The 100 Best Books About China

What a great list from SupChina!

Here are some culture books which made the list.

94. Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men

Mara Hvistendahl (Public Affairs, 2011)

China has no shortage of problems on its horizon, but perhaps one of the most alarming and underappreciated is its severe gender imbalance, which will see tens of millions of men go permanently without a female partner. In this book, journalist Mara Hvistendahl traces the origins of the problem, from Western fears of overpopulation in the 1960s though the present day, where a patriarchal culture, strict birth limits, and sex-selective abortion have made China ground zero for this problem with global implications….
— Eric Fish

91. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

Paul French (Penguin Books, 2012)

The story of 19-year-old Pamela Werner’s grisly murder and postmortem dismemberment and dissection in 1930s Peking was mostly forgotten by the time Paul French began investigating the story in the mid-2000s. French sets his reconstruction of the events of 1937 against the backdrop of a city and a nation on the verge of monumental change. The novelistic retelling of the Werner story is as compelling as French’s portrait of Peking in the dying days of Old China, and the city’s collection of expatriate misfits, colonial holdouts, weirdos, and perverts.

— Dylan Levi King

83. The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine

Ted J. Kaptchuk, O.M.D. (Congdon & Weed, 1983)

First published in 1983, this book is a classic introduction to Chinese medicine that is equally well-suited for an acupuncture training course, a university philosophy class, or the bedside table of anyone interested in Chinese culture…..

— Hanna Pickwell

56. Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China

Ráo Píngrú 饶平如, translated by Nicky Harman (Pantheon, 2018)

Rao Pingru was 87 when he began to write the story of his life, focusing on his long marriage to his recently deceased wife, Meitang. In the absence of surviving photographs, he taught himself to paint, and so it is that Our Story is illustrated with his charming, quirky pictures.

Born in 1922, Rao received a Confucian education, and acquired an abiding love of classical Chinese poetry. As a young man, he fought in the anti-Japanese War (he paints the bloody battles vividly), escaping death by a whisker on several occasions. When peace came, his father arranged his marriage to Meitang. Rao gives us fascinating glimpses of the life they led in the late-40s and early-50s: their travels around China, local food specialities (illustrated in great detail), and his desperate attempts to find a job. Eventually, the couple settled in Shanghai, where he worked as an editor and they raised five children — before he was sent away to do reform through education during the Cultural Revolution. In the last part of the book, Rao describes in heartbreaking detail how he cared for Meitang as she battled diabetes and dementia, and mourned her death.

Rao became a TV celebrity when Our Story was first published in Chinese. He is now 97, and recently appeared at the Shanghai International Literary Festival.

— Nicky Harman

45. One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment

Mei Fong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

One Child follows the twists and turns of China’s most notorious social experiment: the planned birth policy instituted in 1980. Limiting families to a single offspring may have seemed prudent at the time, when China’s population was growing at alarming rates, but in reality, that decision carved out immense challenges for Chinese individuals as well as the world’s most populous country.

…One Child harkens back to an era that seems bygone — Chinese are now allowed two children — yet understanding the long-lasting effects of China’s social planning experiment is more important than before, as the country’s status grows ever larger on the global stage.

— Lenora Chu

39. The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China

David Eimer (Bloomsbury USA, 2014)

For every hundred tedious China memoirs or airport books with a play on words about dragons in the title, there is a book like David Eimer’s. The Sunday Telegraph’s former man in Beijing set himself a tougher task than most: traveling through the borderlands, meeting the ethnic minorities that call them home, and attempting to get a feel for the “huge, unwieldy and unstable empire that is China….”

— Dylan Levi King

24. The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao

Ian Johnson (Pantheon, 2017)

The Souls of China brings the reader face-to-face with the practitioners of a variety of spiritual traditions in China. Ian Johnson describes in vivid detail such experiences as Buddhist temple pilgrimages and festivals on the outskirts of Beijing, Daoist and folk religion practices in Shanxi Province, and the politics of protestant Christian house churches in Chengdu, Sichuan…

17. China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa

Howard French (Knopf, 2014)

China’s growing presence in Africa has been a hot topic for years, with rival camps staking out positions on so-called debt trap diplomacy, on allegations of neo-colonialism, or exploitative resource extraction, or unfair labor practices. What gets overlooked too often is the lived experience of ordinary people, whether Chinese or Africans. Howard French, a veteran reporter with the New York Times, with extensive reporting experience in Africa and in China, addresses this gap in an excellent book that profiles, with great sensitivity and sympathy, a number of Chinese living and working in countries around Africa….

— Kaiser Kuo

11. Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China

Philip P. Pan (Simon & Schuster, 2008)

Out of Mao’s Shadow is a tribute to survivors: the Chinese who persevered through famine, revolution, shattered idealism, and the inversion of values systems. It is a profile of the Chinese national character, of brave men and women whose struggles exemplify the enduring human spirit. Philip Pan, who reported for the Washington Post for eight years in Beijing, interviews lawyers, activists, doctors, officials, and everyday people, and tells on-the-ground stories about SARS, censorship, politicians, martyrs, and more. Two profiles in particular stand out: The first is on Hu Jie, a man obsessed with Lin Zhao, a girl imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution who legend has it wrote on the walls with her own blood; the other is on Chen Guangcheng, a blind lawyer harassed by authorities and goons in his rural village. (Chen would capture international headlines years later when he escaped house arrest, turned up at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and was eventually granted permission — after high-level negotiations — to leave for the U.S.)

It’s hard to read Out of Mao’s Shadow and not come away marveling at the Chinese people and thinking that the state could benefit from celebrating its most colorful and intrepid characters. Alas, reading this book 11 years later, it’s perhaps more appropriate to wonder who will continue to take up the struggle as the void left by Mao’s death becomes increasingly filled with money and power. How much soul is left to struggle for?