and so is well out of date in terms of town and city plans and statistics. It has a 400 page introduction covering geography, language, history, art, culture and traditions. Originally written in French some illustrations are bi-lingual. There are several fold-out maps and plans. The depth of detail of the historic sites is exceptional. As it was 'the' guide for diplomats to use, trouble was taken to keep it as accurate as possible, and some material remains very useful.
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Nearly a Chinese: A life of Clifford Stubbs, Charles Tyzack, Book Guild Publishing, 2013

233 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-1846249631 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Modern history book
This recent book documents the life of Clifford Stubbs, a rare example of a Christian missionary who truly engaged with the Chinese people. He taught at the West Union University, Chengdu, Sichuan and garnered the affection of many ordinary Chinese people. There was widespread grief when he was assassinated in 1930, a victim of rabid anti-foreign sentiment at the time. A dedicated and true friend of China.
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Old Beijing: In the Shadow of the Imperial Throne, Xu Chengbei, Foreign Languages Press,2001

240 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 7-119-02786-7 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book Modern history book
I was excited to find this book at the local Oxfam bookshop. It contains hundreds of archive black and white photographs of pre-1949 Beijing. Unfortunately the text is not brilliant and it lacks an index. As it is produced by a native Chinese enthusiastic about the subject there are many insights into life under the Imperial Qing dynasty that you will not find elsewhere. My other main quibble is the size of the book, as it is only A5 in size it is hard to appreciate the detail of the fine historic illustrations, they deserve to be reproduced at a larger size.
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Poems of the Late T'ang, Various: translated by A.C.Graham, Penguin, 1977

173 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 0-14-044157-3 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Literature
Tang dynasty poetry has for a thousand years been considered the zenith of this Chinese literary form. Poems read fresh and relevant even today. This collection includes seven poets including Du Fu and Du Mu. The excellent translations include notes that aid the reader in understanding the places and people mentioned.
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Red China Today, Edgar Snow, Pelican, 1970

749 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0394462615 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Modern history book
Edgar Snow became a personal friend of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. He is most famous for his first book 'Red Star over China' which documents the Long March and the foundation of the PRC. This follow-up book documents his visits in the 1960s with an extra chapter added later about the 1970s. He is extremely positive about the achievements of Communist China in breaking the bad habits of the dynastic period. He was condemned as a 'fellow traveler' who offered just propaganda, but in hindsight he wasn't too far wrong on many aspects of China.
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Red Dust: A path through China, Ma Jian, Vintage, 2002

324 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-0099283294 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Pinyin text Travel book Modern history book
Ma Jian is a noted 'dissident' artist who took part in the Tiananmen protests. This book recounts a tale of his eventful travel throughout China to try to discover himself. It is a warts and all exposee of 'modern' China in 1981. It is the sort of book you need to read to get some counterbalance to the government line. I think he set out to shock too much and portray China as a flawed system. It says much about the author but not very much about China.
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Return to Dragon Mountain, Jonathan Spence, Quercus, 2008

332 pages. 3.5 stars ISBN 978-0143114451 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text History book Chinese traditions book
Jonathan Spence is renowned for his scholarly works on Chinese history. In this book he gives a detailed biography of the famous Ming historian Zhang Dai who saw the dynasty fall in 1644. After a life as a member of the rich, scholar elite of Ming China Zhang became an impoverished recluse under the Qing and spent many years writing a history of the Ming. The book starts off well but somehow runs out of steam towards the end. It gives a unique insight into life in late Ming China.
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Revolution in a Chinese Village : Ten Mile Inn, Isabel and David Crook, Routledge and Kegan, 1959

190 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 0-7100-3393-1 Details/purchase B/W illustrations Wade-Giles text Modern history book
To understand how the Chinese Communist Party rose to power 1921-49 you need to know how their reforms brought the rural peasants to their side. Rather than rely on bland national statistics this in depth study looks at the individuals in one particular village and tracks the effects of the reforms. The series of fundamental reforms met with mixed success but eventually a more equitable and prosperous village was the end result. For critics of communism, this study will challenge deep-trenched antipathy - mistakes were made but in the end a better system resulted.
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River Town, Peter Hessler, John Murray, 2002

399 pages. 3.0 stars ISBN 978-0719564802 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese traditions book Travel book
This book tells the story of an American working as an English Literature student 1996-98 in Fuling - a small town on the Yangzi. This time period preceded the completion of the Three Gorges Dam. This is a book based on journal entries made at the time and is much more about the author than about the town. He makes very perceptive remarks and went the extra mile to understand ordinary Chinese people. However there is little structure to the book and could have been edited down without impairing it. There is also a distinct air of American cultural superiority that somewhat dissipated over the two years. A good book to really get to understand the concerns of Chinese people.
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Routledge Grammar, Basic Chinese, Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington, Routledge, 1998

221 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0415472159 Details/purchase No illustrations Pinyin text Chinese characers Language book
If you want to go beyond speaking and writing 'tourist Chinese' you need a good grounding in Chinese grammar. This Routledge guide goes far beyond memorizing useful phrases and serves as an essential course if you want to speak Chinese well and understand Chinese text. All the Chinese is in both pinyin and characters. It does not include a dictionary section so you will need a separate dictionary in conjunction with the book.
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Selected Stories, Lu Hsun, Foreign Languages Press ,1980

323 pages. 4.0 stars ISBN 978-0393008487 Details/purchase No illustrations Wade-Giles text Literature
The writings of Lu Xun had great impact in the Republican period. He was the pioneer of modern Chinese literature - written in the vernacular for ordinary Chinese people not just the educated elite. This collection of short stories is all very readable. He satirizes the ancient traditions and customs of dynastic China most famously in the 'True Story of Ah Q' which is included in this collection.

Key to symbols used in the book descriptions

Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.

star ratingOur overall star rating for the book up to five stars.
black and white illustrationsHas black and white illustrations, none in color.
colour illustrationsHas color illustrations, often has black and white illustrations too.
no Chinese textDoes not have Chinese text in it.
Chinese pinyin textUses the modern Pinyin system for romanizing Chinese text.
Chinese wade-giles textUses the old Wade Giles system for romanizing Chinese text.
Chinese characterIncludes Chinese characters.

Many books cover more than one topic, these icons reflect all topics it may touch on.

art bookCovers Chinese art.
history bookCovers Chinese dynastic history up to 1912.
modern history bookCovers Chinese modern history from 1912 into PRC.
Chinese traditions bookCovers Chinese traditions.
Chinese literatureA work of Chinese literature (translated into English).
Chinese languageAn introduction to learning the Chinese language.
Chinese philosophyCovers Chinese philosophy / religion.
Travel in ChinaUseful travel guide to China.