Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

Best Historical Books about China


woodcutter

Recommended Posts

woodcutter

I'd like to hear about books in English that people find inspiring on the subject of Chinese history.

No.1 I should say must be "Wild Swans", which was voted the most popular book ever in English by a woman in a Waterstone's survey. Phenomenal to beat Jane Austen.

"1421: The year China discovered the world" seems to get all manner of people excited, but I haven't read it yet.

Red Star over China by Edgar Snow still makes me want to go and join the revolution, even though I like the books by Jasper Becker and Simon Leys which point out Mao's bad points, and the biography by Mao's doctor.

I also enjoyed "The Boxer Rebellion" by Diane Preston and Maria Warner's book about Cixi.

If you have to write essays on Chinese history then John Fairbank is authoritative without being pretentious, and JAG Roberts gives a good overview of historiography.

Any other ideas?

Link to post
Share on other sites
Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

I don't know, seems awkward to me to read an English book on Chinese history... 1421 isn't very good... really was a waste of time, just another of those American psychological books that gets one thinking but doesn't provide much canonical answers...

-Shibo :mrgreen:

Link to post
Share on other sites
woodcutter

Ha! Well I have read the history passages in Beijing University's Intermediate Chinese too, 5000 years of glorious history and all that. Very enlightening!

Link to post
Share on other sites
skylee

China: A Macro History

p1002268011.jpg

I think it is a great book, though it may not be "the best". Here is some information from Amazon. (It is interesting to note how different readers think of this book.)

Chinese version - 《中國大歷史》(黃仁宇) (ISBN 9570810785 (traditional Chinese) OR 7108010364 (simplified Chinese))

Link to post
Share on other sites
Maria Warner's book about Cixi

I would recommend for a more balanced (well in my opinion anyway) treatment Sterling Seagrave's "Dragon Lady". It is also very enjoyable - esp. on Edmund Backhouse's slanders and furtive activities. Definitely a 'good read'.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

I recently browsed through Ray Huang's "China: A Macro History", and was disappointed with it. The book is more suitable for readers desiring a general overview of Chinese history. I was expecting the book to go into more depth, considering the book was written by a Chinese author, but the book did not offer that.

For example, the book talks about Li Shimin, Wu Zetian, and then suddenly it fast forwards to the An Lushan rebellion without discussing the events leading up to the rebellion. It skipped the entire period from Wu Zetian's death in 705 to the start of the rebellion in 756. Nor did it mention Xuanzong's reign (or him in person), aspects of the Kaiyuan period, or even Li Bai or Du Fu!

I prefer this book to Ray Huang's. The book however is written by a Harvard professor and covers Chinese history from 900-1800. But it goes into so much depth, is very informative, and enjoyable to read at the same time.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0674445155/102-1592062-6607364?v=glance

Link to post
Share on other sites
markalexander100

Anything by Jonathan Spence is well worth reading: too many to list here, but all of his are worth reading.

For something completely different, Red China Blues by Jan Wong (subtitled My Long March from Mao to Now) is very funny and very sharp.

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you are looking for a good book that gives a sweeping overview of China from prehistoric times until the 1960s, I would recommend The Ageless Chinese by Dun J. Li. Chinese history is a long, complex and fascinating topic and this volume cannot go into too much detail but it gives you a great overview of the concepts, dynasties, famous personalities, philosophy, and thought of China. I would recommend this book as a starting point and then using topics that interest you to find more specific books. One fault I found in it though is often time it shirked cultural and historical explanations in terms of demographic determinist arguments. If you read it you will see what I mean. The author is big on talking about population trends and economic factors as "naturally" causing certain events. Not that demographics and economics are unimportant (hardly) but sometimes I think he eschews some historical background and uses these as explanatory instead. It's still a great book though.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 months later...

Great list and I have read some but what about any movie suggestions? I can easily fit in a few hours a day as a crash course but I spend enough time with my mandarin text in front of my face, learning from the tv might be a nice change.

Link to post
Share on other sites
wushijiao

Just to second...i love anything by Fairbank or Spence. Chen Jian's "Mao and the Cold War" is also great because it explains to Westerners the Chinese ideology during the Cold War, and by extension, can teach the average Joe how to avoid conflicts when working in China.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0807849324/qid=1108040037/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-6628559-4231862?v=glance&s=books

Probably not nearly as authoritative, I like Kristoff and Wudun's book about China, and their one about Asia.

Similarly, a friend gave me "The Long March: An Account of Modern China", by Simone de Beauvoir, which was great as far as getting a glimpse into the optimistic China of the 1950's, and great to see how tragically naive she was about the CCP, when you have the knowledge of hindsight.

The books the "Tiananmen Papers" and "China's New Rulers: the Secret Files" are good for understanding current politics.

Speaking of that, I find myself having a fairly good grasp of modern Chinese history, but a much more general and vague sense of ancient history. I'd be interested to know what books people recommend for learning about ancient history.

《中國大歷史》(黃仁宇)

This is one of the books I'm struggling through (I'm not sure if I can use "reading"). :D

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 years later...
Czech Cara

I got the most of this sense of the past from wonderfully compiled book: Jonathan Spence, Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang Xi. What a man he was!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...
HashiriKata
I got the most of this sense of the past from wonderfully compiled book: Jonathan Spence[/b'], Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of Kang Xi. What a man he was!
A few years ago I read a book by Jonathan Spence "The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895-1980" and I highly recommend it (I don't remember clearly now why I recommend it except that I felt very good while reading it).
Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 5 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

黃仁宇's 中國大歷史 is a critique more than a narrative history and history beginner may not find it easy to follow. Some of his viewpoints are controversial ( his vague 'numbering management' assumption), some descriptions are misleading (details about 張居正's political life and decision process).

Jonathan Spence's 追尋現在中國 gives a better comprehensive picture of modern Chinese history and worth reading for beginner.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 3 weeks later...

For English titles about Chinese history, there are literally thousands. Are the majority of them quality reads? I'm not sure, but the majority of the ones I read are produced by renowned collegiate publishers and written from leading sinologists and experts on Chinese history. Joseph Needham (died 1995), was a paramount British biochemist, sinologist, and historian of science and technology, and a household name amongst sinologists and authors of historical works on China. I own the majority of volumes in Needham's series Science and Civilization in China.

Beyond the sole focus of science and technology in pre-modern China, there are also very good books written in English about daily life in pre-modern China. Two very good books on this subject that I can think of off the top of my head would be Charles Benn's China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty, as well as Jacques Gernet's Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276. There are also good biographical accounts, one that has already been mentioned here about the Spence's book on Kangxi. Patricia Ebrey is an excellent author, I own two of her books, one being the Cambridge Illustrated History of China and East Asia: A Social, Cultural, and Political History, although the latter book she wrote with two other authors, Palais and Walthall.

I could list a ton of others, if anyone would like.

Meiguoren

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 10 months later...
roddy

I'm just finishing up Spence's The Search for Modern China - took me a while to get round to picking it up (mainly as I left it in the UK for several months) but glad I did. Extremely readable and while one volume covering several centuries (kicks in near the end of the Ming Dynasty) is obviously not going to cover everything comprehensively, I feel like I've got a much better grasp of things than I did and that it'll serve as a very solid basis for further reading. If I do any.

While I wouldn't recommend bothering with anything by Gavin Menzies, I do notice he's got a new book,titled 1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance. New York. I'm waiting for 1934: The Year a Chinese Fleet Turned Up in New York Harbour and Invented America.

Link to post
Share on other sites
TCcookie

One book I read recently that I really enjoyed (and, incidentally, heard about on this forum) was Chen Village Under Mao and Deng by by Anita Chan, Richard Madsen, and Jonathan Unger. The authors interviewed dozens of people from a small village in Guangdong and recreate the history of the village over the decades from a little after the revolution through the nineties. It's fascinating to see how events affect different people with different personalities and how they react to them. This book gives a more personal historical experience. I highly recommend it.

More Info

Yeah, yeah, that's my "associates" link. You caught me.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...