Books about China
Page 8 (books 141 to 160)
These pages contain my reviews of books about China that have all been read when researching the information on this web site.
Note: many of the links to the books will earn us a small commission from Amazon if you decide to buy the book as we operate as an Amazon Associate.
The Scramble for China, Robert Bickers. Penguin, 2012496 pages. ISBN 978-0141015859 Details/purchase ➚
I had looked forward to reading this book for some time as it is a subject area I find fascinating – the interaction of cultures. I was to be disappointed. This book is tedious, lots of irrelevant detail with no overall structure. It reads like the notes the author made while reading other books rather than a condensed summary. He ignores details that do not fit his view which is very worrying. The Chinese side gets rather limited coverage. Some of the author's opinions are not backed up by references. I regret I can not recommend this book.
The Sextants of Beijing, Waley-Cohen, Norton, 1999322 pages. ISBN 0-393-04693-1 Details/purchase ➚
What a misleading title! I thought this was going to be just about western contacts particularly in the Matteo Ricci period (around 1600). It is much more general in scope, describing Chinese contacts with foreign cultures from earliest days up to the Peoples Republic. It seeks to over-turn the view that China has always been self-contained and inward looking while in fact China has been the most cosmopolitan of countries at key moments in World history. By understanding China's attitude and relations with foreign countries a good deal is discovered about China itself.
The Shorter Science and Civilization in China, Needham and Ronan, Cambridge University Press, 1978325 pages. ISBN 0-521-29286-7 Details/purchase ➚
For those without the time to study Needham's full text the abridgments by Colin Ronan are useful books. Joseph Needham was the pre-eminent scholar of the development of Chinese Civilization, his work continues to this day at the Needham Research Institute ➚. There are 5 volumes in this abridgment. I have volumes 1 and 2 only. Volume 1 covers the cultural, historic and philosophical background including the main religions. Volume 2 covers mathematics, astronomy, meteorology, geography, geology and physics. Unfortunately it uses Wade-Giles throughout and has an infuriating index - it lists every word mentioned even if just in passing. It is essential reading if you want to get close to the original documents.
The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh, Chiang Yee, Polygon, 1948238 pages. ASIN: B07RN31GWF Details/purchase ➚
Chiang Yee (Jiang Yi) spent many years in the UK around the time of the second world war. He was a senior official in the Republican government before seeking refuge from the troubles in China. He ably contrasts Scottish and Chinese culture in a relaxed, friendly and charming manner. In his journeys and encounters we learn much of the life of the traditional scholar/official and how Scotland is seen by an outsider. The book has many small sketches some in color as well as poems (in Chinese characters) by the author.
The State of China Atlas, Benewick and Donald, University of California, 2009128 pages. ISBN 978-0-520-25610-1 Details/purchase ➚
Geographical information can be dull and hard to interpret, this heavily illustrated book brings the subject to life with many colorful graphs and diagrams. There have been a number of published editions to keep the information up-to-date. It covers all the main economic and geographic data as well as government organization and the legal system. A very useful way to see how China compares to other countries and the differences between the regions that make up China.
The Stone of Heaven, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2001429 pages. ISBN 978-0753813294 Details/purchase ➚
A disappointment. There are really two books here: a journalistic scoop on the appalling condition of the Burmese jade mines and a survey of jade ornaments throughout Chinese history. There is far too much tedious detail that is not part of the narrative - about half of book could have been left out. There are some unfortunate repetions of debunked myths and some inaccuracies. It seems it was written rapidly without due care on checking facts. Even so it does give an insight into the shady world surrounding China's most precious treasure.
The Story of China, Michael Wood, Simon and Schuster, 2020608 pages. ISBN 978-1471175985 Details/purchase ➚
Michael Wood is a well-known historian with a long-standing interest in China. This book is much more in depth than the TV series of the same name. He adds a lot of material to the early history of China. Taking on such a big subject as somewhat of an amateur (he has never been a professional Chinese historian) is a big step and it is such a huge subject that he cannot cover everything accurately. I found the modern history (post 1850) somewhat flawed with vital background missing (the Korean War gets no mention!). I can somewhat excuse this through lack of space but even at over 600 dense pages it does seem rather condensed. He does concentrate on the female writers and artists through the centuries. It is commendable to bring these figures into the foreground but this is done at the expense of the better known male writers and so gives a lopsided view of Chinese history - the role of women has been historically subjugated. I can heartily recommend reading the early chapters. I wish he had followed Johnathan Spence in writing a series of shorter books on key people and incidents rather than trying to cover everything.
The Taiping Revolution, Various, Foreign Languages Press, 1976188 pages. ASIN B000FEKKA6 Details/purchase ➚
This rather old little book was produced in China at a time when the Taiping Rebellion was seen as the forerunner of the Communist revolution. It therefore gives the pro-Taiping view often absent in the works of Western historians. It considers the positive ambitions for land reform and equality that attracted its millions of followers just like the Communists 70 years on.
The Tao and the Tree of Life, Eric Yudelove, Llewellyn Publications, 1996230 pages. ISBN 1-56718-250-X Details/purchase ➚
The book compares and contrasts the Daoist mystical with the Jewish Tree of Life tradition. Looks at yoga and acupuncture and other traditions but there is far more on Jewish culture than Chinese.
The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung, Stuart Schram, Cambridge University Press, 1989242 pages. ISBN 0-521-31062-8 Details/purchase ➚
Understanding Mao Zedong's guiding philosophy is hard work. With so much propaganda obscuring the truth this book goes back to the source documents to reveal underlying development and changes of his thought. It does not quote large slabs of the 'Thoughts of Mao Zedong', instead it attempts to see where the ideas came from. It documents the differences with Russian (Soviet) thinking leading to the inevitable Sino-Soviet split. There are many biographies of Mao Zedong but these describe the man and not the all important philosophy that took China in a new direction. This is quite a hard but rewarding read if you want to truly understand Mao's philosophy.
The Treasures and Dynasties of China, Bamber Gascoigne, Jonathan Cape, 1973256 pages. ISBN 978-0224009256 Details/purchase ➚
Bamber Gascoigne was a much loved TV personality. When a major Chinese exhibition came to London he wrote this book. It covers the dynastic history of China in a very readable and thought provoking way. He uses sources not generally mentioned to bring history to life and shows a deep interest in Chinese history.
The Wall Has Two Sides, Felix Greene, Jonathon Cape,1970432 pages. ISBN 978-0224604031 Details/purchase ➚
Felix Greene is an accomplished writer - he was a cousin of Graham Greene. This book is the result of a six month fact-finding trip as the only American journalist to visit China in 1960. His positive reporting of what he found counter-balances the negative view of foreign correspondents (often written 'blind' in Hong Kong) at the time. He found no evidence of the abuse and famine that had been reported. Maybe he was only given access to 'appropriate' people and places but it is undoubtedly true that he captures the 'can do' attitude of China at the time.
The Walled Kingdom, Witold Rodzinski, Fontana, 1984450 pages. ISBN 0-00-686148-2 Details/purchase ➚
This is a very competent survey of Chinese history from earliest days to 1960. It reads rather like an undergraduate course, fairly heavy and turgid in places. There are no source references and the use of Wade-Giles makes it all hard work. The earlier, but more readable, book by Fitzgerald is to be preferred.
The Water Kingdom, Philip Ball, Vintage, 2017341 pages. ISBN 978-1847923547 Details/purchase ➚
Although titled 'Water Kingdom' the book covers a great deal of material and that is its weakness. If the author had concentrated on water management over the centuries that would have made a better read. For example I think the Opium Wars and Zheng He are two extraneous topics that only deserve passing reference (not really about water in China!). He fails to explain why water is so great an issue for China compared to other countries - it's pretty much essential everywhere! There are numerous small errors that suggest some aspects were not carefully checked out. There are no proper references just sources of quotations. His take on the PRC's water management initiatives is pretty much negative which is contrary to the opinion of most Chinese people. It's an interesting perspective on Chinese history and I commend him for tackling it from a different viewpoint.
The World of Ancient China, J-B Grosier, Minerva;, 1972144 pages. ASIN: B0007AEUPY Details/purchase ➚
A detailed account of China written by a Jesuit missionary first published back in 1788. This is a modern English translation with poor quality illustrations. The observations of dynastic China are on the whole fairly accurate and it is an interesting early account by a western visitor. However he got a lot of things wrong so it is not a guide to be relied on. It was a very popular and influential book when first published. It lacks an index, references and information on the many illustrations.
The Writing on the Wall: China, Will Hutton, Abacus, 2007436 pages. ISBN 978-0316730181 Details/purchase ➚
Many Americans still believe that the Chinese must surely want to be more like Americans and that the strange Communist government is doomed to fail and democracy prevail. To understand this mindset it is necessary to read American writers such as Will Hutton. This book says very little about China - particularly Chinese history and culture, it is mainly about the International Economic situation and why China does not fit into it.
The Xenophobe's Guide to the Chinese, Zhu Song, Xenophobes Guides, 201098 pages. ASIN B00796E6T4 Details/purchase ➚
A guide to the modern Chinese people. Good insights into the everyday lives of the Chinese. A light hearted guide that would be very useful for a Westerner going to live in China. Many topics are treated pretty superficially and there is no index or list of references.
Three Essays on Party Building, Liu Shaoqi, Foreign Languages Press, 1982300 pages. ASIN B008YMDWGU Details/purchase ➚
It is often overlooked that Liu Shaoqi was Communist party leader for the whole of the tumultuous time from 1959-1968. He espoused a more 'mixed' economy than Mao Zedong. After he was charged and jailed, his achievements were not mentioned until he was rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. This rare book includes his core beliefs on how the Chinese Communist Party should be organized on Marxist-Leninist lines. An essential read for people studying the way that the PRC developed in its early years.
Through the Chinese Revolution, Ralph and Nancy Lapwood, Spalding and Levy, 1954216 pages. ISBN 978-0883550793 Details/purchase ➚
This is one of very few eye witness accounts of a Westerner in China in the period 1932-1952. It documents the appalling conditions during the Japanese occupation. Ralph Lapwood was a British missionary and scientist who saw the transformation of China at first hand. The fervor of revolution after the foundation of the P.R.C. in 1949 is described in detail. It can be suggested that the author became too wrapped up in the revolution, seeing only the benefits but personal accounts of people living closely with the Chinese at this time are rare and the account can not be easily dismissed. This is a very personal record so there are no notes or references.
Tiger Head SnakeTails, Jonathan Fenby, Simon & Schuster, 2012418 pages. ISBN ? 978-1847373939 Details/purchase ➚
A very competent and encyclopedic look at China in 2012. I sadly have to mark it down because this book is very much of its time and so a lot is now of less value. Jonathan Fenby really knows the facts, the pages are stuff full of information about the Chinese economy and a little on politics. There is a full biography of Xi Jinping - then the likely successor to Hu Jintao. He does look back to the early days of the PRC but there is little on traditions. A good proportion of the book is looking forward and it is interesting to judge the accuracy of these predictions.
Key to symbols used in the book descriptions
Note: More up-to-date editions of these books may well exist.
Many books cover more than one topic, these icons reflect all topics it may touch on.