Sep 02, 2013 By Zoe Croom ,

We have had a couple of great years for books on China. As more and more people want to understand the nuances of China’s political and economic systems, and the Chinese way of life we are seeing a greater variety of topics and more accessible writing styles. And as one top ten list declared, almost none of them have dragons on the front. We know it can be difficult starting out, so here are five books that are worth your time.

Books on China

1) Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West
Author: Peter Hessler
Published: Harper Collins (13 April 2013)

Between 2001 and 2010 Hessler lived and engaged with everyday people throughout China. Strange Stones is a collection of Hessler’s essays and writings on China and the United States from his time working for the New Yorker. The book deals with a range of topics, from a profile on Yao Ming, a basketball star and one of China’s beloved exports to the story of a family evacuating their home as the Three Gorges Dam floods their village. While the book is not overtly political and doesn’t aim to give answers to questions often posed about China, through these vignettes on life the reader is able to understand the broader context within which these stories sit.

2) Behind the Red Door: Sex in China
Author: Richard Burger
Published: Earnshaw Books (1 September 2012)

While many in the West often think of sex as a taboo subject in China, Richard Burger, a former editor at a state-run newspaper in Beijing and blogger, shows us that this has not always been the case. Starting in ancient China Burger investigates the different relationships with sexuality that have existed in China. At times it has been celebrated and at other times suppressed and in modern day China, a shift is once again underway. While for many, traditional morals are being exchanged for greater sexual openness, there are still those not wholly convinced and every year thousands of women undergo surgery to have their hymens restored. Behind the Red Door is a well-detailed and readable book that will introduce you to a new side of Chinese history.

3) On China
Author: Henry Kissinger
Published: Allen Lane (17 May 2011)

At a time when the Cold War was at its most tense, Kissinger, working as Richard Nixon National Security Advisor, held a series of secret meetings that eventually led to the 1972 presidential visit to communist China, an act that surprised America’s allies and enemies. The alliance forged during those visits remains crucial to American foreign policy. On China, is a political history book, taking us from China’s early days to the present. However, when he discusses the 1970s and onwards the book becomes much more personal as he becomes a central figure in the narrative. The end of the book looks to the future and discusses how American policymakers should proceed. An informative book that should be read by anyone trying to understand international politics.

4) China Airborne
Author: James Fallows
Published: Vintage (2012)

While many books on China take a broad look at its economy, society, and state structures, James Fallows book, China Airborne, is industry specific. Using a combination of historical research, interviews and personal anecdotes he is able to provide a snapshot of a topic not often discussed. However, through examining the intricacies of Chinese aviation, he creates a picture of the development of and issues within China’s wider economy. This books leaves a number of questions unanswered but is a refreshing approach to writings on China.

5) Midnight in Peking
Author: Paul French
Published: Penguin Books (31 May 2012)

Midnight in Peking tells the true story of an Englishwoman’s murder and the hunt for the killer in 1937 Peking. On the 8th January the body of 19-year-old Pamela Werner, daughter of the city’s former British consul, Edward Werner, was found at the foot of the Legation Quarter’s watchtower with all her blood drained from her body and her heart missing. With the invasion of China by Japanese forces firmly in the background, French’s ‘reconstruction’, as he calls it, introduces us to a range of flamboyant and baroque characters, all living in a salacious expatriate world.

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Keywords: five recent books on China books on China

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1 Comments Add your comment



A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel gave exceptional insight into China's domestic politics. Best book I've read on China this year.

Sep 03, 2013 18:50 Report Abuse