12 Best China Documentaries

Our pick of the best TV and film docs about modern China

Our end-of-year 'best of' season continues, for our listicle sins. On top of China books and Chinese fiction, we previously ran a list of the 12 Best Modern Chinese Films, so there is one last hole to plug: China docs. From Michelangelo Antonioni's 1972 glimpse of Maoist China, Chung Kuo, to the cinéma vérité of Jia Zhangke's 24 City, documentary films about China fill an essential space to record a nation changing faster than we can keep up with. Here are the China Channel's pick of the top 12 from recent years. We're then going on break for Christmas, and will return in the new year. Happy holidays to all.



Top 10 Recent China Books

A holiday shopping list of China nonfiction and fiction

The season of end-of-year listicles has arrived, and we're kicking it off with a Christmas wish list of noteworthy China titles from the last several years. We've previously run lists of 20 Best China Books and 12 Best Chinese Contemporary Fiction Books, and this one has some overlap, but the focus here is on recent titles published in the last decade, and we've capped it at a more manageable ten. From Shanghai streets to fictional fields, historical biography to family memoir, the list is far from comprehensive and necessarily misses a number of excellent titles (such as your not-so-humble editor's own new rerelease), but it covers a range of topics and genres to fill out any growing China bookshelf. The first are by foreign journalists and academics; the second half is from Chinese voices. Wishing everyone a happy holidays, and a comfortable reading couch to rest your feet.



Old China Blogs

We salute the fallen heroes of the Golden Age of China blogs

We're indulging ourselves with an act of nostalgia before close of year, and listing some of the old China blogs that we used to read and enjoy. Many of these are relics of a bygone age of the internet: the era of personal blogs, before the web was corporatized and Web 2.0 social media took its place. Some of them are still going strong. But mostly this is a record for posterity of that golden age (the 2000s and early 2010s) when the English-language Chinese blogosphere – as it was alarmingly called, as if some Borg spaceship – was as exciting and varied as life in China and Chinese blogs were, before the Great Chill of the Xi era.

We're not including on the list: old blogs affiliated to mainstream media, such as NYT's Sinosphere or The Economist's Analects; city-guide websites including Shanghaiist and The Beijinger; long-running sites with institutional funding like China File; those affiliated to Chinese media, such as World of Chinese or Sixth Tone (both excellent sources regardless), activist/aggregation websites such as China Change and CDT; and those with paying customers like the well-known Sinocism and supChina. Rather, this is a look back at the little guys in a burgeoning blogging community trying to make sense of China – including your humble editor's old individual and group blogs – before the media landscape, and China, changed.



10 Bad China Takes

A tongue-in-cheek list of imperfect China articles

As China-US relations sour and nations become more cloistered in their own interests, it's more important than ever to have nuanced information about, and reporting from, China. In its stead (and in the wake of recent journalist expulsions), there are ever more hot takes, helicopter articles, stereotype-bolstering blogs and second-hand opinions. That's why we feel its valid and valuable to collect a few of the more egregious "bad China takes" from the last decades, in the hope that the next years can bring more informed detail and sager balance. To avoid cheap shots, we're calling out established publications rather than smaller blogs. In no particular order:




20 China books to read (and 5 to avoid)

Essential reads for your China library

'Tis the season of merriment and listicles. Before we break for Christmas, we've updated our list of essential China books, in case our latest staff picks weren't enough for you. We’ve split this into five lists of five: books on contemporary China; books on Chinese history; books from Chinese voices; Chinese classics; and a new fifth section, China books to avoid. (We don't mean that these books have no value – they are all informative – but that they are ultimately misleading and so you should avoid them in favour of others.)

We hope this is useful as an open sesame for new China watchers, or for old China hands to plug holes in their bookshelf. The lists are designed as all-you-need to pack your bag/Kindle to grasp that aspect or perspective of China, without being overwhelming. Naturally, we have missed out a plethora of wonderful books. But, we hope, this is only the beginning of your reading. See also our lists of 12 must-read Chinese fiction books, and a dozen Chinese films to watch.