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Nothing beats the experience of actually being there, but it's nice to have a couple of hooks upon which to hang that experience. Books arranged alphabetically by author. Travel guides listed separately at bottom.

 

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.


HUNGRY GHOSTS ~ Mao's Secret Famine

by Jasper Becker
Mao the dreamer hitting on a plan to rapidly increase China's agricultural output - The Great Leap Forward.  Using the countryside as a testing ground for new ideological policies, an estimated 30 million Chinese starved to death. Author uses academic studies and personal interviews to paint the picture, but many of the anecdotes he uses seem to masquerade as fact.
John Murray (0719554403)

Haiwei Trails, specialising in 4WD & Trekking options throughout SW China & Tibet. Covering the provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai, Kham, Amdo & U-Tsang Tibet.THE LAST EMPEROR
by Arnold C. Brackman
Couldn't ask for a more riveting tale of a slice of China's history. This book, on which Bertolucci's film was based, is a fascinating, sometimes sordid tale of palace intrigue and manipulation. The story begins with the enthronement of a 3-year old Pu Yi who, in his lifetime would be emperor of China, puppet emperor of Manchuria, and eventually a 're-educated' common citizen.
Carroll & Graf (0881847003)


THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF CHINA

Edited by the Cambridge University Press
The Bible - if it's not here, it probably didn't happen! However, with 15 volumes, each weighing in at almost a pound, it's a heavy read in all senses of the word - approach with caution.
University Press (05212*****)

THE DEVIL SOLDIER ~ The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China
by Caleb Carr
This author obviously took great joy in rifling through history's dusty closet to bring to life one of its more obscure historical figures, Frederick Townsend Ward - an inept mercenary to some, a soldier adventurer extraordinaire to others. Whichever the case, he led a unique life during a crucial period of China's history (the almost successful Taiping Rebellion). Get the book and read all about it - a great account, highly detailed, and one of a kind.
Random House (0679761284)


WILD SWANS

by Jung Chang
Probably the most well known of the multitude of personal chronicles of the cultural revolution, it's the story of 3 generations (the author, her mother, and her grandmother).  Stands out for its dealing with the all out attack by Mao Tse-dong on the CCP during the late 60's and 70's.
Flamingo (0006374921)


THE JOURNEYS & PLANT INTRODUCTIONS OF GEORGE FORREST

Dr. J Macqueen Cowan, editor
During his first of 7 trips to China, he was the only member of his expedition not to be killed by Tibetan monks. Eventually bringing back over over 10,000 varieties of plant specimens, it is remarkable how unsung he is compared to other plant collectors of the day.
OUP for Royal Horticultural Society
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.


THE CAMBRIDGE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF CHINA
by Patricia Buckley Ebrey and Kwang-Ching Liu
Voiding the need to cart around a mini-library, this one puts 8,000 years of a civilisation's life into a mere one volume, and does it very well.  Receives high marks for being an engaging and detailed account, and for giving play to the Chinese take on history as well. 
Cambridge Univ. Press (0521435196)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
CHINA: A NEW HISTORY

by John King Fairbank and Merle Goldman
Still hailed as a masterpiece, covering 4000 years in under 500 pages, it is a rather concise account written by renowned China scholar Mr. Fairbanks. Brought up to date by Goldman who covers the post-Mao era.
Harvard University Press (067411673)

WARLORDS AND MUSLIMS IN CHINESE CENTRAL ASIA ~ A Political History of Republican Sinkiang 1911-1949
by Andrew Forbes
One of the better ones covering modern history in Xinjiang. Introduces reader to the Uighurs, and also gives heavy mention to other minorities.
Cambridge Univ. Press (0521255147)


A HISTORY OF MODERN TIBET, 1913-1951 ~ The Demise of the Lamaist State
by Melvyn Goldstein
This most debated and misunderstood period of Tibet's recent history is handled with expertise, care, and a fine bit of storytelling. Relies on primary evidence to give a thorough analysis of the politics operating in Tibet. Highly recommended.
Univ. of Calif. Press (0520075900)

BUDDHISM IN CONTEMPORARY TIBET ~ Religious Revival and Cultural Identity
by Goldstein, Kapstein, Schell
Drawing on case studies and interviews in the TAR, Sichuan and Qinghai, depicts Tibetan revivalism amidst the new environment of religious openness, and the balance it must maintain between a wary Chinese government and the desire of some for greater autonomy.
Univ. of Calif. Press (0520211308)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
CHILDREN OF THE JADE DRAGON ~ The Naxi of Lijiang and their mountain neighbours the Yi

by Jim Goodman
Dozens of glossy photos to draw the reader's eye, contains chapters covering history, village life, religion, ceremonial rites, etc. of both the Naxi people (based in the Lijiang area) and the Yi people (centred around Lugu Lake). The author, based out of northern Thailand, is one of the more knowledgeable individuals on Yunnan's minorities.
Teak House (1876437014)


Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
FORGOTTEN KINGDOM
by Peter Goullart
Mr. Goullart lived and worked in Lijiang for nine years in the 1940's.  This is a singular account of some of the minorities of Yunnan, including the Naxi, Tibetans, Bai, Yi and Lisu.  And his conclusions, arrived at more than fifty years ago, are extremely valid today.
Published by John MurrayBooks on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.


THE MAKING OF MODERN TIBET

by Tom Grunfeld
A refreshingly sceptical account that bypasses the well travelled route of castigating the Chinese while overlooking conditions in pre-1950 Tibet. While hardly praising China, neither does it spare the DLs and their regimes from a fair dose of criticism.
M.E. Sharpe Inc. (1563247143)


RIVER TOWN - Two Years on the Yangtze
by Peter Hessler
Peter Hessler is a journalist residing in Beijing who contributes to the New York Times and Atlantic Monthly, amongst others. This engaging book is a well-written and perceptive account of his first 2 years in outback industrial China as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Perennial (0060953748)

THE SEARCH FOR THE PANCHEN LAMA
by Isabel Hilton
Most know the basics - both the DL and Beijing each announced they had 'found' the reincarnated 11th Panchen Lama. The DL's choice then soon vanished. Here's an excellent narrative of the machinations behind the headlines.
WW Norton & CO (0393049698)

LOST HORIZON
by James Hilton
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related. Shangri-La... claiming one's hometown to be the Shangri-La has become a regional pastime. This is the novel that started it all.
Pocket Books (0671664271)

THREE YEARS IN WESTERN CHINA ~ A Narrative of 3 Journeys in Szechwan, Kweichow, and Yunnan
by Alexander Hosie
The author eloquently describes his travels in SW China, when he was a British consular agent serving in Chongqing at the end of the 19th century. A curious and observant individual, his book is an excellent record of perilous travel conditions, the landscape, conditions of the people, manufacturing and agricultural methods, etc.
White Lotus Press - repr. (9747534525)Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

THE CULT OF PURE CRYSTAL MOUNTAIN ~ Popular Pilgrimage and Visionary Landscape in SE Tibet
by Toni Huber
A highly desirable book for those at all interested in Tibetan pilgrimages - motivations behind it, its place within Tibetan society, etc.
Oxford Univ. Press (0195120078)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
FOLK MUSIC OF CHINA ~ Living Instrumental Traditions
by Stephen Jones
"The more you browse this unusual handbook... the more riveting it becomes." Explores the richness and complexity of Chinese indigenous folk music using Western musicology techniques.
Clarendon Press (0198167180)


PLANT HUNTING ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

by Francis Kingdon-Ward
A botanist/explorer extraordinaire in the 19c - many of the places he went are even today still considered incredibly remote. Specialised in medicinal plants surveys. Excellent book first published 1930. Includes many black and white maps.
Cadogan Books - repr. (0913728217)

HIMALAYAN ENCHANTMENT ~ An Anthology
by Frank Kingdon-Ward
Selection of Ward's best articles on plant hunting in the remote lands where Burma, Tibet and China meet, taken from his books: The Land of the Blue Poppy, The Mystery Rivers of Tibet, In Farthest Burma, The Riddle of the Tsangpo Gorges, Plant Hunting on the Edge of the World, Plant Hunter in Tibet and Return to Irrawaddy.
Serinda Publications (0906026229)


The Owen Lattimore Travelogues - Owen Lattimore was a renowned Johns Hopkins University professor specializing in China and Asia, who became even more 'known' when he was accused by Senator McCarthy of being the "top Soviet spy" in the US (Lattimore was persona non grata in the Soviet Union at the time). An explorer as much as a scholar, he led a fascinating life, some of which can be read about in his books - unique accounts of China in the 1920's (High Tartary, Mongol Journey, etc.), putting 'the bus rider in you to shame'. For more on the man ("I believe in my right to be wrong, and still more in my right to be right."), see Robert Newman's Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China, below.

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.CHINA MEMOIRS ~ Chiang Kai-Shek and the War Against Japan
by Owen Lattimore

University of Tokyo Press (086008468X) / Columbia Univ. Press (086008468X)

FROM CHINA LOOKING OUTWARDS
by Owen Lattimore
Leeds UP (085316066X)

INNER ASIAN FRONTIERS OF CHINA
by Owen Lattimore and Alastair Lamb
Oxford Univ. Press (0195827813)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

FAREWELL TO MY CONCUBINE
by Lillian Lee and Nancy Kwan

Made into a highly acclaimed movie, this is a tale set against the background of the fortunes of the Beijing Opera since the start of the century. Serves as an entertaining introduction to this initially quite impenetrable art form.
Carlton Books (1857220188) Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

THREE KINGDOMS
attributed to Luo Guanzhong
"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide." This epic tale is to China what the Homeric epics have been to the West, with the difference that it is still viewed as required reading for present-day rulers. Takes place at the time when the Han Dynasty is tearing apart at the seams, a tale of war, honour, loyalty and betrayal.
Foreign Languages Press (7119005901)


TEARS OF THE LOTUS ~ Accounts of Tibetan Resistance to the Chinese Invasion, 1950-1962

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.by Roger E. McCarthy
Biased but highly informative and unique account of the CIA's Tibet program, a little known historical chapter where Khampa Tibetans from Western Sichuan were flown to Colorado to receive guerilla training from the US military.
McFarland & Co (0786403314)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
THE PLANT HUNTERS ~ Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World

by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner and Will Musgrave
Well researched chapters on the exotic 18c travels of such plant hunters as E. H. Wilson, George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward, among others. Has both maps and illustrations to bring their travels to the reader.
Ward Lock (0706377532)


OWEN LATTIMORE AND THE "LOSS" OF CHINA

by Robert P. Newman
Owen Lattimore, a scholar-adventurer, called the expert's expert by Roosevelt, branded a spy and much worse, indicted twice, never convicted... An enthralling, chilling account of the McCarthyite witch-hunt that effectively eradicated the US's entire body of recognised China specialists, thus founding the ignorance that has characterised US foreign policy towards China up to the present. Can read the entire book on-line here.
University California Press (0520073886)


WORLDS OF TRANSFORMATION
by Marilyn Rhie & Robert Thurman
A book using the extensive Ruben collection of thangkas in New York as its fodder, with essays and explanations by Thurman and David Jackson, alongside a huge number of colour prints of thangkas. This is a great introduction for anybody interested in either the iconography or theory of Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibet House New York in association with The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation (0967011515)


THE NEW EMPERORS ~ China in the Era of Mao and Deng
by Harrison E.  Salisbury
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.Biography of the two major Communist Party leaders (Mao and Deng), based around the interesting theory that they were carrying on China's dynastic tradition. Superbly researched by one of the giants of China journalism.
Harper Collins (0586218645)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.CIVILIZED SHAMANS ~ Buddhism in Tibetan Societies
by Geoffrey Samuel
A readable, intensely well researched account of the development of Tibetan Buddhism. Geography, anthropology, politics, theology & cosmology - it will increase your understanding of the specific aspects of Tibetan Buddhism, and its place in Tibetan society, a thousand-fold.
Smithsonian Institution Press (1560986204)


Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
VIRTUAL TIBET ~ Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood
by Orville Schell
The strange bedfellows of Hollywood and Tibet.
Henry Holt & CO, Inc. (0805043829)

THE SOONG DYNASTY Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
by Sterling Seagrave
Of the 3 daughters of T.V. Soong, one married Chiang Kai-shek, one married his finance minister, and one married Dr. Sun Yat-sen. This book is a readable debunking of the myth around CKS as the heroic leader of Free China.  Very worthwhile, considering that the Song family heavily influenced American policy towards China for most of this century, and thoroughly entertaining as well.
Corgi (0552141089)


THE DRAGON IN THE LAND OF SNOWS ~ A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947
by Tsering Shakya
Tsering Shakya is an academic-in-exile, who's produced a remarkably balanced and detailed account of the last half century of Tibetan history. One of the best books about this much debated, little understood, period.
Pimlico (0712665331)


RED STAR OVER CHINA
Edgar Snow
Nine years into the US/KMT-imposed news blackout, American journalist Edgar Snow gained access to the inner circle of the communist party, and gives us an unparalleled account of those times, including the legendary "Long March" - the 6,000 mile journey of China's nascent Red Army, some 100,000 strong.  The 20,000 survivors who eventually reached Yan'an marked the start of the ascendancy of the Chinese Communist Party. The insight he gives us of Mao is at least as informative as anything else ever written.
Grove Press (0802150934)

RANDOM NOTES ON RED CHINA, 1936-1945
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.
by Edgar Snow
Harvard University Press

(0674749006)

THE SEARCH FOR MODERN CHINA
by Jonathan D. Spence
An approachable, readable and involving account. Dense in details without being plodding, gives the reader a real sense of what was happening in China from the time of the Manchus up to the present.  Certainly one of the "must reads" for those interested iBooks on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.n China.
W.W. Norton (0393973514)

THE CHAN'S GREAT CONTINENT ~ China in Western Minds
by Jonathan Spence

There's a mountain of reading material available describing Westerners' perceptions of China over the years.  To find out how travellers over the course of the last 700 years perceived it, this is the book.  Or just to read an interesting, lively account of the history of this period.
WW Norton (0393027473)
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

THE CHINESE CENTURY ~ The Photographic History of the Last 100 Years
by Jonathan D. Spence and Annping Chin
Filled with fascinating pictures and fascinating text, this is history at its most approachable without sacrificing depth.
HarperCollins (0002558017)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.ELDEST SON ~ Zhou Enlai and the Making of Modern China, 1898-1976
by Han Suyin
Zhou Enlai, overshadowed by Mao Tse-dong and Deng Xiao-ping in Western eyes, was arguably the singularly most influential figure in the Chinese revolution from the early days to the time of his death in the mid 70's. Of the three, he was also undeniably  the most loved and universally respected by the Chinese. This biography traces his life in the context of the changes taking place from the early 20's onwards. An excellent, highly readable, very detailed account of his life and that of the PRC.
Kodansha Int'l Ltd (1568360843)
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

STILWELL AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN CHINA, 1911-45
by Barbara Tuchman
Given the difficult task during WW2 of persuading the KMT and the Communists into an alliance, General Stilwell was in an unenviable position.  His outspoken criticism of Chiang Kai-shek was to lead to his removal from his post.
Prentice Hall & IBD (0026202905)
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.


THE OPIUM WAR THROUGH CHINESE EYES

by Arthur Waley
A sinologist with a knack for weaving a tale, with this book Waley provided for the first time an account, long overdue, of the opium wars which comes from the perspective of Chinese participants and witnesses.
Stanford University Press(0804706115)


CHINA, MOTHER OF GARDENS
by Ernest H. Wilson
Originally published 1929, this book is said to be "the most comprehensive authority and readable book on China horticulture, botany and physical characteristics..." The author, E. H. Wilson, was another member of that very small and rarified club of explorers/plant hunters in China in the early 19c. This book tells of his travels in China from the years 1899-1911.
Stratford Co. (0405090811)

A NATURALIST IN WESTERN CHINA (with Vasculum, Camera and Gun)
by Ernest H. Wilson
First published 1913, written by one of the greats in China plant hunting, EH Wilson. This is an absolutely unique account not only of plants of this region, but about travel conditions as well as the people who inhabited the remote areas of western China through which the author travelled.
Timber Press, Inc (0946313490)Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

JOURNEY TO THE WEST
by Wu Cheng'en
Ultimately the story of how Buddhism was brought from India into China. Follows the exploits and travails of the Tang Dynasty priest Sanzang who, setting out with his disciples the Monkey, the Pig, and the Friar, went in search of the Buddhist Sutra.
Foreign Languages Press (711901014X)

SONG CHING-LING
by Israel Epstein
A biography of Sun Yat-sen's widow written by a colleague  who didn't try to hide his own personal admiration towards her, you can't call this book impartial. Nevertheless, Madame Sun is well deserving of admiration, and the story of her life is fascinating, starting during the final years of the Qing Dynasty, and continuing beyond the revolution.
Beijing Press
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

TRAVEL GUIDES

Bradt's
CHINA: YUNNAN PROVINCE

The Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.author, Stephen Mansfield, has been coming to China for many years, and his seasoned eye is evident in the descriptions, background knowledge and travelling tips given in the book. Favours sound practical detail over anecdotes.
Bradt Travel Guides (1841620025)



Footprint's
TIBET HANDBOOK

Currently one of the best of the Tibet guides covering not just the TAR but all regions of Greater Tibet including Amdo & Kham. Although not always 100% accurate with regards to the viability of roads, etc., it's a well researched guide concentrating on information, not opinion. Ideal for true "gompa stompers".
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.Footprint Handbooks Ltd (1900949334) [Also publ. in USA by Passport Books 0844221902]

Kotan Publishing's
MAPPING THE TIBETAN WORLD

Comprehensive coverage of the major Tibetan areas, with sections covering the TAR and Western China (including Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan), as well as Northern India, Bhutan and Nepal. Regional maps especially useful, denoting location of monasteries, passes, peaks, rivers, etc. Schedules of public transportation also quite detailed.
Kotan Publishing, Inc (0970171609)

Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.Lonely Planet's
SOUTH-WEST CHINA

Initial delight that the book's scope was limited to Southwest China (an area quite sizeable all on its own) gave way to disappointment upon realising it seemed to have simply reprinted relevant bits from the China guidebook, without bothering to cover more places, or to cover old places more in depth. Although it does provide an introduction to the logistics of travelling in China, the area and its minorities; overall a rather dismal spin-off of its vastly overrated parent guide. For more current information, roam their Thorntree bulletin.
Lonely Planet Publications (0864425961)
Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.

Rough Guide's
CHINA

Overall the book does a rather poor job of covering the country. It's the one big problem common to most China guide books, trying to cover such a large area without the necessary numbers in personnel - it's out-of-date before it hits the shelves. China's changing fast - what can you do?
Rough Guides (185828225X)

Rough Guide Special
FIRST-TIME ASIA

Planning on an Asian trip? It's always nice to have a book pointing you in the right direction for hotels, Books on China  and Tibet -  fiction, historical, political, cultural and travel related.museums, etc. As with most Rough Guides, the book includes some interesting commentaries.
Rough Guides (1858283329)

For worldwide price comparison (new and second-hand) of books on SW China & TibetCompare prices of both new and second-hand books worldwide. Highly recommended.

Already in the area? Check out Mandarin Books (Manlin Shuyuan ). Run by proprietors of the inimitable Yunnan Cafe in Dali (now closed, sadly), they've got the best selection of English books in this neck of the woods (also Chinese, French, etc.). Branches in Lijiang (across from Sakura Cafe, just off Market Square), Kunming (near Yunnan University on Wenhua Lane), and Dali.