A Dream of Red Mansions
A 3-volume novel written in and about 18th century China.
It is rather long and tedious in parts (perhaps because of the quality
of the translation) but gives a very detailed and mostly
fascinating look at life in a rich Chinese family under
the Qing dynasty.
It is of course a soap opera that has been adapted for television in China and was apparently
The supernatural twist to the story doesn't hardly
detract from the pleasure of being a fly on the wall
of this large extended family as they struggle to prevent
the decline of the family fortunes.
Great to read while
in China because of the insights into Chinese culture
that it provides.
The Life of Confucius
A detailed account of the life of the 4th century BC philospher known to the Chinese as Kong Fu.
He lived in the lower Yellow River plain, the heartland of where Chinese culture first developed.
Centuries later is conquered and spread, as far south as today's Vietnam, but in Kong Fu's day
the region consisted of a lot of petty kingdoms.
He wandered from palace to palace in search of a patron
worthy of him, but never found one to his liking.
Like Buddha and Christ, he might be unheard of today except
for his disciples.
The greatest of them, Menacius, put
his words into writing and laid the foundation for Confucianism.
In fact, the "religion" did not take off until
nearly a thoughsand years later when political expediency
of the then emperor led him to adopt and spread it.
Woman in World History - Soong Chingling
(Mme Sun Yatsen)
by Israel Epstein
Mostly a propaganda tract for the Communist Party but provides
a basic outline of 20th century
Chinese history of which I had been largely ignorant.
Interesting as a counterpoint to Wild Swans.
Sun Yatsen is revered as the first President of Republican China
and his second wife, Soong Chingling had two sisters.
One married Chiang Kaishek, the other his finance minister H.H. Tung.
Soong Chingling became an ambassador and apologist for the Communists.
Wild Swans - Three Daughters of China
by Chang Jung.
A wonderful first person account of the author's life
during the Cultural Revolution combined with biographies
of her mother's life as an official in Communist China
and of her grandmother's life as a concubine in Imperial
China, a wife and mother under the Guomindang (Chiang
Kai Shek), a mother and grandmother under the Communists.
This book covers almost the same period as the Soong
Chingling biography but gives a very different and much
more riveting picture of China in the 20th
650 wonderfully-written, action-packed pages.
A must read.
The Search for Modern China
by Jonathan D.
We bought this book in Hong Kong at the end of our first 3-month stint in China.
We were anxious to find a third-party history of China having found all references in China
itself even to pre-Communist history to be heavily skewed by Communist propaganda.
A very nicely written account of the history of China from 1600 to the present day.
The Last Emperors
by Harrison Salisbury
This biography of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping is a terrifically
written short history of the Communist State.
The first two thirds are about Mao.
The ways he manipulates people are chillingly told.
The Collision of Two Civilizations: The
Embassy to China in 1793 of Lord George Macartney.
by Alain Peyrefitte
A wonderfully written and translated account of the unsuccessful
attempt by Lord George Macartney, on behalf of George
III, to persuade Qianlong, the 3rd Qing emperor,
to open up China more to British trade.
A very clear-eyed view of the foibles of both sides as well as a brief
account of the consequences of the embassy's failure.
Jan was especially impressed by Jon Rothschild's translation from the French original.
God's Chinese Son: The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Hong Xiuquan
by Jonathan Spence
A much less weighty book than the history of Modern China,
also by Spence, but the story of the Taiping Heavenly
Kingdom (1850-1860) and its leader Hong Xiuquan is worthy of a Hollywood epic.
It is also sad and depressing for the amount of blood shed on both sides and the lack
of concern either leader had for the day-to-day well-being of their subjects.
In our travels, particularly in Nanjing, we saw several Taiping sites.
East and West
by Chris Patten, former Governor of Hong Kong.
An interesting after-the-fact justification of Patten's
failed attempt to introduce democracy to Hong Kong in
spite of the vigorous opposition of the Chinese government.
Like us, he obviously did a lot of learning "on the job".
Most interesting are his comments about dealing with the Chinese government.
The very unrepresentative sample of people that I have talked to about Patten
splits clearly along racial lines: the Chinese didn't
like what he did, the Brits did.
Patten seems to have created a career as negotiator for impossible tasks.
Most recently he has headed the "Patten Commission" in Northern Ireland.