Discover the 10 Best Chinese Books to Read Now

China has a rich literary history that spans centuries. From ancient philosophical texts to modern science fiction, there’s something for everyone in the world of Chinese literature. In this article, we’ll explore the best Chinese books to read now, covering everything from classics to contemporary fiction.


A Brief History of Chinese Literature

Chinese literature is one of the oldest and richest literary traditions in the world. It is a reflection of the country’s long and complex history, as well as its diverse culture and traditions. From ancient classics to modern works, Chinese literature has something to offer to everyone.

To understand Chinese literature, it’s important to look at its history. Chinese literature can be traced back to the Shang dynasty in the second millennium BCE. During this time, oracle bones were used to record divinations and prophecies. Over time, this evolved to include various forms of poetry and prose.

As China developed into a more sophisticated society, so did its literature. The country’s long and rich history has given rise to a wide range of literary genres, from ancient classics to modern works of science fiction and romance.

Ancient Classics and Philosophical Texts

Tao Te Ching

Some of the most important works of Chinese literature come from the ancient period. The Analects of Confucius is a collection of philosophical sayings that remains influential to this day. The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is another classic work of Chinese philosophy. These texts provide insights into early Chinese thought and values.

Other important ancient works include The Book of Songs, which is a collection of ancient poetry, and Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en which is a classic Chinese adventure story. These works offer a glimpse into the cultural and literary heritage of China.

The Golden Age of Chinese Poetry

During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), Chinese poetry flourished. The Tang poets wrote about everything from love and beauty to politics and war. Du Fu and Li Bai are two of the most famous Tang poets. Their works often express a sense of melancholy and longing.

The Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) was another important period for Chinese literature, particularly poetry. The Song poets focused on the individual experience and emotions, often using simple language and imagery. Su Shi and Li Qingzhao are two of the most renowned Song poets. Their works are known for their beauty and elegance.

Modern Chinese Literature

Modern Chinese literature is incredibly diverse, with works ranging from romance to science fiction. One of the most influential modern Chinese writers is Lu Xun, whose work often dealt with issues of social justice and political change. Other notable modern writers include Mo Yan, Yan Lianke, and Yu Hua. Their works offer a glimpse into contemporary Chinese society and culture.

Chinese literature continues to evolve and adapt to the changing times. It is a testament to the richness and diversity of Chinese culture, and a source of inspiration for generations to come.

Top Chinese Fiction Books

Chinese literature is rich and diverse, with a long history of captivating stories and complex characters. Whether you’re interested in classic tales or contemporary novels, there’s something for everyone in the world of Chinese fiction.

Must-Read Classics

The Dream of the Red Chamber

If you’re looking for classic Chinese literature, there are a few books you shouldn’t miss. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin is a sprawling novel that explores the lives of a wealthy family in 18th century China. It’s a masterpiece of Chinese literature and has been compared to Shakespeare’s works in terms of its complexity and depth.

Water Margin by Shi Nai’an is another classic adventure story set in the Song dynasty. It tells the story of a group of outlaws who band together to fight against corrupt officials and defend the common people. The book is filled with action, humor, and memorable characters.

Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en is a fantastical tale about a monkey who goes on an epic journey to India. Along the way, he meets a cast of colorful characters, including a pig, a river monster, and a monk. It’s filled with adventure, mythology, and Buddhist philosophy, and has been adapted into countless movies, TV shows, and other forms of media.

Contemporary Chinese Novels

Wolf Totem: A Novel

Contemporary Chinese literature is diverse and often explores issues such as family, individualism, and cultural identity. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong is a novel that explores the relationship between humans and nature. It tells the story of a young student who goes to live among the nomadic herdsmen of Inner Mongolia and learns about their way of life and their deep connection to the land.

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan is a multi-generational family saga set during the Sino-Japanese War. It follows the lives of a family of sorghum farmers and their struggles to survive in a time of war and upheaval. The book is both a love story and a meditation on the power of tradition and the resilience of the human spirit.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin is a science fiction novel that explores humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization. It’s won multiple awards and has been praised for its imaginative storytelling and its exploration of complex scientific concepts. The book is the first in a trilogy and has been translated into over 20 languages.

Popular Chinese Science Fiction

The Wandering Earth

China has a vibrant science fiction scene that has gained international attention in recent years. The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin is a collection of stories set in a future where the sun is dying and humanity must take drastic measures to survive. The book has been adapted into a blockbuster movie and has helped to put Chinese science fiction on the map.

The Three-Body Problem, mentioned previously, is another must-read for fans of science fiction. It’s a thought-provoking and mind-bending novel that explores the nature of humanity and the universe itself.

Essential Chinese Non-Fiction Books

If you are looking for some great non-fiction books to learn more about Chinese history, culture, biographies, memoirs, travel, and food, you have come to the right place. China is a vast country with a rich history and diverse culture that has intrigued people around the world for centuries. Here are some of the best non-fiction books that will take you on a journey through China’s fascinating past and present.

Chinese History and Culture

The Search for Modern China

China’s history is a complex and fascinating subject that spans thousands of years. The country has gone through many changes and transformations, from the rise and fall of dynasties to the modernization and globalization of the 21st century. If you want to learn more about Chinese history and culture, there are several great non-fiction books to choose from.

The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence is a comprehensive overview of China’s complex history from the late Qing dynasty to the present day. The book provides a detailed account of the political, social, and economic changes that have shaped China’s modern identity. It covers everything from the Opium Wars to the Boxer Rebellion, the rise of the Communist Party, and the Cultural Revolution.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang is a memoir that explores the lives of three generations of women in China, from the reign of the warlord Yuan Shikai to the aftermath of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. It’s a gripping and emotionally powerful account of life in 20th century China. The book provides a unique perspective on the country’s history and culture through the eyes of ordinary people who lived through some of the most turbulent times in Chinese history.

Biographies and Memoirs

Mao: The Unknown Story

China has produced many influential and controversial figures throughout its history. From emperors and warlords to political leaders and activists, there are many fascinating biographies and memoirs written by Chinese authors that offer insight into the lives of these influential people.

Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday is a controversial and revealing biography that looks at Mao Zedong’s life and legacy. The book challenges many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Mao’s life and provides a more nuanced and critical view of his leadership and policies.

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang is a biography of one of China’s most powerful and controversial figures. Cixi ruled China for nearly 50 years and oversaw many of the reforms that transformed China into a modern nation. The book provides a detailed account of her life and the political and social changes that occurred during her reign.

Travel and Food Writing

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China (Second Edition)

China’s diverse culture and cuisine make it a fascinating destination for travelers. If you’re interested in learning more about Chinese food and travel, there are several great books to choose from.

Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper by Fuchsia Dunlop is a memoir that explores Dunlop’s love of Chinese cuisine and her experiences learning to cook in Sichuan province. The book provides a detailed account of the region’s unique culinary traditions and the challenges of learning to cook in a foreign culture.

Wild China by Phil Chapman and the BBC Natural History Unit is an illustrated guide to China’s natural wonders, from the Himalayas to the Gobi desert. The book provides a detailed account of the country’s diverse landscapes, wildlife, and ecosystems, as well as the cultural and historical significance of these regions.

These are just a few of the many great non-fiction books available on China’s history, culture, biographies, memoirs, travel, and food. Whether you’re a student, a traveler, or just someone interested in learning more about this fascinating country, these books are sure to provide you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of China’s rich and complex past and present.

Chinese Poetry Collections

Tang Dynasty Poets

Selected Poems of Du Fu (Translations from the Asian Classics)

If you’re interested in the poetry of the Tang dynasty, there are several great collections to choose from. The Complete Tang Poems edited by Sun Zhu is a comprehensive collection that includes over 48,000 poems by more than 2,000 poets.

The Selected Poems of Du Fu translated by Burton Watson includes a selection of poems by one of the most famous Tang poets. His poems often express a deep sense of sadness and loss.

Song Dynasty Poets

The Selected Poems of Li Po

The Selected Poems of Li Po translated by David Hinton includes a selection of works by another famous Tang poet. Li Po’s poetry often deals with nature and spirituality.

The Selected Poems of Su Tung-P’o translated by Burton Watson is a collection of poems by a renowned Song dynasty poet. Su’s poems are often introspective and explore the emotional depths of the human experience.

Modern Chinese Poets

Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China

If you’re interested in modern Chinese poetry, there are several great collections to choose from. Push Open the Window: Contemporary Poetry from China edited by Qingping Wang and Yang Lian includes works by several contemporary Chinese poets.

The Collected Poems of Bei Dao translated by Clayton Eshleman includes the works of one of the most influential modern Chinese poets. His poetry often deals with themes of exile and political dissent.

Closing Thoughts

Chinese literature is a vast and complex world that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in classic works of philosophy and poetry or contemporary science fiction and memoirs, there’s plenty to explore. We hope this article has given you some inspiration for your next reading adventure.

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Eddison Monroe
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