Twelve Books to Read Before Traveling to China

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  11.05.07 | 12:04 PM ET

imageThat’s right. Not two or three. Twelve. UC Irvine history professor Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is often asked for reading suggestions by people traveling to China. So he put together a list of 12 books, choosing titles “with an eye toward liveliness, links of some sort to Beijing as a city or the Olympics as an event, and also stylistic and topical variety.” Wasserstrom knows a thing or two about China. He’s the author of the recently published China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times. His full list appears on the History News Network. Among his more intriguing selections are:

* Mao Zedong, the 1999 biography by Jonathan Spence. Wasserstrom calls the book “a life story of the founder of the PRC that is not just more sophisticated and less sensationalistic than the recent best-seller about the same figure by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, but also much shorter and far more fluidly written.”

* Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Creation of a Political Space by Wu Hung. The book, Wasserstrom writes, “will prepare [readers] for the (Olympics’) opening and closing ceremonies. This is because the author—using an experimental format that shifts between scholarly analysis and digressions into his own memories of going to and watching events held in Tiananmen Square—has very interesting things to say about the state-sponsored spectacles of the past, such as National Day parades, that are sure to influence the 2008 summer ceremonies.”

* The Pool of Unease by Catherine Sampson. Wasserstrom recommends the mystery novel as great airplane reading. He writes: “While never forgetting the goal of entertaining her readers…she gives them a valuable sense of the complicated nature of police corruption in the PRC, the tensions caused by the growing divide between those being raised swiftly and those being left behind by China’s economic boom, and the ethical dilemmas faced by foreign reporters who are protected in ways that their sources are not in a one-party state.”

Wasserstrom also recommends Peter Hessler’s “Oracle Bones,” which we’ve written a bit about. Hessler’s “River Town” ranked No. 20 on our list of the top 30 travel books of all time.

Related on World Hum:
* Colby Buzzell in Shenzen: ‘The Id of the Chinese Economy’
* Confucius: More Popular Than Harry Potter?
* The Man Who Cast Starbucks from the Forbidden City

Tags: Asia, China

6 Comments for Twelve Books to Read Before Traveling to China

Paul M 11.05.07 | 3:08 PM ET

Interesting post!

Julia Ross 11.05.07 | 3:26 PM ET

Thanks Jim—there are some interesting new titles on this list. I would add anything Peter Hessler has written for the New Yorker in the last couple years, including the wonderful “Hutong Karma.”

starsea 11.05.07 | 11:23 PM ET

Guilin is a must when you travel to China. The stunning landscape in which the city is situated has a kind of magic that is all its own. Strangely shaped hills, karsts, with the verdant vegetation ranging from bamboo to conifers together with wonderful caves….
More information,please go on:

muztagh 11.06.07 | 5:08 AM ET

thanks for your information,

Helen Laitinen 07.28.08 | 2:25 AM ET

Another great book:
Wild Swans

Lisa 08.01.08 | 12:22 AM ET

Where is the Duck in Peking by Cliff Schimmels gives you the flavor of today’s China

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