Get to Know China Better With These Recommended Reads

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Our language enthusiast naturally is an avid reader, and we welcome her recommendations for China-related books. Get yourself winter-ready with a good book—or e-book of course.

Get to Know China Better With These Recommended Reads

As my small yet dedicated clique of faithful readers might remember, a while ago I wrote a piece about the China-related books that I’d been reading at the time. I was rather delighted to hear since that I’ve managed to inspire a few of you to pick up a tome. I take it as quite the compliment, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m considering an alternative career as an influencer. Also, I find it’s such a blessing to have all those books so easily available nowadays, just a Kindle-click away. No need to fill up half of your luggage weight allowance with books that you might or might not enjoy reading later, or complaining about the rather poor selection in the few local bookshops. Whether you like the selected books or they aren’t really for you, one key thing to remember—keep on reading!

Get to Know China Better With These Recommended Reads

Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China
By Alec Ash

I believe Wish Lanterns is literary nonfiction at its best. British journalist and writer Alec Ash introduces us to six of the young Chinese people that he met and got to know while living in Beijing. Each of them keeps his or her own distinct voice, so natural and convincing, that I found myself missing them the moment I finished the book. Being a “waiguo” lady and rather older than these children of the 80s, the closeness I feel isn’t really about identifying with any of the characters. Yet despite being born in a different age and on a different continent altogether, there are these moments of instant recognition: the plight of the migrant worker in Beijing that both relies on and is ashamed of the “rat clan” providing its backbone; the rebel being torn between her own ideas of happiness and a filial piety impossible to disregard; the loneliness of a bright and conflicted Chinese scholar of political science at an American university…

The characters, so skillfully portrayed by Mr. Ash, come from different parts of the country: from tropical Hainan to freezing Heilongjiang, rural Xinjiang as well as the heartland; their backgrounds vary as well: born in the political elite or in the military, by uneducated peasants or provincial businessmen. As their stories meander and occasionally intertwine, it’s both entertaining and eye-opening to witness their coming of age. The book is truly a brilliant little compendium on what it’s like to be young in modern China. I’ve heard people dismiss this whole generation that has had it so “easy” compared to their parents, slandering them for being lazy and spoiled. Well, if you happen to share this opinion, I can definitely recommend that you read the book.

Get to Know China Better With These Recommended Reads

Chinese Lessons: An American mother teaches her children how to be Chinese in China
By Patti Waldmeir

This book has been described as a must-read for parents of kids adopted from China and, as I am not one of them, I might have easily overlooked it. I’m happy that I picked it up however. And eager to share with you that you do not have to be the adoptive parent of a Chinese girl in order to appreciate the poignant sincerity of a mother struggling to understand herself and the world around her. I found the honest way that Patti Waldmeir reveals her own emotions utterly disarming, the ugly ones alongside those more noble and endearing feelings. It’s ironic how she manages to tell her own story without an ounce of sentimentality, while at the same time describing herself as being a nervous wreck most of the time, ready to burst into tears at the mere mention of her girls’ early abandonment.

As might be expected from a world-renowned writer and investigative journalist, the author also makes sure that the book is full of facts and explanations about the effects of the one-child policy, the Chinese adoption process, orphanages, and much more, so if you are curious about all these things you won’t be disappointed.

Get to Know China Better With These Recommended Reads

The Expatriates
By Janice Y. K. Lee

And, last but not least, a proper novel. Enter the expat community of cosmopolitan Hong Kong, vividly described by an author with a remarkable power of observation. Meet the rich and successful yet utterly unhappy housewives Margaret and Hillary, the airily beautiful and enigmatic young Mercy and the men around them, somehow reduced to minor characters. Janice Y. K. Lee lets us get to know them all, exposing slowly and patiently their innermost vulnerabilities, before she eventually reveals the tragedy that affected them all deeply in different and irreversible ways.

If you are looking for any spoilers here, sorry! You’ll have to follow with Margaret and her family on their holidays to Korea yourselves to figure out what happened to them. It’s a slightly disturbing experience, yet there’s also light and hope in the book, whether you find it convincing or not is up to you.