This list of Historical Books is comprised by my wife. She keeps updating the list.
I learn a lot from her as she reads about China’s history much more than me.
27 interviews the author conducted with Chinese men and women from the lower ranks of society, people who hold professions I didn’t even know existed and despite everything are an integral (if sometimes overlooked) part of Chinese society. Among the speakers are a professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public toilet manager, a leper, a grave robber, and a Falung Gong practitioner.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China – Jung Chang
If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend this both historical and personal tale, spanning three generations in Chinese life, from the foot bound grandmother to the Communist mother and the U.S.A resident daughter. This book opened my eyes to modern Chinese history, its tales and people, in a way that made me go and search for more…
Mao: The Unknown Story – Jung Chang & Jon Halliday
Mao’s biography, researched for over a decade and written by Jung Chang and her historian husband Jon Halliday. This is a remarkable work, it’s nearly a thousand pages long, and still I read it with bated breath and was sorry when it ended. Some criticize the book for the extreme view of Mao it presents, I think it’s very well worth judging for yourself. It is extremely well researched, and at the same time as the author lived through the different stages and campaigns of communist China I think objectivity on her side is impossible, I don’t necessarily see it as a disadvantage, but I do recommend reading it after reading Wild Swans and getting acquainted with her personal history. This biography is a brave book you shouldn’t miss.
The New Emperors: Mao and Deng – A Dual Biography – Harrison Salisbury
This is a great dual biography covering both Mao and Deng Xiaoping and their respective eras. It gives a great overview, and as one of the first books I came across it was a wonderful beginner, as from it I got both the bigger picture, and gained an understanding (at least an initial one) of both leaders. It also directed me towards the period I’m most interested in modern Chinese history – the cultural revolution.
When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution – Shu Jiang Lu
A retrospective about the author’s growing up years through the cultural revolution. The books is a collection of stories and voices, sometimes it reads almost like a tale of a dream or distorted fairy tale. It doesn’t just list facts and deeds of the time, rather it takes you on a literary trip where what is between the lines and behind them is sometimes as if not more important than the words themselves.
The Chinese cultural revolution as history – Studies of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center
A fascinating collection of articles about different aspects of the cultural revolution. I found some more interesting than others, but it gives an interesting insight about many aspects of the period in a strictly academic tone in contrast to my previous recommendation. I think of it as a sort of starters buffet, you can later go and continue reading and learning about the subject you found most interesting. Among the topics discussed are the Red Guards, the “Four Olds” campaign, Cultural Revolution science, sent-down youth, morality in rural China and more.
Not a simple book, but a fascinating one about trauma in 20th century China and how it’s represented in film and literature.
Investigative Journalism in China: Eight Cases in Chinese Watchdog Journalism – David Bandurski
Fascinating look into Chinese journalism today, the stories and the challenges reporters in China face today. Each case is presented by the leading reporter him/herself, and tells the story of the windmill they’ve taken on to fight.
Three stories of seemingly ordinary people, who under different circumstances became extraordinary, and I believe represent many more. The main characters include a young architecture student, a bereaved daughter, and a peasant legal clerk. I loved this book, and came across references to its heroes while further reading about the “ordinary” people of China.
Change in China through the eyes of the forever outsider Western journalist, and the people he meets during his teaching years and later as a resident of Beijing and a reporter. Hessler writes that when a Chinese tells a story sometimes the most important things are veiled behind the words, and are weaved in the connections between associations and descriptions. In a way I feel that’s the way this book was written as well, the past and present are weaved together, and you draw your own conclusions from the interactions, and the stories that don’t always seem connected on the surface. It’s a book that requires attention to details and concentration, but it’s more than worth it.