Guide Books
City Guides
Language Books
History
Biography
Philosophy
Art History
Fiction
Travelogues

Guide books
Language books
History
Religion & Philosophy
Art History
Travelogues

Guide Books

The Rough Guide to China and Lonely Planet China (China, 7th Ed), though aimed at budget travellers, are both accessible and reliable. They are general without being simplistic.

If you desire a much more thorough appreciation of China's art history and sites, pick up a copy of Blue Guide China.

 

Language Books

We will give you a sheet with the most useful words and phrases written for you in Chinese when you arrive. However, if you would like something more substantial, the language books published by Lonely Planet, Mandarin Phrasebook , and Berlitz, Chinese for Travellers, are both useful. The more Chinese you try to speak, the more friends you will make.

A fun and demystifying introduction to the whys and wherefores of chinese language and writing is ably written by Raymond and Margaret Scrogin Chang in Speaking Of Chinese.

 

City Guides
(Beijing)

Competition is rife for Beijing guide books. For a thoroughly researched text, Cadogan's Beijing by Peter Neville-Hadley is recommended. A more colourful & less academic publication is Lonely Planet's Beijing by the well-informed Caroline Liou. For more background detail on Beijing's sites, China's Foreign Language Press offers "Beijing". (Since the latter is not available from Amazon.com, you'll have to wait to pick this up at Beijing's Friendship Store.)

 

(Other Cities)

Odyssey's series of China city guides provide interesting background information for each of the cities. They do not aim to supply practical travel information, concerning hotels, transport, etc. Illustrated guides are available for Shanghai, The Yangzi River, & Xi'an.

 

History

An easy-to-read introductory history by John King Fairbank, recently updated by Merle Goldman, is entitled, China : A New History . This takes you from pre-history to the modern day.

For a highly readable account of China's modern history from 1949 to June 1989, Harrison Salisbury's The New Emperors is a worthwhile eye-opener.

Red Star Over China is the account of US journalist, Edgar Snow's interviews with Mao Ze Dong and other ranking Chinese Communists during the Chinese civil war. It is probably the most politically divisive history of modern China.

A detailed analysis of political reform through the 1980's is provided by Merle Goldman in Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China

China Remembers is edited by a husband and wife team, Zhang Lijia and Calum Macleod. It consists of narratives by 33 people, both Chinese and foreign. Divided into five sections, corresponding roughly to the five decades of communist rule in China, each section begins with an informative introduction by the editors. To contact the Beijing resident authors with a comment, click here.

The Great Wall of China by Arthur Waldron carries as its subtitle "from history to myth" - enough to reveal the work's central thesis. It is practically the only history in either English or Chinese on the surprisingly under-researched Great Wall.

Biography

Jonathan Spence has written a cursory biography with Mao Zedong. Zhisui Li, Mao's personal physician has provided a sensationalist account in The Private Life of Chairman Mao.

Emperor of China : Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi is an ambitious attempt by Jonathan Spence to recreate the diary of the great eigtheenth century Qing dynasty Emperor K'ang-Hsi (also spelt Kangxi).

There were three Song sisters. Chinese say that one married for money (Ai Ling married Taiwan's Chancellor of the Exchequer); one married for power (Mei Ling married Chiang Kaishek, the leader of the Guomindang party and Taiwan); and the one married for love (Qing Ling married Sun Yatsen, the founder of modern China, 31 years her senior). How these Wellesley & Wesleyan Chinese American graduates came to prominence is wonderfully told by Sterling Seagrave in his modern classic, The Soong Dynasty.

Sterling Seagrave provides a revision of the life of the much maligned Empress Dowager Cixi in Dragon Lady : The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China. In so doing, he simultaneously alienates conservative historians in both Communist China and the west - a rare feat.

Philosophy

Fung Yu-Lan is one of those brilliant people who can communicate extremely complex thoughts in simple language. His Short History of Chinese Philosophy, recently re-issued, gives a comprehensive and comprehensible introduction to this fascinating topic.

The Dao De Jing by Lao Zi is the cornerstone of Daoism. Its 81 verses distill the universal laws whose unyielding constancy belie the claim of Progress to genuine improvement. Criticized as retrograde and impractical, this quintessentially Chinese classic remains highly charged and powerful.

The Confucian Analects expound a doctrine that has underpinned China's history and continues to play a major role in Chinese thought. Confucius imbued traditional Chinese culture with an ethical essence.

Paradoxes of relativity, language, and structure - are these the concoctions of Wittgenstein, Barthes or Derrida? No. This nihilistic satire of human thought forms the ideological pillar of Daoism's second sage, Chuang Tzu (Also known as Zhuang Zi).

Art History

A good, if brief, introduction is Mary Tregear's Chinese Art (World of Art).

Another solid reference is The Art and Architecture of China by Sickmann and Soper.

Fiction

Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang introduces China's turbulent modern history and social customs. An expose of the Cultural Revolution that is popular amongst ordinary Chinese people in mainland China is provided by in the Chinese film "To Live", directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Though set in the States, this book affords a revealing insight into the traditional Chinese mindset.

In Chinese classical fiction, there is little to compare to The Three Kingdoms. This is a fantastic presentation of traditional Chinese heroes, their ethics and, most importantly, their strategies. If takes twenty chapters to get a head of steam, but once you get to chapter 42 you won't look up before the end.

For contemporary Chinese fiction written by Chinese authors for a Chinese audience, but translated into English, you might have to wait until you get to the book shop at Beijing's Friendship Store. There you can browse through a range of such fiction publised by Panda Books. We'd especially recommend works by Liu Heng and the marvelous Shi Tie Sheng.

Travelogues

The quintessential China travelogue - Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster

A more controversial travelogue is that named The City of Light . This is the diary of an Italian Jewish merchant during his precarious business trip to China in 1271, four years before Marco Polo claims to have arrived in 1275. However, the authenticity of this fascinating account has been thrown into question by the English translator's refusal to submit the original Italian manuscript to academic inspection.

 

Guide books

Again, Lonely Planet Tibet (4th Ed) will give you the most succinct overview. Other general guides include Stephen Bachelor's The Tibet Guide : Central and Western Tibet and the Odyssey Illustrated Guide to Tibet . For those with more particular interests, there are a number of specialized guide books available such as Trekking in Tibet and Victor Chan's wonderfully exhuastive Moon Handbooks: Tibet .

 

Language Books

For those of you brave enough to attempt the Tibetan language, Lonely Planet publishes a Tibetan Phrasebook .

 

History

The most comprehensive, single-volume publication is A Cultural History of Tibet by David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, which takes you from the early kings to the twentieth century.

A standard text on the development of Tibetan culture is R.A. Stein's Tibetan Civilization. However, its arrangment of information is somewhat confusing.

A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 by Melvyn Goldstein is a political history of Tibet between the fall of the Qing dynasty and the arrival of China's Liberation Army in 1951.

The Dragon in the Land of Snows by Tsering Shakya brings us up to date with a history that takes us from 1947 to 1988.

An amusing read is Peter Hopkirk's Trespassers on the Roof of the World which recounts the often times bizarre stories of the men and women who tried to pentrate the forbidden borders of Lhasa between the mid nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

 

Religion and Philosophy

Concise books on Tibetan Buddhism are difficult to find and may require some familiarity with the teachings of Buddhism itself. Edward Conze's Buddhism: A Short History is a good introductory work.

A well-established presentation of Tibetan Buddhism is Religion of Tibet written by Charles Bell, with a more recent study by Keith Dowman, The Sacred Life of Tibet , also being an excellent source of information.

His holiness the Dalai Lama has written some great books. One of his most recent publications, Ethics for the New Millennium, written in a simple and eloquent style, is aimed both at the layman and serious student alike. It tackles the serious issues we commonly face in our daily lives.

Art History

Iconography of Tibetan Lamaism by Antoinette K. Gordon gives a systematic outline of the main deities in the Tibetan religion as well as the main symbols and attributes of each. Another more recent publication put together by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of their own collection is entitled, Art of Tibet.

 

Travelogues

A fascinating journey into Tibet in the early twentieth century is Heinrich Harrer's in his Seven Years in Tibet .

 

 

 

 

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