China Trip Preparation: What to Read?

Old Oct 13th, 2010, 05:59 PM
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China Trip Preparation: What to Read?

Hello Fodorites,
Headed to China next April and wondering what books are best to get me juiced up! I don't mean guidebooks but biography, history, contemporary anything not too dry. Fiction, you name it. Many thanks!
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 06:31 PM
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"Lost on Planet China" by J. Maarten Troost. Hilarious "travelogue" of vignettes from his voyages through China a few years ago. Although much of it is a wee bit exaggerated, you'll find some of the descriptions ring true when you get there. I found it to be very entertaining. We were disappointed we didn't get to try the live squid bowl he so colorfully described!
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Old Oct 13th, 2010, 09:50 PM
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The Good Earth (Pearl S Buck) and Dream of the Red Chamber (Cao Xueqin) are classic books about China. The Art of War (Sun Tzu) is another classic written in something like the 15th century that has application even today. Going through my bookshelf, here are a few more suggestions:

Oracle Bones and River Town, both Peter Hessler. These are recent and will give you a picture of a changing China. He has a third book, Country Driving, which I have not read yet.

Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang - story of the Soong family and the three sisters, all educated at Wesleyan College in the US in the early 1900's. One married Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai Shek, one married a Chinese finance minister. Jung Chang has also written a biography of Mao (Mao: the Untold Story) that I have to say is so one-sided that you almost end up feelling a little sorry for Mao; although I don’t think that was the authors’ intent.

The Soong Sisters, by Emily Hahn - also about the Soong sisters

God's Chinese Son: The Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan, by Jonathan D. Spence. This is about the Taiping movement. Its very interesting and sobering as it is estimated that 30 million people died over the course of the Taiping Rebellion. Spence has written numeros books about different aspects of Chinese hisotry, any migth be worth reading.

Stilwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman. If you like WWII history, this is a good one. It also gives a good background of the early Chinese republic.

Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng - one woman's true story of life during the Cultural Revolution

Falling Leaves; Chinese Cinderella, by Adeline Yen Mah. Compelling autobiographies of a Chinese woman born into a wealthy family in Shanghai the 1930s who, being a girl, was unwanted.

Sterling Seagrave has written a number of non-fiction books about China and Asia which make very interesting reading. The Soong Dynasty and Dragon Lady are two good ones.

On a Chinese Screen; The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. The first is a collection of short stories about life as he encountered it in China in the 1930s. The other book opens in Hong Kong in the 1920s, the balance of the story takes place in a small Chinese village. Somerset Maugham wrote extensively about SE Asia, you can find collections of his short stories in most bookshops.

Hong Kong, by Jan Morris. If you are going to Hong Kong, read this before any other book. I believe she has either updated or written another book which came out just about the time of the handover in 1997 (or reunification to be politically correct).

Tai Pan, James Clavell. Almost a classic, thinly fictionalized story of the Jardine Fleming empire started in Hong Kong in the 19th century. His book about the Chiangi POW camp in Singapore during WWII is also excellent.

Christopher Patten, the last UK governor of Hong Kong, has written a number of books, one about his term as governor called “East and West” which is somewhat interesting.

Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth (I think it is called Golden Boy in some countries), his memoir of growing up in Hong Kong. He has also written several other fiction and non-fiction books on China/Hong Kong, the Dragon Syndicate and Opium are two good ones.

For fiction about Hong Kong, try Jess Ross, Liu Yichang and Stewart Sloan (on the latter, I have only read his last book about the Hong Kong police, he writes mystery/horror books as well). While I am not a huge fan of the genre, you might like the novels of Jin Yong (there are others writing in the martial arts genre).
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Old Oct 14th, 2010, 12:20 AM
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That's a real comprehensive list, Cicerone! Making notes here!
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Old Oct 14th, 2010, 08:42 AM
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Wow, I am so impressed by your list, Cicerone, thanks for sharing!
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Old Oct 14th, 2010, 09:00 AM
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Mao`s Last Dancer. It`s about a poor chinese boy who is selected to learn and perform ballet, by Madame Mao`s committee. He doesn`t even know what ballet is. What a hard lfe. He does end up defecting. I like Wild Swans too.
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Old Oct 15th, 2010, 10:40 AM
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Pat: Did you see the movie? I enjoyed it.
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Old Oct 15th, 2010, 10:45 AM
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Shanghainese, It is in my Netflix queue!
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Old Oct 15th, 2010, 11:10 AM
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I love Cicerone's thoughtful list although I am confused by the description of WILD SWANS as being about the Soong sisters when I seem to recall it as a three-generations-of-women story about Jung Chang, her Maoist-era mother, and her grandmother who was the concubine of a warlord. Are there two WILD SWANS?

Another wonderful recommendation for general reading:
CHINESE LESSONS, by John Pomfret.

If you think you might enjoy a sampling of life in a Beijing hutong, read this charming volume by Michael Meyer -- THE LAST DAYS OF OLD BEIJING: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed.

I am not sure where you are going in China, but if you are interested in the southwest, you might find the following quite delightful and easy to read:

LEAVING MOTHER LAKE, by Yang Erche Namu, and

SNOWFLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN, by Lisa See.
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Old Oct 15th, 2010, 12:44 PM
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A lot of these are really good suggestions- Wild Swans in particular, if you can get through it, is pretty comprehensive (but I agree with PP that is also very critical).

Our favorite book about China that got us the most ready was a lighthearted book- Chinese Lessons- easy to read and very relevant to what you'll see in China.
http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Lesson...6928306&sr=1-1
enjoy!
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Old Oct 15th, 2010, 08:14 PM
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Great list, thanks!
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Old Oct 16th, 2010, 03:17 AM
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I suggest a search here because there were a number of very long threads about this topic.


http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...el-to-asia.cfm
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