Your winter reading sorted: 7 great books about China

Seven books to curl up with as you hibernate through the cold

Image: Pexels via Pixabay
As the skies and weather turn towards the grey, stay wrapped up inside your home, in a plastic igloo, or at your favourite bookshop with these fascinating books from, or about, China. Gain a new perspective, challenge an old preconception or just lose yourself in another world or time.

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Factory Girls

Factory Girls

Leslie T Chang, 2008

Factory Girls was the first book to actually go into the dormitories and factory floors of China’s migrant workers. When American-Chinese journalist Leslie T Chang visited the Pearl River Delta factory city of Dongguan in 2004 for an article documenting the lives of Wu Chunming and Lu Qingmin, two migrant workers who were born to poor farming families, she decided to turn their story into something more.

The resulting book follows their lives over a period of three years and includes the author’s own family history of migration within China and to the West, adding a personal touch. At the time, Factory Girls lifted the lid on the so-called ‘factory of the world’, sparking numerous revelations and raising awareness about workers’ conditions. It went on to become one of The New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2008 and also received the 2009 PEN USA Literary Award for Research Nonfiction and the Asian American Literary Award for Nonfiction.

Factory Girls is a masterclass in reportage and the power of applying patience, sensitivity and trust when researching a topic. By Kelly Falconer Founder, Asia Literary Agency.

Available from dangdang.cn (from 64RMB), and an updated version including an interview with Leslie T. Chang is available from The Bookworm (160RMB). 

China Rich Girlfriend

China Rich Girlfriend

Kevin Kwok, 2016


The sequel to bestseller Crazy Rich Asians (the film of which will be released in Beijing next week), this novel brings our heroes to a series of familiar Shanghai landmarks. Nick, the uber rich heir apparent to a Singapore fortune, has proposed to Rachel (who has neither wealth nor connections) and cut ties with his family dynasty after they refused to accept her. But it would be a grave letdown to the action-packed first book if the course of true love ran smoothly in the second. On a quest to find her real dad in China, Rachel is drawn into a swirling world of deceit and intrigue, while simultaneously plunged into the heart of the city's tuhao circuit. Yes, it beggars belief at times, but it will keep you gripped to the end.  

Available from amazon.cn (80RMB).

 Little Soldiers

Little Soldiers

Lenora Chu, 2017 


This hard-hitting exploration of China’s education system is told through the eyes of an American-Chinese journalist living in Shanghai. Noticing their three-year-old toddler was far more unruly than Chinese children of the same age, the Chu family enrols their son in a state-run public school. What follows is Lenora’s account and insight into the parents, teachers, administrators, professors and students involved in the creation of super-achieving students. Challenging assumptions and questioning values, Chu’s book provides a looking-glass through which the uninitiated can get a glimpse of the education system servicing China’s 1.3 billion people. The book was chosen as the New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, Real Simple Best of the Month, and Library Journal Editor’s Pick. 

Available from amazon.cn (106RMB) and The Bookworm (210RMB).

Unbound

Unbound

John Shors, 2017


In 1548 a craftsman is forced to help rebuild parts of the Great Wall to help prevent a Mongol invasion. Taken from his wife and family, the labourer Fan works beside the Chinese Empire’s army to defend the dynasty. But when Fan has been missing for over a year, his wife Meng – in true Mulan style – disguises herself as a man to find him. When the Mongol and Chinese armies meet at the Great Wall, Meng and Fan find themselves embroiled in the lives of those seeking redemption, justice and destruction. Unbound is both a historical epic as well as a story of love and freedom. 

Available from amazon.co.uk (115RMB) and The Bookworm (185RMB).

 Invisible Planets

Invisible Planets

Edited and translated by Ken Liu, 2016 


The acclaimed, multi-award-winning translator and author Ken Liu put together 13 of China’s best science fiction short stories into this anthology of Chinese sci-fi. As Liu himself says, ‘the anthology includes stories by writers already familiar to anglophone readers like Liu Cixin (author of the Hugo-winning Three-Body Problem) as well as newer writers beloved by fans in China like Chen Qiufan, Ma Boyong, Xia Jia, Hao Jingfang (author of the Hugo-winning Folding Beijing), Cheng Jingbo, and Tang Fei. To place the works in context, I’ve written an introduction as well as solicited a few analytical essays.’ For those interested in sci-fi, Chinese fiction or entering a new and unexplored world, Invisible Planets is a wonderful place to start.

Available from amazon.cn (125RMB) and The Bookworm (120RMB). 

A Death in Peking

A Death in Peking

Graeme Sheppard, 2018 


We’ve all heard of Paul French’s Midnight in Peking – the book that follows Pamela’s father’s footsteps as he seeks out his daughter’s murderer. And while the case has never been solved, French declared a killer based on his journalistic investigation. But Sheppard apparently disagrees, and with 30 years of police work under his belt from Scotland Yard, Sheppard arrives at a completely different conclusion, once again calling into question the truth behind Pamela’s brutal murder. Sheppard’s hot new take provides alternative evidence, shining what some critics call a dispassionate, analytical light on the story.   

Available from amazon.cn (148RMB) and The Bookworm (160RMB). 

Beijing Bastard

Beijing Bastard

Val Wang, 2015 


“A coming-of-age story that combines observations of Beijing with the culture clashes of West and East, Wang’s memoir gives readers insight into the city’s artistic subcultures, while exploring her own Chinese roots.’ – The Asian Review of Books 

Val Wang was raised in a strict Chinese household, where she followed the mould with good grades and piano lessons. She quickly shattered this ideal with a shaved head, leftist ideology and a move back to the land from which her parents had fled before the Communist takeover in 1949. What follows is a detailed, revealing memoir of a young woman finding her way in the world and in China.

Available from amazon.co.uk (106RMB, kindle edition).

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