Books about China
Page 5 (books 81 to 100)
Streetlife China, Michael Dutton, Cambridge University Press, 2000304 pages. ISBN 0-521-63719-8 Details/purchase ➚
This is a sociological study of China's urban communities. It is a collection of articles written by mainly Chinese writers about urban culture, how it has changed and how it is changing. It covers the transitional period of the 1980s with the drift away from Maoism and covers such things as slang, tattoos, work units - which you won't find anywhere else.
Symbols of China, Feng Jicai, Compendium, 2010248 pages. ISBN 978-1849120180 Details/purchase ➚
A lavishly illustrated book covering all aspects of China not just 'symbols': traditions, scenic sights, festivals, arts, legends and famous figures. Unfortunately many of the description are too short, just an overview and there are no references. At times the English is also rather poor. However it does give a very good overall coverage and the photographs and illustrations are very good.
The Analects of Confucius, Confucius: translated by Arthur Waley, Quality Paperback Book Club, 1992262 pages. ISBN 978-1135764364 Details/purchase ➚
If there is a Chinese book that gets close to a 'Chinese Bible' then this is it. It is essential to understand Confucius's philosophy if you want to understand China. The translation is old and uses Wade Giles and the notes require you to be a scholar to make sense of them. More recent translations are better than this one.
The book of Chuang Tzu, translated by Palmer and Breuilly, Arkana, 1996320 pages. ISBN 0-14-019488-6 Details/purchase ➚
Many Westerners turn to the Dao De Jing to learn of the Daoist tradition. However it is the Book of Zhuangzi that gives a much more accurate reflection of the philosophy of Daoism. It is a series of entertaining, often amusing, tales that generally reveal a thought provoking paradox. It gives food for thought even in today's world. This translation is rather dated as it uses Wade-Giles but is otherwise admirable.
The Book of Laozi: A Taoist classic, Ren Jiyu, Foreign Languages Press, 1995103 pages. ISBN 7-119-01571-0 Details/purchase ➚
There are many translations of the Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) and this is a fairly modern one produced by a Chinese scholar. I find the English adequate but it does not have the poetic ring of other translations. The nuances of translation are particularly hard to get right for this ancient classic. It does not include the original Chinese text.
The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, ed. Brian Hook, Cambridge University Press, 1991502 pages. ISBN 978-0521355940 Details/purchase ➚
An extensive and heavy book that covers all aspects of China: history, geography, religion, arts and language. Unfortunately it is written by a large number of different 'experts' and the quality is mixed. It can not be used as a standard encyclopedia - you need to read whole sections. The text is 'academic' rather than readable prose and lacks vitality. Because it is written by so many authors there is overlap and no cross references, even so some parts are very valuable, particularly on technology.
The Cambridge Illustrated History of China, Patricia Embury, Cambridge University Press, 2010352 pages. ISBN 0-521043519-6 Details/purchase ➚
Cambridge University Press produce a mammoth in-depth history of China, this can be considered an abridgement of this work. It has copious illustrations and useful panels describing key parts of Chinese culture and history. It covers the whole time period from pre-history to the present day - a lot to cover in one book. It is a fascinating and engaging read and to be recommended as a key overview.
The Chan's Great Continent, Jonathan Spence, Penguin,1998279 pages. ISBN 978-0140281743 Details/purchase ➚
Jonathan Spence, a leading expert on China, has written many fascinating books about China. They all concentrate on a different aspect of Chinese history. In this one he looks at contacts with foreign countries from the time of Marco Polo to the 1920s. He puts particular emphasis on the attitudes to China which range from wonder to contempt. We forget the times when every great house just had to have a collection of Chinese porcelain; every fine garden was heavily influenced by Chinese taste and design. The book contains many new and entertaining perspectives on how different cultures have both admired and despised each other.
The China Threat, Bill Gertz, Regnery Publishing, 2002280 pages. ISBN 0-89526-187-1 Details/purchase ➚
Sometimes it is important to see things from the other side of the wall. I am, personally, broadly convinced that China has no ambitions for world conquest. This book makes the case that America in particular is in grave danger because China has secret plans to subvert and conquer the United States. No doubt this book sold well to the hawkish elements in America, its sub title could have been 'be afraid, be very afraid'. It is not possible to refute this view all that easily as it is based on so many secret plans and documents. If you want to understand the widespread suspicion about China's motives then you need to read a book such as this.
The Chinese : Portrait of a people, John Fraser, Fontana, 1980474 pages. ISBN 978-0671448738 Details/purchase ➚
John Fraser is a talented Canadian journalist who traveled extensively in China in the difficult period 1976-79. He takes a very critical eye on the workings of the Communist system at a time of deep suspicion of the motives of Western journalists. He became very much involved in the poster campaigns and unrest in Beijing. A very valuable insight into life in China at the time.
The Chinese Maze Murders: A Judge Dee Mystery, Robert van Gulik, University of Chicago Press, 2012322 pages. ISBN 978-0226848785 Details/purchase ➚
Robert van Gulik studied the many detective stories that have been popular in China for centuries. Doctor Dee of the Tang dynasty is the best known detective. Here he has combined three separate detective stories into a 'new' Doctor Dee mystery. He writes well with lots of authentic details of Chinese life. In this, his first book in the genre, I found the three separate stories a little confusing and the fact that they were separate crimes solved in order it lacks the impact of stories with a single villain to be caught. It has a good immersive feel with interesting characters.
The Chinese Renaissance, Hu Shi, University of Chicago, 1934110 pages. ASIN B007T276WM Details/purchase ➚
There are very few books that cover the Republic of China. This book, based on a series of lectures was written in 1933 and gives a vivid impression of the hopes that the Republican government had for the development of China before the Japanese occupation. It provides a useful window into the mindset of Chinese intellectuals seeking to find a new place for China in the world.
The City of Light, Jacob d'Ancona: translated by David Selbourne, Abacus, 1997516 pages. ISBN 978-0316639682 Details/purchase ➚
A contentious book, as it claims to be a new find that documents the journey of an Italian Jew to China in 1270 just before Marco Polo's visit. The owner of the manuscript does not allow other scholars to study it, so the authenticity has been disputed. If it is a fake, it is a very elaborate and strange one. The traveler visited Zayton and describes some of the sights he saw. However there is much in the book not about China but the places on the way, so its interest is principally in learning about the traveler himself.
The Civilization Of China, Herbert A. Giles, Bickers and Dagny, 1911136 pages. ASIN B0084ABT4E Details/purchase ➚
Giles was a pioneer in the study of China in the modern age. After spending 25 years as a diplomat in China he came back to become Professor of Chinese at Cambridge, England. This book surveys the traditions, religion, legal system of ancient China. He does not cover the history in a consistent fashion. Some of his first-hand accounts of games, attitudes to women etc. are not found elsewhere.
The Complete I Ching, Alfred Huang, Inner Traditions, 2004539 pages. ISBN 978-1594773860 Details/purchase ➚
There are many books to choose from that describe the Yi Jing (I Ching). Huang has written a modern (1998) translation that reads well. He has taken great trouble to understand the true meaning of the guas (hexagrams) and introduces some thought provoking new ideas on interpretation. He succeeds in giving a 'complete' treatment to the subject that is so rich in Chinese cultural traditions.
The Death Of Mao, James Palmer, Faber and Faber, 2012249 pages. ISBN 978-0571243990 Details/purchase ➚
A misleading title. I thought it would cover the events of 1976 in great detail. However it takes 70 pages to reach that year and then 100 pages describing everything after the event - so there is disappointingly little about the main events. The description of the Tangshan earthquake is well researched however much of the book is an unremitting diatribe against the PRC. Apparently nothing good was ever done and all the leaders were evil. Such a biased viewpoint smacks of a lack of understanding of modern China.
The Death of Woman Wang, Jonathan Spence, Penguin,1978169 pages. ISBN 0-14-005121-X Details/purchase ➚
This is one of Jonathan Spence's earlier works. It brings to life the ordinary people of Shandong in the mid seventeenth century. It is based on contemporary sources.
The Dragon Empress, Marina Warner, Hamish Hamilton, 1972247 pages. ASIN B0006C4SLO8 Details/purchase ➚
A scholarly and detailed biography of the famous Dowager Empress Cixi. It has an impressive list of references to back up the content. It gives a rather different interpretation to events to that of Jung Chang. She is seen as brutal, insecure and indecisive but battling against the odds. So to give balance you need to read Marina Warner's account to get to grips with this totemic figure.
The Emperor's River, Liam D'Arcy-Brown,Eye Books, 2010279 pages. ASIN B00ARGHN3E Details/purchase ➚
More a travelogue than a guide to the Grand Canal, this book documents a modern journey to try to follow the route from Hangzhou to Beijing. He meets many local characters who inject interest into this rather pedestrian book. A set of color illustrations would have greatly added to the enjoyment. The history of the Emperor's River (Grand Canal) is somewhat buried and fragmented. He finds out at first hand that much of the northern section is non-navigable, indeed its route is hard to trace, a fact that the authorities wish to cover up as it is held up as a major Chinese achievement.
The Empress Wu, C.P. Fitzgerald, Cresset Press, 1968263 pages. ISBN 978-0248997317 Details/purchase ➚
I was delighted to find this book in a local charity shop. Fitzgerald was a much admired historian of China in the period up to the 1960s. Here he looks in great detail at the life of the great and only Empress of China: Wu Zetian of the early Tang dynasty. Fitzgerald tried to disentangle the myths made up about her after her fall. Using Chinese records of the period Fitzgerald gives a full acount of the many intrigues and revolts at the Imperial court. Wu Zetian comes across as ruthless but shrewd and a much more able administrator than many Emperors. She welcomed and did not punish people with well reasoned arguments aginst her actions but anyone who appeared to lie or defraud faced swift punishment. The ordinary Chinese people do not get much of a mention, but for them it would appear her long period in power was one of peace and prosperity.
Key to symbols used in the book descriptions
Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.
Our overall star rating for the book up to five stars.
Has black and white illustrations, none in color.
Has color illustrations, often has black and white illustrations too.
Does not have Chinese text in it.
Uses the modern Pinyin system for romanizing Chinese text.
Uses the old Wade Giles system for romanizing Chinese text.
Includes Chinese characters.
Many books cover more than one topic, these icons reflect all topics it may touch on.
Covers Chinese art.
Covers Chinese dynastic history up to 1912.
Covers Chinese modern history from 1912 into PRC.
Covers Chinese traditions.
A work of Chinese literature (translated into English).
An introduction to learning the Chinese language.
Covers Chinese philosophy / religion.
Useful travel guide to China.
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