“I could understand ignorance, but I could not accept its glorification, still less its right to rule.”
From Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
How many books about China can you read when you travel to such a big country only for a month? And which ones do you read?
The choice is endless.
For one month we traveled to Beijing and to the northeastern provinces of the country (former Manchuria). I based my selection of books on this particular region, which brought me to the following selection. This is by no means a comprehensive list but gave me at least a general idea of the places we were traveling to.
History Books about Northeast China
Over the years I have bought a couple of books by Charles River Editors. They are a perfect buy if you want to have a clear, concise overview of a specific landmark or regional history.
The Charles River Editor selection on China is large (find it here), and I opted for the following books:
- The Great Wall of China: The History of China’s Most Famous Landmark
- The Forbidden City: The History of the Chinese Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing
- The Japanese Invasion of Manchuria: The History of the Occupation of Northeastern China that Presaged World War II
Additionally I bought Twilight in the Forbidden City, by Reginald Johnston, the only foreigner in history to be allowed inside the inner court of the Qing Dynasty and shares his experiences there.
Travel Memoirs about Northeast Asia
I didn’t buy these books specifically for China but because of the whole North Asian region we are currently traveling in. These travel memoirs cover parts of Mongolia and China (and two of them Russia as well).
- Off The Rails: 10,000 km by Bicycle across Russia, Siberia, and Mongolia, by Chris Hatherly and Tim Cope
- Walking Home from Mongolia: Ten Million Steps Through China, from the Gobi Desert to the South China Sea, by Rob Lilwall
- Under the Flight Path: 15,000 kms Overland Across Russia, Mongolia & China, by Simon Pridmore
Non-Fiction about China
The global bestseller When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, by Martin Jacques
Not focused on the region we were traveling in but this book gives a good overview of modern China and a look into the future.
From Amazon, “In this greatly expanded and fully updated edition, boasting nearly 300 pages of new material, and backed up by the latest statistical data, Martin Jacques renews his assault on conventional thinking about China’s ascendancy, showing how its impact will be as much political and cultural as economic, changing the world as we know it.”
Martin Jacques also gave a TED talk about the topic. Find it here.
The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East, by Kishore Mahbubani
Whereas the above-mentioned book focuses on China, this book is about Asia at large in which China obviously plays an important part.
From Amazon, “For centuries, the Asians (Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and others) have been bystanders in world history. Now they are ready to become co-drivers. Asians have finally understood, absorbed, and implemented Western best practices in many areas: from free-market economics to modern science and technology, from meritocracy to rule of law. They have also become innovative in their own way, creating new patterns of cooperation not seen in the West.”
Read More: Hiking the Great Wall Away From the Crowds
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Another book that is not about the region but a fascinating true story about three generations of women in the 20th century in China. It sold more than 13 million copies.
Mao: The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
After Wild Swans, Jung Chang wrote another book, this time about Mao. Her bias is tangible throughout the book but nonetheless I found it another fascinating read about a subject I had learned way too little about in school.
Guidebooks about China
An armchair traveller’s history of Beijing, by Jonathan Clements
A different kind of guidebook with an extensive history section that helps to understand where current Beijing originated and how it evolved into the metropolis as it is today. The second part of the book has practical information on sites and food.
Lonely Planet Guidebooks:
- Insight Guides China. This guidebook provides a good read up on the country that helps you to make a choice on which region to focus. Available in print as well as ebook. Unfortunately only a few pages have been dedicated to China’s northeastern corner, hence our additional purchase of:
- Lonely Planet Shandong, Jinan & Northeast China (Travel Guide Chapter)
- Lonely Planet Beijing Travel Guide
Which books about China or by Chinese authors have you read? We’d love to hear about them!
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