Your China reading list

Whether you’re getting ready to go to China  or already there, it’s a good time to start (or add to) your reading list for China.  Whether you are an avid reader or someone who takes your time with each book, it’s always good to add to the experience of living abroad with a good reading list.  Besides that, it’s a tough time, and if you’re stuck at home, a good book is the best way to spend the down time you have.  I’ve put together some other lists I found online to include things beyond my own experience, but will start with what I do know.  Also – if you are in the US , here is an alternative to Amazon that supports locally owned bookstores that struggle in the best of times, but are really hard up right now.


Generally, I prefer fiction, but China has a thousand exciting stories you want to read, and John Keay wrote a complete history of China simply titled “China, A History” that starts from early man and takes you all the way to modern day.  It’s a huge book, so maybe best to listen to this one if you’re a slow reader or don’t want to take on something too comprehensive.  If you’re up for it though, it’s definitely worth it.  Learn the origin of money, crazy imperial antics, and the chaos as global forces came to in the 19th century.

Still hungry for history?  Nothing is more fascinating than the the life of Genghis Khan.  Follow John Man on a journey through ancient China in “Genghis Khan – Life, Death, and Resurrection.”  This book is super accessible, not at all a dry history book, and it’s amazing to learn that this incredible figure in history had a life you definitely want to learn about.

If you’re more interested in more modern information, Leslie Chang’s “Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China” where the author speaks to dozens of the largely female workforce in factories in Southern China.  You learn about changes in family structure happening today, and how these family bonds are evolving in a modern world where the young and single suddenly become breadwinners.


In reflecting on my own library, I also found some gaps here, and one area is ancient Chinese Literature.  I have read “Monkey” by Wu Cheng-en that is a fascinating folk tale of a mischievous monkey.  In addition to this, If found this list that has informed my next purchases.  I’m especially interested in exploring Zhang Ailing.

“Waiting” by Ha Jin is a very well written story of relationships in China and details the long story of a woman who becomes involved with a married man and what that means in China.

No list of Chinese fiction is complete without the powerhouse “Red Sorghum” by Mo Yan.  If you only walk away with one book, this should be it.  It’s an intergenerational epic novel that ranges from the 20s through the mid 70s with the incredible background of a rapidly evolving landscape in China.

And – because I haven’t read everything, I found another list of interesting books – and this one includes Factory Girls recommended above.

Penguin Random House put together this list: and though I haven’t read all of the titles, the ones I have are all ones I love so consider it a good reference.

Happy reading!