Books on Chinese


This is a list of the books I own or have read on China and the Chinese language, mostly classical Chinese. I started working on this page because I was growing annoyed at the completely inadequate descriptions of books in most online bookstores. English translations of the Chinese classics are a good case in point: "descriptions" (if available at all) often just consist of some New Age nonsense.

First, an executive summary of the list itself. The English dictionaries I use most for classical Chinese are Grammata Serica Recensa, the Far East Chinese-English Dictionary (for compounds, but remember that classical and modern meanings are not separated) and the glossary of Rouzer's excellent textbook (only about 1500 entries, but includes usage examples and commentary). I have the small-print edition of 漢語大詞典, which still fills three enormous volumes. This is a good last resort. I also use 古代汉语词典 (Dictionary of Ancient Chinese), a Chinese-language dictionary of classical Chinese.

As for textbooks of classical Chinese, I think Rouzer's is the best. The 3-volume textbook (with many supplementary volumes) of Yuan et al is the easiest and most thorough textbook I've seen, with extremely detailed analysis and complete translations (in English and Mandarin) of all texts. Its main disadvantage is the inconvenience of having three separate volumes. Fuller's offers less help to the beginning student, but is still rather good and includes some classical commentaries and hints on how to read those. I don't regret getting all three. While Rouzer and Fuller both include reasonably detailed summaries of classical Chinese grammar, you might want to get Pulleyblank's book on the subject.

Reading is also important, of course. I really like James Legge's 19th century work The Chinese Classics, since they include the Chinese text along with the English translation, and have a glossary of all characters and words used. (Note: some recent editions strip out everything Chinese without bothering to mention that in the product description, so be careful when buying on the internet).

The List

While much knowledge still remains exclusively in hard-to-find books, located in some hard-to-find library with opening hours close to none, some valuable resources have appeared on the web. Please have a look at my Chinese links page for a list of online journals and other resources.


Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary (ISBN 7-100-03933-9, The Commercial Press & Oxford University Press) is a pocket-sized (if you have large pockets) dictionary with a vinyl cover and proper binding, which appears nearly indestructible. Quite a few examples are given, but in the end this is meant as a handy reference rather than as a learner's dictionary. Simplified characters are used throughout, although at each character's main entry the traditional variant is also given if sufficiently different from the simplified. The Chinese-English section is sorted alphabetically by pinyin, and there is also a (simplified) radical/stroke count index. Complex characters in the index can be difficult to identify, due to the very small font used.

Chinese Characters -- A Genealogy and Dictionary (Rick Harbaugh, ISBN 978-0966075007) is the print edition of the author's online dictionary. Its indexes are good: apart from his own system (which I never really tried, but others seem to like) there is a radical + stroke count index, a stroke count index, a zhuyin index for characters, a pinyin index for compounds, and an English index. Character entries contain cross-references to compounds which contain the character in another position than the first. This is a rather small dictionary, so for obscure words I use the Far East dictionary instead, and for portable use I bring the Consice dictionary.

Grammata Serica Recensa (Bernhard Karlgren, The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm 1972) is Karlgren's classical dictionary of Old and Middle Chinese, first published in 1957. A character entry typically has a few different graphical forms (the modern one, and often some oracle bone and bronze inscription variants), pronunciations in Mandarin, reconstructed Middle Chinese and reconstructed Old Chinese. There is also a short definition in English, references to Karlgren's Glosses (see below), and notes about phonetic loans. While there are no usage examples and no compounds, this is the best dictionary I am aware of for classical (and older) Chinese in English. Since loan character and many archaic characters are included, it is particularly useful for older texts. Its indexing system is somewhat inconvenient. There is an incomplete radical/stroke count index, but for characters not in it you have to look up the phonetic element instead. In the main dictionary, characters are grouped by pronunciation, so once you have found the phonetic element you scan the neighborhood for the character with the desired radical. The Unihan database (MDBG's web interface) provides references to the GSR, which is of course a lot more convenient.

古代汉语词典 (978-7-100-01549-3) is a single-volume, 2087 page dictionary of literary Chinese, written in Mandarin (with simplified characters). Having to read one dictionary using another dictionary is frustrating, but it is the best I have. Karlgren's Grammata is good for single characters, especially in archaic meanings, but does not cover compounds or the later literary language at all.

漢語大詞典 (small-print edition) consists of three huge volumes with a total of 7923 pages in small print, covering words and phrases in the Chinese language from the old classics until recent times. Chinese vocabulary in all its complexity. Citations are provided for early uses of each word, along with definitions in modern Chinese. See also its Wikipedia article.

Far East Chinese-English Dictionary (Liang Shih-Chiu, ISBN 978-9576122309) is a really good investment. It's cheap, about as comprehensive as Chinese-English dictionaries get (7331 characters, 120,000 compounds), uses traditional characters, and contains many definitions from Literary Chinese (but note that these are not marked, and the goal of the dictionary is coverage of the current language). The binding and the printing are both good. There's a radical + stroke count index and a stroke count + radical index, a table of characters with difficult radicals (stroke count order), a pinyin index, Gwoyeu Romatzyh index and a zhuyin index, and conversion tables between these systems. Character pronounciations are given in all three systems, but compound pronounciations are zhuyin only.

Chinese Characters (L. Wieger, ISBN 978-0486213217) is a character dictionary of about 10,000 characters as well as a more thourough discussion of selected characters. It was published in 1927, the printing is rather bad, and Wade-Giles is used exclusively. Character entries in the comprehensive dictionary are rather brief, and I rarely use it. The "etymological lessons" of about 2,300 characters are interesting, with large characters in modern and seal script forms. These seem to be mostly based on the Shuowen (which is very frequently quoted), and are not to be taken as the absolute truth about the history of Chinese writing. Dover's reprint is rather cheap, so I'd say it's well worth its price.

380 Most Commonly Used Chinese Verbs (汉语动词380例, Wu Shiping, Sinolingua 2000, ISBN 7-80052-528-7) discusses 380 verbs in details, comparing the nuances of verbs with similar meaning. The main text in both in Chinese and English, and there are plenty of examples and exercises. For me, this is not yet a very useful book, since I haven't even seen most of the words discussed before. That said, the discussions are good, and if you feel that you know quite a few Chinese verbs but have trouble with their precise meanings, this might be a book for you.


Long Story of Short Forms -- The Evolution of Simplified Chinese Characters (Roar Bökset, PhD Thesis at Stockholm University, ISBN 91-628-6832-2) discusses simplified forms of Chinese characters from the earliest times until today, including the PRC and Japanese official postwar reforms. This includes digging up records, from early inscriptions and manuscripts to essays and street signs in current China, and checking with people from different parts of China to see who can recognize various unofficial simplified forms. Characters from A to F (in pinyin transcription) are treated in full detail.

Early Archaic Chinese (W. A. C. H. Dobson, University of Toronto Press 1962) is a study of the language of the early Zhou, based on bronze inscriptions and some of the "authentic" Shujing (Book of Documents) chapters -- all of which are included in full with translations and comments.

Late Han Chinese (W. A. C. H. Dobson, University of Toronto Press 1964) is the third book in Dobson's series of grammars, the first one being Early Archaic Chinese, and the second Late Archaic Chinese (which I have not been able to find). This book describes how the literary Chinese language started to change after the classical period. It is based mainly on a study of the Mencius (in Late Archaic Chinese) and a late Han dynasty commentary/paraphrase, and its main focus is on the changes that the language went through.

Aspects of Classical Chinese Syntax (Christoph Harbsmeier) studies selected parts of classical Chinese grammar, limited to cases which the author thinks are interesting and difficult. This includes for instance the exact meaning of 其, or the details of how 自 and 己 are used. Harbsmeier writes that he strives for the grammarian's 無為, to let the examples speak for themselves, and consequently there are plenty of examples and not as much theoretical formalism.

Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar (Edwin G. Pulleyblank, ISBN 978-0774805414) seems to be the summary on Classical Chinese grammar in English. While its main focus is on the classical language of the Warring States period, there is also a fair amount of discussion about the preclassical language. The book is basically a collection of different topics, with a few good examples of each type of construction. In the end there is a pinyin index of all characters discussed (which is not a big problem since all examples are also given with pinyin). The material is deeper and better organized than in Rouzer's book, and I would recommend getting it in spite of its high price for a relatively small book.


Chinese Through Poetry (Archie Barnes, ISBN 978-1904623519) focuses on Tang poetry, but also covers the basics of writing Chinese (which is usually not included in textbooks of classical or literary Chinese), grammar, and the construction and development of Chinese writing. Chinese poetry is quite different from prose, and while I can't tell if the author is correct in arguing that it makes a better introduction to Chinese than prose readings (as is the standard), it certainly makes a good complement.

Introduction to Literary Chinese (Jakov Brandt, New York 1964) contains 40 lessons with several texts each, ranging from simple phrases meant to demonstrate grammatical features, to excerpts from the classics and letters or essays from the time of the Republic. Full translations and glosses are provided, as well as a phonetically arranged dictionary at the end. There is no radical-stroke index, unfortunately. Overall I like the format of this book, but it gets difficult rather quckly, with extremely formal writing.

An Introduction to Literary Chinese (Michael A. Fuller, ISBN 978-0674017269) is smaller and more compact than Rouzer's A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese, but covers about the same amount and types of texts. Notes on the texts are brief, vocabulary lists are complete but also brief and mention only the meaning encountered in the particular text (as opposed to Rouzer's book, where each vocabulary entry is more dictionary-like). Fuller also provides some other interesting material, such as traditional Chinese commentaries (and a guide on reading them) and a summary of grammar words. I would recommend this as a complement to some other, more elementary textbook (such as Rouzer's).

A New Practical Primer of Literary Chinese (Paul Rouzer, ISBN 978-0674022706) was my first book on the subject, which I bought just as it was being published. It contains 40 lessons, each containing a text (selected from various sources, mostly Warring States and Han) where a text is analyzed and a complete glossary presented. A total of 1,374 characters are presented in detail (with a radical + stroke count index, a pinyin index, and a Korean index), so this is useful as a small dictionary of the most common characters and compounds. There's also a summary of the most important grammar words, which makes a useful reference. Furthermore, the author only assumes knowledge of English. If you only want to get one book on Literary Chinese, I would recommend this one.

Classical Chinese: A Basic Reader (Naiying Yuan, Haitao Tang, James Geiss, ISBN 0-691-11831-0) consists of three volumes. The first contains 40 short texts, each given with the original classical text (in chinese characters, pinyin and Gwoyeu Romatzyh), a Mandarin translation (in chinese characters and pinyin) and an English translation. The second volume contains glossaries for all the chapters, with each word and character explained in Mandarin and English. The third, and thickest, volume contains a detailed grammatical analysis of the texts, also given in Mandarin as well as English.


The Guodian Laozi -- Proceedings of the International Conference, Dartmouth College, May 1998 (Sarah Allan and Crispin Williams (ed), ISBN 1-55729-069-5) contains an edition in standardized characters (with alternative readings suggested by participants of the conference) of the Laozi (老子) chapters and the previously unknown text Tai Yi Sheng Shui (太一生水) found written on bamboo slips in a Chu (楚) tomb dated to circa 300 BC. These are discussed in detail in a number of papers making up the bulk of this book, along with some brief discussions of other texts also found in the tomb. While some of the material is quite technical, and does not in general provide translations for these ancient works, I find the book as a whole an interesting account of these two texts, from discovery (as a pile of mud with illegible bamboo slips) to interpretation and fitting them into a historical and philosophical context.

Sources of Chinese Tradition (vol 2) (Willian Theodore de Bary and Richard Lufrano (ed), ISBN 0-231-11270-X) contains essays, big-character posters and excerpts from other works, from the Qing dynasty until the turn of the millennium. Most of the material is from the 20th century, discussing a variety of topics concerning Chinese society, including China's relationship with the past, politics, and christianity and other foreign influences.

Anthology of Chinese Literature -- Volume I, From Early Times to The Fourteenth Century (Cyril Birch (ed), ISBN 978-0802150387) contains translations of poetry, prose fiction and history texts until the Yuan dynasty. A notable exception is the lack of philosophy writings, apart from a short excerpt of the Zhuangzi. The translations are good and readable, and the selection is about as good as you can expect when over two thousand years of literature are compressed into a 500-page volume. Obviously much more is left out than included, but I like opening this book during idle moments to read a chapter or two.

Historical Records (Raymond Dawson, ISBN 0-19-283115-1) is a translation of the parts of Shiji dealing with the Qin dynasty. It is easy to read, has quite a few footnotes (unnumbered, so somewhat hard to locate) and a preface on Sima Qian and his work.

Classical Chinese -- Present-day Chinese and English Renditions (Feng Shujian, ISBN 7-80052-149-4) is a selection of texts in literary Chinese from different periods, with Mandarin and English translations and brief Chinese glosses to some advanced English words. Although the classical texts are given in simplified characters, I like the overall structure, with a large number of short and interesting stories.

Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching -- A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-wang-tui Texts (Robert G. Henricks, Ballantine Books 1989. ISBN 0-345-37099-6) contains the texts of the two Mawangdui manuscripts of the Daodejing plus a translation and comments by the author. While the author frequently refers to transmitted editions in filling out gaps or discussing differences in the text, rather than including said text, most pages are half-empty. This comparison is actually included as an appendix in Henricks's later translation of the Guodian version.

Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching -- A Translation of the Startling New Documents Found at Guodian (Robert G. Henricks, Columbia University Press 2000, ISBN 0-231-11817-1) contains a translation of the Guodian manuscript of portions of the Daodejing (along with a comparison with the two Mawangdui texts and the transmitted Wang Bi edition) and the Taiyi shengshui.

On the Authenticity and Nature of the Tso Chuan (Bernhard Karlgren) discusses the Zuo Zhuan in some detail. Karlgren argues for its authenticity in the sense of being a pre-Qin work, likely from the early Warring States period, rejecting the theory that it is a Han dynasty forgery. There is also a detailed analysis of the language used in the Zuo Zhuan, compared to other important classical texts (the Analects, Mencius, Guoyu, Zhuangzi, Shijing and Shujing). Thus it is not merely a study of the Zuo Zhuan, but also of the development of early Chinese grammar.

The Book of Odes -- Kuo Feng and Siao Ya (Bernhard Karlgren) is a translation of the first parts of the Shijing, with minimal notes. More detailed information is available in Karlgren's Glosses on the Book of Odes series (also reprinted in book form).

The Book of Documents (Bernhard Karlgren, The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm 1950) is Karlgren's translation of the Shujing, along with Legge's translation the major English translations (as far as I know) of this extremely obscure classic. This is just the English (and Chinese) texts of the "authentic" parts of the Shujing, his copious notes are found in the Glosses on the Book of Documents below.

Glosses on the Book of Documents (Bernhard Karlgren, The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm 1970) is a very detailed, almost word-by-word, analysis of the Shujing. Meant to complement Karlgren's translation above.

The Chinese Classics, Volume I: Confucian Analects, The Great Learning and The Doctrine of the Mean (James Legge, ISBN 978-0486227467) is Dover's reprint of the 1893 second edition. I like this series a lot. First comes a long introduction of the texts and various related topics, written during the Qing dynasty when the Confucian traditions were still going strong. This part may be interesting, but a century and a half of historical research has rendered this section a mere curiosity, or at most a description of the traditional Chinese view of these classics. Then comes the main texts, with large printed Chinese characters, punctuation, and tone marks. Below this is the English translation, and very detailed notes analyzing both language and context. Finally, a glossary of all characters is provided (sorted by radical + stroke count). I strongly recommend this series, both because the books themselves are important to understand Chinese history and culture, and because they make excellent Classical Chinese readers. There are several modern reprints, paperbacks by Dover for the first two volumes, and nice hardcover edition by SMC Publishing for all but the Mencius. Unfortunately several of these volumes seem to be hard to obtain, and if you happen to know where to get the last volume (The Ch'un Ts'ew with the Tso Chuen), please tell me about it.

The Chinese Classics, Volume II: The Works of Mencius (James Legge, ISBN 0-486-22590-9) -- Dover reprint, see the first volume.

The Chinese Classics, Volume III: The Shoo King (James Legge, ISBN 957-638-040-5) -- SMC Publishing reprint, see the first volume. Also contains a translation of the received Bamboo Annals, which are a fascinating read on their own.

The Chinese Classics, Volume IV: The She King (James Legge, ISBN 957-638-041-3) -- SMC Publishing reprint, see the first volume.

The Chinese Classics, Volume V: The Ch'un Ts'ew with the Tsoo Chuen (James Legge) -- Hong Kong University Press reprint, see the first volume. Unfortunately the Zuozhuan is not fully translated (although the narratives are), the index does not cover it, and it is in rather small print with the translation occasionally several pages away. Only the main Chunqiu text follows the very high standard set by the earlier works in the series.

A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms (James Legge, ISBN 1-59605-572-3) is a reprint of Legge's translation of the travels of the buddhist monk Faxian (法顯) though current western China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka during A.D. 399-414. The narrative contains both his own observations, and descriptions of local myths. It's an interesting story, and the original edition also has copious notes as well as the original Chinese text (but beware of other abridged "reprints" without this material, the original edition is 192 pages).

Wandering on the Way -- Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (Victor H. Mair, ISBN 0-8248-2038-X) is a complete translation, with introduction, of the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). More extensive notes have been published in the Sino-Platonic Papers, now freely available online. The Zhuangzi has a lot of different material, some of it very amusing and/or bizarre, and some stories (for instance, the one about Zhuangzi's butterfly dream) are counted among the classical questions of world philosophy.

The Five "Confucian" Classics (Michael Nylan, Yale University Press 2001, ISBN 0-300-08185-5) discusses the creation of the Five Classics (Shi, Shu, Li, Yi, Chunqiu) and their importance and interpretation from pre-imperial times until today, focusing on the philosophy of "confucianism" rather than the texts themselves.

Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits (Bill Porter, alias Red Pine, Counterpoint, 1993, ISBN 978-1-58243-523-7) is based on two trips the author made to the Zhongnanshan mountain range in 1989/90, to seek out the mountain hermits his Taiwanese friends told him were now extinct. On the contrary, he finds many Buddhist and Taoist hermits living alone or with a disciple in caves or remote monasteries. On one occasion he finds a nuclear weapons facility, and is jailed for some days on espionage charges. The author interviews many of the hermits he meets, about their views on religion, and the conditions for monks and hermits during and after the cultural revolution. This book is full of interesting characters, many of them living the same kind of life as Chinese recluses have been living for thousands of years.

Six Records of a Floating Life (Leonard Pratt and Jiang Suhui, Penguin Classics, 1983, ISBN 978-0-14-044429-2) is a translation of the Qing dynasty text 浮生六記, which is a sort of autobiography by the author, 沈復 (Shen Fu). The four preserved chapters concern love, gardening, loss and travels.

Taoteching (Red Pine/Bill Porter, ISBN 978-1562790851) is one of several hundred translations of this classic, and one of the less scholarly. It includes the Chinese text (as stitched together by the translator, from various editions including those found at Mawangdui) along with the English translation and quotations from various commentaries, and the author's brief translation notes.

The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma (Red Pine/Bill Porter, ISBN 978-0-86547-399-7) contains translations of four brief texts: Outline of Practice, Bloodstream Sermon (血脉論), Wake-up Sermon (悟性論) and the Breakthrough Sermon (破相論). These are considered to represent the teachings of Bodhidharma, a buddhist monk of Indian origins who may or may not have been active in China during the second half of the 5th century AD. A photocopied Qing dynasty edition is printed on opposite pages of the translation, which is nice. The language is rather developed, and much closer to modern Chinese than the Warring States and Han dynasty classics are. Many of the ideas expressed remind me of Zhuangzi (whose analogy of the fish trap is in fact borrowed) and early Daoism, mixed with intense criticism of the superstitious and wasteful variety of buddhism that was (extremely) popular in China at the time. For the record: these texts now represent all I know of Zen buddhism, and 5th/6th century literary Chinese, so take the above views for the first impressions that they are.

Before Confucius: Studies in the Creation of Chinese Classics (Edward L. Shaughnessy, State University of New York Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7914-3378-1) contains eight earlier articles (with a preface and some modifications) by Shaughnessy, about the creation of parts of the Yijing, Shijing, Shujing and the Bamboo Annals (which the author argues is mostly genuine, at least for late Shang and Zhou history). The book is not a thorough investigation of all aspects of these texts, but rather of some topics surrounding them. One recurring theme is the Zhou conquest, which Shaughnessy has spent much time researching (see Sources of Western Zhou History). Another article tries to depoliticize some Shijing odes. I found some parts more interesting than others, for instance his investigation into the history and authenticity of the Bamboo Annals.

I Ching: The Classic of Changes (Edward L. Shaughnessy, Ballantine Books 1996, ISBN 0-345-36243-8) is a translation of the Mawangdui manuscripts of the Yijing and commentaries. Gaps in the manuscripts are filled using the received text. A few thousand nearly incomprehensible characters is perhaps not the most entertaining of the classical Chinese texts, but in a way it's a nice case study of how 2,000+ years of tradition can turn a bunch of incoherent statements into the most venerated of texts, which even has followers in the west these days. That said, some of the statements do give you an urge to find out what is "really" meant: see the flock of dragons without heads, or how about the dragon is fighting in the wilderness, its blood is black and yellow? The Mawangdui find included a new commentary, attributed to Confucius. About the dragon fighting, he has the following to say: This speaks of the great man's treasuring virtue and effecting education among the people. As for the filiality of culture, is it only the dragon whose gathering of beings includes even those who have survived violence? It is only the sage whose virtue and propriety are broad and great and whose modeling of beings is complete? "The dragon battles in the wilds" speaks of the great man's broad virtue connecting with the people below. "Its blood is black and yellow" manifests culture. That the sage issues laws and teachings in order to lead the people is also like the dragon's markings, which can indeed be called black and yellow. Therefore it is called dragon. When you have seen a dragon, there is no mention greater than it. I bet you didn't figure that out on your own.

A Chinese Bestiary: Strange Creatures from the Guideways through Mountains and Seas (Richard E. Strassberg, 2002, University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-21844-2) contains a translation of the 山海經 (Shan Hai Jing) and includes illustrations from a late Ming edition. There is a long introduction discussing the origins of the different parts of the text, where the author tries to tie the contents to traditions from the ancient 巫 (wu) shamans. The descriptions of these strange being, with illustrations, are entertaining. The auhtor has also added further information about the various plants and beats featured, which is a good idea considering the rather dry style of the text itself.

Early Chinese Literature (Burton Watson) discusses Chinese literature (in the widest sense, including the three categories in which the books is divided: history, philosophy and poetry) from the Shujing to aroud 100 CE. This is a very interesting and amusing book which is also easy to read. Watson, as one of the foremost translators of classical Chinese works, provides plenty of translated excerpts from the texts being discussed.

Han Feizi: Basic Writings (Burton Watson, ISBN 0-231-12969-6) contains Watson's translations of sections 5-10, 12, 13, 18, 49 and 50. The translations are fairly easy to read, and gives a taste of Han Feizi's Machiavellian philosophy as well as his use of amusing anecdotes (some of which are found in almost any textbook on classical Chinese) used for illustration.

Ssu-ma Ch'ien: Grand Historian of China (Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 1958) discusses not only Sima Qian himself, but also early Chinese historiography in general, from the Book of Documents (書經) to the Book of Han (漢書) and beyond. Furthermore, it discusses Sima Qian's life and his work from various aspects, including the value of the Shiji as literature. Translations of his famous letter to Ren An (任安) and a few examples of his comments inside Shiji are provided. A pleasure to read, and a good introduction to the works and views on history in ancient China.

The Art of War, The Book of Lord Shang (Robert Wilkinson, ISBN 978-1-85326-779-6) contains translations of the Art of War (translator Yuan Shibing) and The Book of Lord Shang (translator J. J. L. Duyvendak), as well as a commentary on the Art of War by the PLA general Tao Hanzhang. This is perhaps the most interesting part of the volume, with anecdotes from classical history as well as the Chinese civil war of the 1930s and 40s.

史记故事 (Stories from the Records of the Historian, ISBN 7-80052-064-1) is a Mandarin reader, using translations from the Shiji. For some more obscure words glosses in English and French are available, but I discovered this is not for the absolute beginner. Revisiting the book a year later, however, was a pleasant experience.

Modern Literature

Contemporary Woman Writers: Hong Kong & Taiwan (Eva Hung (ed), ISBN 962-7255-08-4) is a collection of seven short stories by authors from Taiwan and Hong Kong, including Li Ang whose novel The Butcher's Wife (殺夫) I also recommend. Most of the stories are very good, although the general mood of the collection is dark. Isolation, cruelty, bullying and even murder are constant themes.

Lu Xun: Selected Works (Lu Xun, translators: Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, IBSN 7-119-03408-1) is a four-volume set (of which I have read the first two volumes, with material until 1927) of Lu Xun's stories, poems and essays. He received classical and modern education, and his life spanned the fall of the Qing monarchy, then chaos and warlordism, and finally KMT rule until he died shortly before the start of major Sino-Japanese hostilities. His writings mostly concern the transformation of the old society, and together form an interesting eyewitness account of these turbulent times in Chinese history.

The True Story of Ah Q (Lu Xun, ISBN 962-996-044-3) is a bilingual version of Lu Xun's famous story, with the English translation and the original Chinese text (with traditional characters) on opposite sides. As most of Lu Xun's stories and essays, Ah Q is amusing and sad, and well worth reading.

Red Guard Fantasies and Other Stories (Qi Shuohua, ISBN 978-1-59265-068-2) contains 14 short stories about modern China, but with the Cultural Revolution (where the author's father was persecuted) looming in the background. Women, men and little girls being exploited by evil capitalists and abused by corrupt officials -- many of the stories are very similar to earlier "revolutionary literature" from the Mao years and before, except of course that the KMT has been replaced by the CCP. This is good fiction, disturbing, and food for thought.

A Mountain Village (Yeh Chun-chan, En by i bergen, Swedish translation, ISBN 91-7448-538-5) centers around a village in Hunan during the 1927 autumn harvest uprising, when the village was first taken by communist forces, and then recaptured by Guomindang forces. The first half of the novel describes the unspeakably evil landlord Chumin and his running dogs terrorizing the poor villagers, yet the (short-lived) liberation is met by mixed feelings, as the traditional life of the villagers is disrupted. A fascinating novel.


The North Korean Revolution, 1945--1950 (Charles K. Armstrong, Cornell University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-8014-4014-9) is focused on North Korea before the Korean war, including Soviet and Chinese influence on the different parties and factions. The book details how the Korean Worker's Party gained the upper hand over the other major parties that existed at the time of liberation from Japanese occupation. This narrative frequently diverges from the later accounts in North Korean propaganda, where Kim Il-Sung's faction of the Korean Worker's Party is cast in the lead and only role during the resistance struggle and revolution.

Dreamworld Tibet: Western Illusions (Martin Brauen, Martin Willson (translator), Orchid Press, 2004, ISBN 974-524-051-6) is the story of western (mis)conceptions of Tibet from the early contacts until today. Christian missionaries, new religious movements, Nazis, comic writers, and many others have borrowed from each other, from their imagination, and occasionally from real sources, to create a truly bizarre image of this remote and (until recently) inaccesible place. Dreamworld Tibet is very amusing reading.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Chang Jung, 張戎) is the story of the author's family, from her grandmother (a concubine to a warlord during the early republican era), through her mother (who, along with Chang Jung's father was a communist revolutionary) until her own experiences as a Red Guard during the early Cultural Revolution and as a barefoot doctor, daughter of a disgraced party member, during its later phase. Afterwards, she went to university and eventually moved to the UK. Chang Jung is a very good writer, and her family's story truly reads like a history book of 20th century China, so this is a very good read. Her personal grudge against the communist party colors her writing, something which has made her rather unpopular with the Chinese government (and professional historians).

Falun Gong: The End of Days (Maria Hsia Chang, ISBN 0-300-10227-5) details the struggle between the CCP and the Falun Gong movement. The author comes from a family of refugees from China, and is very critical of the PRC government in general. However, this is not a defense of Falun Gong. Her argument is basically that Falun Gong (like many similar movements) may be a crazy doomsday sect, but that the government's violent crackdown is unwarranted against a relatively benign movement. The final chapter is spent trying to show that the CCP itself is a "dangerous cult" and that the only reason the CCP accuses Falun Gong of being a "dangerous cult" is because the sect's massive supporter base could potentially become a threat to the current government. The book's description of Falun Gong is rather long, but concerns mostly bizarre statements made by its founder, rather than a deeper investigation into what exactly the sect is doing. The source material is mostly news articles by Chinese state media and some western newspapers, as well as Falun Gong publications, and there are few undisputed facts in this story.

Buddhism (Thomas William Rhys Davids, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1910) summarizes the basic beliefs and history of Buddhism, with focus on its early History in India, but frequently mentioning its spread and development in China, Tibet, Nepal, and (particularly) Sri Lanka. The prose is sometimes a little tiring, with some sentences being rather difficult to parse, but overall the level is suitable to the non-expert. The bias of the author against Mahayana and Lamaist forms is obivous, and he frequently compares the latter to the Catholic church (and not in a good way). The first edition of this book was published in 1877, at which time very little source material was available, and this is frequently mentioned.

Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution (Deng Rong, English translation by Sidney Shapiro, Foreign Languages Press, 2002, ISBN 7-119-03040-X) is a biography of Deng Xiaoping and his family's life and work during the cultural revolution, written by his daughter from the family's recollections as well as the archives of the party. It is an interesting book, and well worth reading. However, it reads like a propaganda poster, with anyone (except Mao Zedong) who opposed Deng Xiaoping described as a "counterrevolutionary reactionary" in every mention. His friends are all "heroes of the people, loved by all."

Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary (Gao Wenqian, English translation by Peter Rand and Lawrence R. Sullivan, PublicAffairs 2007. ISBN 978-1-58648-415-6) is a biography of Zhou Enlai, written by Zhou's former official biographer within the CCP who moved to the US after supporting the wrong side in 1989. The original title is 晚年周恩来 (Later Years of Zhou Enlai), and apart from a few chapters dedicated to background information for western readers, the main focus is on Zhou's role in the cultural revolution. While stating that Zhou Enlai was not "the god current Chinese officials have put on a pedestal", the author is generally sympathetic to Zhou ("It is my belief that Zhou intended to be a good person, but failed.") as well as other characters like Lin Biao, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping, who are seen mostly as victims of circumstances (that is, the scheming of Mao Zedong, Jiang Qing et al). Like most accounts of this time (authored by one of its numerous victims) it is a pretty frightening tale of intrigues and betrayal, that can get pretty exciting at times. I enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in modern Chinese history.

Born Red: A Chronicle of The Cultural Revolution (Gao Yuan) is the author's memoirs of his days as a young student turned Red Guard during the cultural revolution. William Golding's Lord of the Flies is often used to describe the situation at this time, but when reading Gao Yuan's book the parallels are frightening, with the turf wars of these children spiralling completely out of control.

A History of Chinese Civilization (Jacques Gernet, second edition, English translation, ISBN 978-0-521-49781-7) attempts to describe the history of China from the prehistoric cultures to the present, with most of the material concerning imperial China. Naturally, such a book can not go very deep, but taken as a "brief" summary of Chinese history I think it is worth reading.

Buddhism in Chinese Society (Jacques Gernet, translated by Franciscus Verellen, Columbia University Press 1995, ISBN 0-231-07380-1) is an expanded version of Gernet's book (in French) from 1956 on the economic history of Buddhism in China. I only read parts of this work, because the details got overwhelming after a while. There are several interesting anecdotes, highlighting the practical (or impractical) aspects of buddhism in Chinese society, primarily during the 5th to 9th centuries. Topics include a discussion of the burden of the monastic community on society (which the author argues is not as heavy as is sometimes claimed), the resources devoted to building places of worship and loading them with valuables, the trade with ordination certificates, self-immolation, and so on.

The Making of Modern Tibet (A. Tom Grunfeld, 0-87332-415-3) discusses the history of Tibet until the 1980s, with a particular focus on the 20th century history of Tibet, its neighbors, the exile community, and the complex relationships between all these groups. The issue of "Tibetan Independence" is a central question (which, by the way, is answered with a "well... not really"). The author probably managed to piss off both camps (the Chinese government, and the Tibetan Independence activists) but overall his conclusions are more pro-China than average in the west. Leaving politics aside, it is an interesting story of an isolated people thrown into a game of international politics.

The Unknown Cultural Revolution (Han Dongping, ISBN 978-1-58367-180-1) describes the Cultural Revolution from the perspective of a rural county in Shandong, with a population close to a million people at the time. The author's focus is mainly on education, agricultural production, rural industries, and political rights. In all of these areas he sees improvement in the period 1966-1976. The first few pages were somewhat discouraging, with a preface (by Fred Magdoff) sounding rather denialist, blaming "sham Red Guards, possibly organized by those under attack to confuse the masses" for the initial chaos, while admitting that there was violence, "including some killings" -- something of an understatement. What follows is a text with large sections that have obviously never been proofread. Still, the book provides an interesting and different view of this period. Basically, the experience from this county resembles the idealistic hopes of Mao, rather than the armed factional fighting, widespread persecution, torture and killings, and stagnation or worse of the economy seen in many other parts of the country.

Sources of Shang History: The Oracle-Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age China (David N. Keightley, University of California Press, 1985) is an introduction and research guide to Shang dynasty oracle bones, with a large amount of footnotes and citations of other works. Not only are the actual inscriptions discussed, but also the historical context, the methods of divination, the materials used, and so on. Some parts are rather technical, but overall I found the book an interesting introduction.

The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space and Community in Late Shang China (David N. Keightley, ISBN 1-55729-070-9) discusses various aspects of the late Shang dynasty based primarily on oracle bone inscriptions, with very frequent quotations from these inscriptions to illustrate the points being made. Naturally, the content is rather biased towards the topics that would be divined about, such as war, weather, sacrifices and harvest. There are many question marks and uncertain interpretations, but overall it is an interesting glimpse into the early written record of China. Like some later historical texts, the Shang display the ancient Chinese ability to summarize even the most important of events into one or a few characters -- about the same amount spent asking about the king's toothache.

The Origins of Chinese Civilization (David N. Keightley (ed), University of California Press 1983, ISBN 0-520-04230-1) contains a set of essays on different aspects of early Chinese civilizations, until about the Shang/Zhou dynasties. Topics include the origins of Chinese writing (frustratingly enough, there are many interesting fragments but no conclusive evidence before the Shang oracle bones), the origins of the Chinese language(s) by Fang Kuei Li who describes his reconstruction of Old Chinese, and the question of the nature of and relation between the Three Dynasties (Xia, Shang, Zhou).

Kinakunskap (Björn Kjellgren, ISBN 91-44-01445-7) is a gentle introduction to China, past and present, written by my Mandarin teacher (in Swedish). This is quite an ambitious task for a book of less than 300 pages, still I think it makes a good introduction for the beginner.

On the Margins of Tibet: Cultural Survival on the Sino-Tibetan Frontier (Åshild Kolås and Monika P. Thowsen, 2005, ISBN 0-925-98481-3) discusses issues of Tibetan culture in the People's Republic of China outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, in parts of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan. The authors visited the region in 1998-2000, and investigated two major aspects of Tibetan culture: religion (particularly connected to the monasteries) and language in education. There are also discussions of art, tourism, resource exploitation and other related topics. The authors refute both the Chinese government's view of Tibet as a region liberated from feudal oppression, as well as the Tibetan government-in-exile's image of a country under a brutal occupation by a foreign power intent of annihilating Tibetan culture. The actual conditions in Tibet are shown to be difficult in many cases, certainly materially, and possibly culturally under certain definitions of "culture".

Mao's Last Revolution (Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals, ISBN 978-0-674-02748-0) chronicles the Cultural Revolution from the leadup in the mid 1960s, until Deng Xiaoping's ouster of Hua Guofeng. The focus is on the central leadership and its intrigues, but there are also stories from the provinces when they were of national importance or simply to give a taste of how the Cultural Revolution affected the lives of citizens around China. It is a very interesting -- and as might be expected, horrifying -- read. The authors come out rather critical of everyone involved, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, the Gang of Four, and basically anyone who held an office after 1966. As for the reason for the Cultural Revolution, the authors see it as Mao Zedong's attempt to foster a new generation of revolutionaries, to avoid having China turn into the "state capitalism" country run by careerist officials he saw in the post-Stalin Soviet Union. This of course means that they reject the theory that Mao Zedong simply wanted to regain absolute control of the state, by using young "rebels" to overthrow the party hierarchy. Sources (carefully described in over a hundred pages of notes) range from official party documents and official speeches to interviews, big-character posters and diary entries. Needless to say, the few true and honest quotes found in the book come from the latter types of sources.

The Opium War (Foreign Languages Press, 1976) starts with a chapter titled The Covetous British Invaders, and is introduced with "The Chinese people's great leader Chairman Mao pointed out [...]" The rest of the book is in a similar vein, so it should be read as a description of how the Chinese viewed and, perhaps with a lesser focus on line struggles and class contradictions, still view their modern history.

Mao Tse-tung: The Man in The Leader (Lucian W. Pye, 1976) is a Freudian portrait of Mao Zedong. The author seems to trace almost all of Mao's actions (and thus also a major part of China's modern history) to his relationship with his mother, and the trauma of losing her full attention after the birth of Mao Zemin. The second thing shaping Chinese history, apparently, is Mao's rebellion against his father, and all the future struggles which were patterned on this. Personally, I thought things were getting a little too bizarre when Pye claims that Mao identified Stalin with his mother. At least this weirdness keeps the book from being boring, but for someone interested in Chinese history I would not recommend it.

Sources of Western Zhou History -- Inscribed Bronze Vessels (Edward L. Shaughnessy, ISBN 0-520-07028-3) was inspired by Sources of Shang History, and pretty much takes up tracking the inscriptional record of China where that book left off. Various aspects of Western Zhou bronze vessels are treated, including their language (which can be rather difficult), dating issues (also difficult), and the historical context. As an appendix, the author adds his draft for a complete Western Zhou chronology, with freqeunt quotations of the Bamboo Annals, Shujing, Shiji, and astronomical calculations. I enjoyed reading the book, and consider it a great introduction to the subject for a non-expert with only basic knowledge of ancient Chinese history and language.

New Sources of Early Chinese History: An Introduction to the Reading of Inscriptions and Manuscripts (Edward L. Shaughnessy (ed), ISBN 1-55729-058-X) contains papers by many famous western sinologists, like David N. Keightley (oracle bones), Shaughnessy himself (Western Zhou bronzes), Michael Loewe (Han administrative documents) and others. This is a very interesting overview of these many areas of manuscript and inscription discoveries, and also of over a thousand years of history of China and the Chinese language.

Red Star Over China (Edgar Snow, New York, 1968), originally published in 1937, is an account of the author's travels to and through the communist-controlled areas in northen Shaanxi during 1936. The 1968 edition also contains some later notes, most importantly brief biographies of people mentioned in the original work. Those who were not killed by Chiang Kai-shek, the Japanese, or Stalin tended to have high posts in the new PRC government. Of course, at this particular time it was quite difficult to foretell the future of Chinese politics, and the book ends with the prediction that Deng Xiaoping's political career is likely over (due to the severe attacks against him during the Cultural Revolution). While factual accuracy may not always be great, it is an interesting book about a very important period of modern Chinese history.

The Other Side of The River (Edgar Snow, London, 1963) is an account of Snow's journey to China in 1960, his first visit since the Second World War. It is mainly an account of housing, industry, military and civil society in the many provinces, communes and towns he visited. At a total of 800 pages, it tends to get a little monotonous, but the author assures us that he selected the most interesting parts, from an almost endless number of visits to factories and construction projects. As a whole, the book paints a picture of amazing improvements over the old society (although, as the author points out, things could hardly get any worse).

The Long Revolution (Edgar Snow, London, 1973), details the author's last visit to China 1970-71 and his discussions then with Mao Zedong, as well as talks he had with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in 1964-65. These discussions mainly concern then-current events, like the Vietnam war, nuclear weapons and the Sino-Soviet split, but also touch upon the question of how much progress China has made since 1949. The perspective given is the one of Mao and Zhou, which is interesting but obviously one-sided.

Chinese History -- A Manual (Endymion Wilkinson, ISBN 978-0-674-00249-4) is a volume of over a thousand pages with brief comments and a large bibliography on almost every subject of Chinese history, from prehistoric archaeology to locating sources from the Republican Era. There are also many chapters dedicated to a wide range of practical matters, like using dictionaries, and things that are good to know, like addresses of major libraries in China, statistics, and much more. My teacher recommended this as the first book to get if you're interested in Chinese history and culture, and he was right.

Deng -- A Political Biography (Benjamin Yang, ISBN 1-56324-722-4) was published right after Deng Xiaoping's death in 1997, and is a biography of his political life from childhood as a rich peasant's eldest son, through his stormy life within the party, until his eventual retirement and death. It depicts Deng Xiaoping as a politician, without any particular expertise but with a strong desire to gain power for himself and for China. In addition to Deng's personal involvement, it also discusses the many battles going on around him in the party, from the campaigns of the 1950s until his grooming of Jiang Zemin and ensuring that the policy of reform and opening up would continue after his death.


Tre veckor i Kina (Ingemar Björkstén, Liber 1979, ISBN 91-38-05100-1) describes the author's impressions from a three-week tour in China as part of a Swedish cultural delegation, during 1978, towards the end of Hua Guofeng's rule and right at the start of China's reforms. It is amusing to read predictions from this time. For instance, China's ambitions of great and sudden economic growth are seen with a skepticism not observed when talking about political reforms, which are supposed to result in a complete reevaluation of Mao Zedong. Tore Zetterholm (whose book on Tibet from the same period can be found below. Includes a chance meeting with Hans Blix in Beijing.

Behind the Wall -- A Journey Through China (Colin Thubron, Swedish edition: ISBN 91-34-51019-2) is the entertaining story of the author's travel through China during the 1980s, a few years after the cultural revolution which is frequently referenced.

Tibet -- Mellan Buddha och Marx (Tore Zetterholm, Bra Böcker 1981) is the well-illustrated story of the author's trips to Tibet in 1979 and 1980. Every house has portraits of Mao Zedong and Hua Guofeng. Temples are still in ruins after the Cultural Revolution. The pictures are nice, as one might expect. The author reflects the modern CCP view of Tibet pretty closely: before Liberation the Dalai Lama clique ran a horrible theocracy where most people were slaves, then the people were liberated, then came the Cultural Revolution which was a bad thing, but now all is well. Well, modern by 1980 standards.


中國文化讀本 -- Readings on Chinese Culture (Far Eastern Publications, Yale Univerity, New Haven 1967) contains 12 essays of about 3000 characters each and is designed for intermediate Chinese learners, expected to know about 1000 characters. The topic of the essays range from economics to linguistics, politics and literature -- which mostly covers my own interests, obviously an important motivating factor.

汉语读本 -- Chinese Reader (part 1, The Commercial Press, Beijing 1972) is an intermediate Chinese reader with 18 texts ranging from classical stories to Mao Zedong speeches and stories about heroes of the revolution and the second world war. These texts are not very easy, but English glosses for most of the advanced words and phrases are given, and the stories are relatively short and straightforward. There are some illustrations, in the style of propaganda posters.

Modern Chinese Readers (book two, The Commercial Press, Beijing 1965) is similar to other Chinese books of the time, with anecdotes about Lenin, Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi as well as stories from the classics. The glossaries are good and there are many grammatical and usage notes.

精選動畫故事光碟書 (智謀故事: ISBN 986-00-1032-3; 寓言故事: ISBN 986-00-1033-1) are from a series of Mandarin readers published by the Taiwanese Overseas Chinese Affairs Commision. They contain classical stories, retold and illustrated, with multimedia (Flash animations + the recorded texts) versions of the stories on the accompanying CD. After a year or so of Mandarin studies, I think these are rather fun to read. Right when I started, they were a bit too difficult.

丁丁在西藏 (Tintin in Tibet) (Hergé (Georges Remi), ISBN 978-7-5007-6082-5) is the Chinese translation of Tintin in Tibet. As a child I loved reading Tintin, so I got this as a reader. Its language is prehaps not very well-suited for an absolute beginner, but I also have the Swedish version to help me understand.

Chinese Language and Culture -- An Intermediate Reader (黄伟嘉 Huang Weijia and 敖群 Ao Qun, The chinese University of Hong Kong, 2002, ISBN 962-996-006-0) contains one-page texts given in traditional and in simplified characters on opposite pages, with glossaries and notes. The texts are about various aspects of Chinese language and culture, and are genrally interesting and useful.

A New Text for a Modern China (Irene Liu and Li Xiaoqi, Cheng & Tsui Company, 1998, ISBN 0-88727-312-2) is aimed at third-year students, although glossaries are rather complete and grammatical notes plentiful, so someone below that level can follow the texts as well. The texts are given in simplified and in traditional characters (although mistakes are frequent), and grammatical notes are also given in English. Texts are about population growth, housing shortage, changing economic structures, changing views on studying and business, and some family affairs. Overall they are pretty interesting.

華語入門 -- A Chinese First Reader (沙志培 Sha Chih Pei, University of California Press, 1947) is somewhat old, the first edition being published in 1937, which sometimes shows when the example sentences include travels by steamboat to Beiping, or going outside to send a telegram. The book uses 500 different characters, and many more words and phrases made from these. The first 2/3 or so of the text contains phrase fragments or single sentences, while the last part contains some simple dialogs, stories and letters. A character dictionary containing the 500 characters is appended, but the main part of the text contains no English, there are no grammatical explanations or explanations of compounds. I borrowed this from the library simply to check myself, and to try to cover whatever basic words and phrases that I've missed so far.

華文讀本 -- Read Chinese (Book 3) (王方宇 Wang Fang-yü, 張一峰 Richard F. Chang, Far Eastern Publications, Yale University, 1961) is a reader for intermediate students, with 20 interesting texts adapted from speeches, esseays and books by Lu Xun, Sun Zhongshan, Jiang Jieshi, the People's Daily, as well as some classical text (translated to modern Chinese) such as the Peach Blossom Spring. Good and sufficient glosses are provided, along with some comments about the texts themselves and their historical context (biased towards Jiang Jieshi's government on Taiwan).

Selected Chinese Texts in the Classical and Colloquial Styles (Lien-Sheng Yang (ed), ISBN 0674797108). To be done.

中国文化释疑 -- A Hundred Questions on the Chinese Culture (金乃逯, ISBN 7-5619-0726-5) contains a hundred short (about one page each) articles about various aspects of Chinese culture, including philosophers, history, popular traditions, and more. Each one is followed by a translation in English. The language is fairly simple, so even though no glosses are given, it's not too hard to work through most of these texts with the help of a dictionary.

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