30 years after the Tiananmen Square protests, look back at what happened before and after this day. If you want to learn more about modern China, you can start by reading these ten books. People can learn more about Chinese culture and history from books like Eileen Chang’s and nonfiction books like Liao Yiwu. This will help them understand where we are now.
China in Ten Words
by Yu Hua
Yu Hua is one of China’s best-known modern writers. His best-known book, To Live, made him famous around the world. China in Ten Words is framed by ten phrases that are common in the Chinese language. It uses personal stories and insightful analysis to show the world’s most populous country in a way that has never been seen before. In “Disparity,” for example, Yu Hua shows how the gaps between people in the country are getting bigger. In “Copycat,” he sees the rise in piracy and imitation as a new way to fight back against the government. This is what he talks about in “Bamboozle,” where he talks about how trickery, scams, and fraud are becoming more and more common at every level of society. Witty, insightful, and brave, this is a refreshingly honest look at the “Chinese miracle” and all of its effects.
by Chun Sue
Beijing Doll was banned in China because it was too honest about a young girl’s sexual awakening, but it was also widely praised as “the first novel of ‘tough youth’ in China” (Beijing Today). This cutting-edge novel is based on the author’s diary entries from her teenage years. It takes the reader to the streets of Beijing, where a group of people who don’t like tradition are living lives of self expression, passion, and rock and roll. New ground has been set by Chun Sue’s explicit sensuality, unwavering attitude toward sex, and raw, lyrical style.
In China Witness, we get to see the cultural changes of the last century through the eyes of the people who lived through them. It’s a great piece of oral history. Xinran, the best-selling author of The Good Women of China, went across China to find the country’s grandparents and great-grandparents, the men and women who lived through the great changes of the modern era. They spoke openly about their hopes, fears, and struggles, even though many of them were afraid of what would happen. They talked about everything from the Long March to land reform, from Mao to marriage, to revolution to Westernization. With China Witness, we get to know modern China in a way that no other book has done before. It is intimate, detailed, and even more surprising than any other we’ve seen. This is the same thing as Studs Terkel’s Working or Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.
by Leslie T. Chang
China has 130 million migrant workers, which is the largest migration of people in history. She tells the story of these workers mostly through the lives of two young women who she follows for three years in Dongguan, an industrial city in China’s Pearl River Delta. They work on the assembly lines there, but they want to move up the ladder and get a better job somewhere else.
Half a Lifelong Romance
by Eileen Chang
Shanghai, the 1930s. When Shen Shijun, a young engineer, met Gu Manzhen, he fell in love with her right away. As long as his family tries to match him with his rich cousin so that he can marry her, he will fight them. But bad things happen, like a lustful brother-in-law, a treacherous sister, and a family secret, that force the two young lovers to break up. People who go their separate ways lose track of each other. Their lives become full of feints and schemes, missed connections, and tragic misunderstandings, as they try to find each other again and again. It seems that at every turn, society’s rules stop them from having a good time. They still hope that one day they’ll meet again, no matter how small. Half a Lifelong Romance is one of the best-loved books from one of the most important Chinese writers of the twentieth century. It’s a glamorous, heartbreaking story set against the glittering backdrop of an extraordinary city.
The Corpse Walker
by Liao Yiwu
A professional mourner, a human trafficker, a public toilet manager, a leper, a grave thief, and a Falung Gong practitioner are some of the people we meet in The Corpse Walker. Most of them have been battered by life but have managed to keep their dignity. Liao Yiwu was able to get his subjects to talk openly and sometimes hilariously about their lives, desires, and flaws by asking them hard questions with respect and empathy. The Corpse Walker shows a fascinating side of modern China by describing the lives of ordinary Chinese people in ways that always shock and surprise.
I Am China
by Xiaolu Guo
When Iona Kirkpatrick isn’t translating books, she’s working on a new project: translating Kublai Jian’s letters and diaries. A story of love and revolution is told as she reads the handwritten pages. Jian, who thinks that art can’t be made without political involvement, and Mu, a poet who he loves as much for her poetry as he does for her politics. Iona doesn’t know that Jian is in Dover, just a few miles away, waiting for news of his fate. Mu is in Beijing, and he’s writing letters to London and trying to find Jian as quickly as possible. It’s been twenty years since Iona and Jian first met at Beijing University. As she looks back, her life takes on a new urgency: to bring Jian and Mu back together before it’s too late.
Beijing Welcomes You
by Tom Scocca
When Tom Scocca came to Beijing in 2004, he was an American who wanted to see a different culture. Four years later, the city was ready to welcome the world to the Olympics. When Scocca went to the city, he talked to the scientists who were in charge of changing the weather; he talked to designers and architects who were working on projects; and he checked out the campaign to stop people from spitting in public.
When China Rules the World
by Martin Jacques
Since the first edition of When China Rules the World came out, the world’s power has changed a lot. In the three years since the first edition of When China Rules the World came out, it has turned out to be a very accurate book. It has changed the way people talk about China. Now, in a much-expanded and updated edition, Martin Jacques shows that China’s rise will be as much a political and cultural change as an economic one, and that this will change the world as we know it. He also backs up his claims with the most up-to-date statistics.
The Souls of China
by Ian Johnson
A spiritual awakening is taking place in China right now. Some 300 million Chinese people have a religion, and tens of millions more follow their own personal guru or a populist master or New Age guru. It all started in 1982, when the Communist Party agreed to let people practice their religion under government supervision. This was a huge surprise. People who are religious have grown far more than the Communist Party expected. Today, China’s cities and villages are full of new temples, churches, and mosques, as well as cults, sects, and politicians who are trying to use religion for their own ends. People want to find their moral compass again in a world where capitalism is the only way to live. Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, lived with three religious groups for long periods of time over the course of six years: the underground Early Rain Protestant group in Chengdu, the Ni family’s Buddhist pilgrimage group in Beijing, and yinyang Daoist priests in rural Shanxi. These experiences are boiled down into a cycle of festivals, births and deaths, detentions, and struggle, which shows the hearts and minds of the Chinese people. This is a huge religious awakening, and it’s forming the soul of the world’s newest superpower.