20 Best China Books

Essential reading for your China library, in four categories

Third and last in our mini-series of summer listicles, after 12 must-read Chinese fiction books, and 12 must-watch Chinese films, comes this master list: 20 of the best general books about or from China. We are selective, of course, and these recommendations are far from comprehensive. We’ve also split it into four lists of five: books on contemporary China, books on Chinese history, books from Chinese voices, and Chinese classics.

We hope this is useful as an open sesame for new China watchers, or to encourage old hands to plug holes in their bookshelf. The lists are designed as all you need to pack your bag or Kindle with 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.


12 Best Modern Chinese Films

Must-watches for the China cinema connoisseur

Next up in our listicles is cinema – a dozen of the most essential films from contemporary China. As with our literature list, we are focusing on recent works, after 1980, from mainland China. That means we miss out Taiwanese films such as the work of Edward Yang, Ang Lee or Hou Hsiao-Hsien, not to mention Hong Kong directors including Wong Kar-Wai or the wacky genius of Stephen Chow. But it should be a good springing board for those looking to watch their way through the last decades of China’s cinematic history.


12 Best Chinese Contemporary Fiction Books

Must-read novels and short stories from modern China

The China Channel is selling its soul and running a short summer series of listicles: on literature, film and China books. We begin with the fiction, focusing on contemporary fare from the last decades, to better give a feel for modern China through its novels. The list is selective and subjective, and partly determined by what is available in translation.

We deliberately left out Chinese writers overseas – Gao Xingjian, Ha Jin, Ma Jian, Guo Xiaolu, Amy Tan and Yiyun Li to name a few, all of whom could have formed another list of their own – to focus on novelists and short story writers living in the mainland. We also favoured an urban rather than a rural focus, as it's so much more relevant to the China that most visitors see. For sure there are plenty of fantastic titles that we’ve missed – but this will be a good start for the curious, and we hope it inspires you to find new favourites and rediscover old ones.