Recommended Books on China and Adjacent Areas


May 8, 2023

951.  Books on the history of China and adjacent areas

Further Reading:

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Peter Hessler Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China and the West, 2006.

Change in China evolved rapidly over the course of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Journalist Peter Hessler recounts them through the lives of several ordinary people, including a member of an ethnic minority, a teacher, a factory worker, and a scholar. Each story shares a different side of emerging China.

Robin Hutton Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse, 2014.

During the Korean War, America had a special Marine recruit. Sergeant Reckless was a Mongolian mare who made fifty-one roundtrips in one day, delivering five tons of explosives to troops. In addition, she carried wounded soldiers to safety and braved solo journeys across combat zones to deliver supplies. Hutton recounts the biography of this heroic horse who earned two Purple Hearts.

Evan Osnos Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, 2014.

Paradoxes are a common feature of China today. Beijing correspondent Evan Osnos spent years there, writing of the government’s successes in lifting its citizens from poverty while stridently restricting their freedom. He highlights the pursuit of wealth and how the Chinese try to maintain a sense of meaning in the midst of it. And he speaks of their ambivalence about the influence of the West.

Michael D. Pearlman Truman & MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown, 2008.

Michael Pearlman details the confrontation between President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. When Truman refused to allow MacArthur to invade China, the general took his case to the press and joined the Republican opposition to the President. Following the story, Pearlman recounts how MacArthur was finally removed from duty in 1951. It was an example of a military challenge to the country’s civilian leadership.

James Palmer Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao’s China, 2012.

In 1976, Mao Tse Tung died, and a historic earthquake leveled the city of Tangshan, killing more than half a million people. On top of those events, the popular premier Zhou Enlai passed away. James Palmer tells how anger toward the Communist Party reached its full height, and everything came to a head. But, when things settled, a new China was emerging.

Barbara W. Tuchman Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, 1971.

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the history of China from the Revolution of 1911 through World War II. Barbara Tuchman uses the biography of Joseph Stilwell, “Vinegar Joe,” who served as military attache to China from 1935-1939, as the story’s center. Stilwell also served as Allied chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek from 1942-1944.

Jan Wong Red China Blue: My Long March from Mao to Now, 1997.

In 1972, Jan Wong went to China to serve in the Maoist Cultural Revolution. She worked hard in the paddy fields, married a US Vietnam draft dodger, and turned in a fellow who approached her about seeking asylum in the West. She captures the China she encountered there after renouncing her radical past.

Susan Edwards McKee Days Like Floating Water: A Story of Modern China, 2008.

When Susan McKee and her husband Robert went to China to teach English, they learned to navigate a completely foreign culture. At first, everything was strange and daunting, but they gradually settled in and got to know their students. They share how they built connections across cultural and political boundaries.

Neil Monnery Architect of Prosperity: Sir John Cowperthwaite and the Making of Hong Kong, 2017.

After World War II, a small group of British civil servants, including John Cowperthawaite, built Hong Kong into a vibrant, global powerhouse from its deteriorated state. Neil Monnery says they accomplished the feat through a hands-off approach. Monnery shares how Cowperthwaite’s resolve to let the market run its course impacted the fortunes of a city.

For more information on the Further Reading series, see Further Reading: Start Here.

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