Recommended Reading

Disclaimer: Only books which the editor has personally read and would recommend to a friend are listed below. No advertising deals with Amazon, the publishers or the authors have been made.

 

The Emperor Far Away by David Eimer

“In 1949, Mao Zedong announced the birth of the People's Republic of China, a proclamation to the world that, after centuries of war and social conflict, China had emerged as one nation. Since then, this idea has been constantly propagated for the benefit of the international community. For many living in the vast country, however, the old Chinese adage holds true: “the mountains are high and the emperor is far away.”

“Few Westerners make it far beyond the major cities-the Chinese government has made it difficult to do so. David Eimer undertook a dangerous journey to China's unexplored frontiers (it borders on fourteen other countries), to the outer reaches where Beijing's power has little influence. His chronicle shines new light on the world's most populous nation, showing clearly that China remains in many ways a divided state. Traveling through the Islamic areas of Xinjiang province, into the forbidden zone of Tibet, and across Route 219, which runs the rough boundary shared with India and is the only disputed frontier in China, Eimer exposes the country's inner conflict. All the tensions in China today-from its war against drugs and terrorism and the unstable relationships it maintains with Russia and Korea to its internal social issues-take on new meaning when seen from China's most remote corners. A brilliant melding of journalism and history, The Emperor Far Away is essential reading for anyone interested in contemporary China.” - Amazon

Chinese Rules by Tim Clissold

“From the author of the acclaimed Mr. China comes another rollicking adventure story—part memoir, part history, part business imbroglio—that offers valuable lessons to help Westerners win in China.”

“In the twenty-first century, the world has tilted eastwards in its orbit; China grows confident while the West seems mired in doubt. Having lived and worked in China for more than two decades, Tim Clissold explains the secrets that Westerners can use to navigate through its cultural and political maze. Picking up where he left off in the international bestseller Mr. China, Chinese Rules chronicles his most recent exploits, with assorted Chinese bureaucrats, factory owners, and local characters building a climate change business in China. Of course, all does not go as planned as he finds himself caught between the world’s largest carbon emitter and the world’s richest man. Clissold offers entertaining and enlightening anecdotes of the absurdities, gaffes, and mysteries he encountered along the way.”

“Sprinkled amid surreal scenes of cultural confusion and near misses, are smart myth-busting insights and practical lessons Westerns can use to succeed in China. Exploring key episodes in that nation’s long political, military, and cultural history, Clissold outlines five Chinese Rules, which anyone can deploy in on-the-ground situations with modern Chinese counterparts. These Chinese rules will enable foreigners not only to cooperate with China but also to compete with it on its own terms.” - Amazon

 

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling

“Exquisite and amusing miniatures regarded as the pinnacle of classical Chinese fiction”

“With their elegant prose, witty wordplay and subtle charm, the 104 stories in this selection from The Strange Tales of Pu Songling (1640-1715) reveal a world in which nothing is as it seems. Here a Taoist monk conjures up a magical pear tree, a scholar recounts his previous incarnations, a woman out-foxes the fox-spirit that possesses her, a child bride gives birth to a thimble-sized baby, a ghostly city appears out of nowhere and a heartless daughter-in-law is turned into a pig. In his tales of humans coupling with shape-shifting spirits, bizarre phenomena, haunted buildings and enchanted objects, Pu Songling pushes back the boundaries of human experience and enlightens as he entertains.” -Amazon

“Eminent Chinese scholar John Minford's superb translation captures the consummate skill and understated humor of Pu Songling's classic Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio (also known as Strange Tales from Liaozhai). With elegant prose, witty wordplay, and subtle charm, the 104 stories (selected out of over 400 from the original work) in this collection reveal a world in which nothing is as it seems. In his tales of shape-shifting spirits, bizarre phenomena, haunted buildings, and enchanted objects, Pu Songling pushes the boundaries of human experience and enlightens as he entertains.” -GoodReads

 

Out of Mao’s Shadow by Philip P. Pan

“Prize-winning journalist Philip P. Pan offers an unprecedented inside look at the momentous battle underway for China's future. On one side is the entrenched party elite determined to preserve its authoritarian grip on power. On the other is a collection of lawyers, journalists, entrepreneurs, activists, hustlers, and dreamers striving to build a more tolerant, open, and democratic China. The outcome of this dramatic, hidden struggle will shape China's rise to superpower status-and determine how it affects the rest of the world.”

“From factories in the rusting industrial northeast to a tabloid newsroom in the booming south, from a small-town courtroom to the plush offices of the nation's wealthiest tycoons, Pan speaks with men and women fighting and sacrificing for change. An elderly surgeon exposes the government's cover-up of the SARS epidemic. A filmmaker investigates the execution of a student in the Cultural Revolution. A blind man is jailed for leading a crusade against forced abortions carried out under the one-child policy.”

“Out of Mao's Shadow offers a startling perspective on China and its remarkable transformation, challenging conventional wisdom about the political apathy of the Chinese people and the notion that prosperity leads automatically to freedom. Like […] Lenin's Tomb, this is the moving story of a nation in transition, of a people coming to terms with their past.” - GoodReads

 

Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

“From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy-or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don't see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes.”

“As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party's struggle to retain control. He asks probing questions: Why does a government with more success lifting people from poverty than any civilization in history choose to put strict restraints on freedom of expression? Why do millions of young Chinese professionals-fluent in English and devoted to Western pop culture-consider themselves "angry youth," dedicated to resisting the West's influence? How are Chinese from all strata finding meaning after two decades of the relentless pursuit of wealth?”

“Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail.” - Amazon

 

Existence: A story by David Hinton

“The meaning of life--as expressed in a single Chinese landscape painting: a new work of meditative philosophy by the renowned translator of the Chinese classics and author of Hunger Mountain.”

“Join David Hinton on an exploration of the entire nature of reality - an ambitious project for such a compact book, and even more amazing when you see that this cosmic journey happens all within the exploration of a single Chinese landscape painting.”

“The painting called Peaceful-Distance Pavilion by Shih-t'ao (1642-1707) is, like other paintings in that genre, mostly space: one tiny figure, accompanied by an attendant, looks out over a vast landscape of mountains and clouds. But start looking into that space and, with the right guidance, what you end up seeing is profound. David Hinton is the perfect guide. He uses his knowledge of Chinese philosophy, poetry, art, language, and writing system to illuminate this painting's message, which is ultimately the story of the glorious dance between nothing and everything, between emptiness and existence. It's an enthralling journey that can change the way you look at the world, a journey for which David is a wise and eloquent guide." - GoodReads

 

Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese by Byung-Chul Han

“Tracing the thread of “decreation” in Chinese thought, from constantly changing classical masterpieces to fake cell phones that are better than the original.”

“Shanzhai is a Chinese neologism that means “fake,” originally coined to describe knock-off cell phones marketed under such names as Nokir and Samsing. These cell phones were not crude forgeries but multi-functional, stylish, and as good as or better than the originals. Shanzhai has since spread into other parts of Chinese life, with shanzhai books, shanzhai politicians, shanzhai stars. There is a shanzhai Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll, in which Harry takes on his nemesis Yandomort. In the West, this would be seen as piracy, or even desecration, but in Chinese culture, originals are continually transformed―deconstructed. In this volume in the Untimely Meditations series, Byung-Chul Han traces the thread of deconstruction, or “decreation,” in Chinese thought, from ancient masterpieces that invite inscription and transcription to Maoism―“a kind a shanzhai Marxism,” Han writes.”

“Han discusses the Chinese concepts of quan, or law, which literally means the weight that slides back and forth on a scale, radically different from Western notions of absoluteness; zhen ji, or original, determined not by an act of creation but by unending process; xian zhan, or seals of leisure, affixed by collectors and part of the picture's composition; fuzhi, or copy, a replica of equal value to the original; and shanzhai. The Far East, Han writes, is not familiar with such “pre-deconstructive” factors as original or identity. Far Eastern thought begins with deconstruction.” - Amazon

 

The Path by Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh

“For the first time, an award-winning Harvard professor shares his wildly popular course on classical Chinese philosophy, showing you how ancient ideas—like the fallacy of the authentic self—can guide you on the path to a good life today.Why is a course on ancient Chinese philosophers one of the most popular at Harvard? Because it challenges all our modern assumptions about what it takes to flourish.”

“Astonishing teachings emerged two thousand years ago through the work of a succession of Chinese scholars exploring how humans can improve themselves and their society. And what are these counter-intuitive ideas? Transformation comes not from looking within for a true self, but from creating conditions that produce new possibilities. Good relationships ome not from being sincere and authentic, but from the rituals we perform within them. A good life emerges not from planning it out, but through training ourselves to respond well to small moments. Influence comes not from wielding power but from holding back. Excellence comes from what we choose to do, not our natural abilities.”

“In other words, The Path “opens the mind” (Huffington Post) and upends everything we are told about how to lead a good life. Its most radical idea is that there is no path to follow in the first place—just a journey we create anew at every moment by seeing and doing things differently. “With its…spirited, convincing vision, revolutionary new insights can be gleaned from this book on how to approach life’s multifarious situations with both heart and head” (Kirkus Reviews).” - Amazon

 

Asia’s Cauldron by Robert D. Kaplan

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY FINANCIAL TIMES

“In Asia’s Cauldron, Robert D. Kaplan offers up a vivid snapshot of the nations surrounding the South China Sea, the conflicts brewing in the region at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and their implications for global peace and stability. One of the world’s most perceptive foreign policy experts, Kaplan interprets America’s interests in Asia in the context of an increasingly assertive China. He explains how the region’s unique geography fosters the growth of navies but also impedes aggression. And he draws a striking parallel between China’s quest for hegemony in the South China Sea and the United States’ imperial adventure in the Caribbean more than a century ago.”
 
”To understand the future of conflict in East Asia, Kaplan argues, one must understand the goals and motivations of its leaders and its people. […] [Kaplan] takes us on a journey through the region’s boom cities and ramshackle slums: from Vietnam, where the superfueled capitalism of the erstwhile colonial capital, Saigon, inspires the geostrategic pretensions of the official seat of government in Hanoi, to Malaysia, where a unique mix of authoritarian Islam and Western-style consumerism creates quite possibly the ultimate postmodern society; and from Singapore, whose “benevolent autocracy” helped foster an economic miracle, to the Philippines, where a different brand of authoritarianism under Ferdinand Marcos led not to economic growth but to decades of corruption and crime.” - Amazon

 

Six Records of a Floating Life by Shen Fu

“Shen Fu was born in ]Suzhou] in the latter part of the eighteenth century at the height of the [Qing] Dynasty. He was a government clerk, a painter, occasional trader, and a tragic lover, and in his mid-forties he set out his life in six moving ‘records’ that have delighted the Chinese ever since they came to light in the nineteenth century.” -Penguin Classics

“Six Records of a Floating Life (1809) is an extraordinary blend of autobiography, love story and social document written by a man who was educated as a scholar but earned his living as a civil servant and art dealer. In this intimate memoir, Shen Fu recounts the domestic and romantic joys of his marriage to Yun, the beautiful and artistic girl he fell in love with as a child.”

“He also describes other incidents of his life, including how his beloved wife obtained a courtesan for him and reflects on his travels through China. Shen Fu's exquisite memoir shows six parallel "layers" of one man's life, loves and career, with revealing glimpses into Chinese society of the [Qing] Dynasty.” - Amazon

 

Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology by David Hinton

With this groundbreaking collection, translated and edited by the renowned poet and translator David Hinton, a new generation will be introduced to the work that riveted Ezra Pound and transformed modern poetry. The Chinese poetic tradition is the largest and longest continuous tradition in world literature, and this rich and far-reaching anthology of nearly five hundred poems provides a comprehensive account of its first three millennia (1500 BCE to 1200 CE), the period during which virtually all its landmark developments took place.

Unlike earlier anthologies of Chinese poetry, Hinton’s book focuses on a relatively small number of poets, providing selections that are large enough to re-create each as a fully realized and unique voice. New introductions to each poet's work provide a readable history, told for the first time as a series of poetic innovations forged by a series of master poets. From the classic texts of Chinese philosophy to intensely personal lyrics, from love poems to startling and strange perspectives on nature, Hinton has collected an entire world of beauty and insight. And in his eye-opening translations, these ancient poems feel remarkably fresh and contemporary, presenting a literature both radically new and entirely resonant. - GoodReads