Books from my Bookshelf

Below is a selection of books about China that I have read, enjoyed, and kept on my bookshelf.
See if there are any here that you might enjoy!



by Ha Jin

Ha Jin's novels vividly capture the experience of life in China. In this story an indecisive man is pressured by his family to marry a woman who seems simple and unattractive to him. Leaving his wife behind in the village he builds his own career in the military - returning each year to visit. Meanwhile, a relationship develops with one of his co-workers but military regulations make it too dangerous for them to consumate their relationship without first getting married. So each year when he returns home he promises to obtain a divorce and each year he fails. A fascinating insight into the nature of relationships in revolutionary China, the degree to which the state intruded into people's personal lives, the expectations of family, and the penalties of indecisiveness.


Oracle Bones - A journey in time through China
By Peter Hessler

A skilled story teller and researcher as well as an avid investigator, Peter Hessler weaves skillfully together stories of ancient history, archeological discoveries, social upheaval, betrayal by ruthless politicians and the struggles of young people to make a life for themselves during changing times in China. A fascinating account of Hessler's travels within China and the friendships he develops with the students he taught. Interviews with people who lived through the cultural revolution give great insight into the difficult adjustments people made in order to live through those difficult times and continue to function afterwards. A very worthwhile book.


Wild Swans – Three Daughters of China
by Jung Chang

A fascinating and engrossing story that spans three generations beginning with the grandmother who was a concubine for an early 20th Century warlord, continuing with the mother whose idealistic revolutionary zeal struggled to survive the denouncements of the cultural revolution and ending with the daughter who writes the detailed history of her family based upon her own direct experiences and the stories told to her by her parents and grandparents. This is a book that I have already completely read twice and expect to read again. A tale of courage, hardship and dedication – often maintained in the face of cruel twists of fate as the family fortunes take them from the heights of communist party privilege to the depths of denouncement and exile.

In order to prepare for the future, we must understand the past.


One Man’s Bible
By Gao Xingjian

Translated into English from the original Chinese, I felt that it still retained the feeling of expression that I associate with the Chinese language. To me, it was a story of survival – often at the most basic level where desperation leads to fear and exploitation. Written by a talented author and dramatist who was exiled to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution and had to burn his manuscripts to avoid being denounced, Gao’s personal experiences lend authority and authenticity to this engrossing story.

A strong and intelligently written novel.


Chinese Village Close-up
By Fei Hsiao Tung

Fei, a renowned anthropologist and sociologist, carried out a study in 1936 of a small village in south China. This book is the result of his work. For me, the book provided great insight into the lives of the villagers and the social pressures that steadily eroded their ownership of the land so that they eventually worked the land for the benefit of the wealthy landowners in the towns and cities who were more concerned with their own standard of living and had little regard for the lives of the villagers. Although this situation cannot be projected onto all landowners of that era in China it seems likely that it provided the basis for much of the support that came from the peasants during the communist revolution in China.

An interesting book that has helped me to understand many of the values and customs that still exist in modern Chinese society.


Living Shamans
Shamanism in China
Edited by Guo Shuyun and Wang Hongang

A fascinating book published by Liaoning People’s Publishing House. The book is a mainly pictorial record of shamanic rituals being practiced in Northeast China along with commentary in Chinese and in English. For many years folk religions in China were strongly discouraged but the traditions were kept alive and with renewed religious freedoms have come out into the open. This book documents some of the beliefs and rituals of Chinese folk religions that are still widely practiced in city and countryside.

This book is very difficult to obtain outside of China. During my next visit I plan to bring additional copies home with me. If you are interested in obtaining one please contact me by email.


Personal Voices – Chinese Women in the 1980’s
by Emily Honig and Gail Hershatter.

In order to understand where China is going, it is important to understand where it came from. The women who are discussed in this book have, by now, raised their own children and sent them into the world and many of them are probably also directly involved in raising their grandchildren. The thoughts and aspirations they shared as young women have helped to shape China’s development so it is interesting and instructive to look back at the lives they lived thirty years ago.

An interesting book – absorbing in places – but I found that sometimes the strongly feminist interpretations of what the women said did not sit comfortably with my own experiences and interpretations. In the end, I skipped more and more of the interpretations and focused on the narratives of the women themselves. Still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in understanding Chinese society and culture.



Nixon and Mao
The Week That Changed The World
By Margaret Macmillan

Mao Tse Tung’s influence is on the decline but the opportunity to meet with Nixon provides him with a chance to take the initiative and rekindle his political fortunes. With huge amounts of background information this thoroughly researched and well written book gives insight into the political machinations of the power hungry politicians that brokered this meeting. In the end, it was enough to just open the door a crack so that the process of integrating China into the world community could begin.

Full of fascinating detail.


Check back later for more reccommendations