I am frequently asked to recommend books regarding China to a variety of audiences and expertise. This is often a huge task, as there are so many good China books. There are a number of really good books, new and old, that I feel especially close to, and they form this non-exhaustive collection of worthy China reads:


  • To Change China by Jonathan D. Spence. I normally start all my China reading lists with this classic. Originally published in 1980, Spence, a distinguished China scholar, offers us a sobering view of the futility that has marked the efforts of past generations of Western missionaries, aid-providers, and business people engaged in attempting to change the mind of China in a variety of what appeared to them as logical and attractive ways. This was the book that left the biggest impression on me prior to our moving to China in 1980, and the one that I think of instinctively whenever I hear the dreams of a new-to-China enthusiast.
  • Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century, Orville Schell & John Delury. This is a relatively new history of China, told by two distinguished China scholars, using historical figures to illustrate the evolution of China’s civilization.  
  • Dreaming in Chinese, by Deborah Fallows: a delightful book based on expatriate struggles, and falling in love,  with the Chinese language.  Anyone who has grappled with Chinese, even in passing, will recognize themselves in this brief book.
  • The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim  2014 is the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen incident and in this often heartbreaking book, Louisa Lim provides rather surprising insights into today’s China, as well as the story of what happened in 1989, through interviews with those who were caught-up in that still-forbidden rupture in China’s remarkable progress. I found this book captured the spirits of the Tiananmen movement better than anything I’ve previously read.

  • Midnight in Peking, by Paul French. This is haunting story of a horrible, but true, crime in mid- 20th century [1937] Peking. It gives a great view of what expatriate life was at that time, and it’s very hard to put down.
  • Ultimatum, by Matthew Glass. My good friend Katrina Garner pointed out that no reading list would be complete without a good novel. I think that she's right and Matthew Glass's first novel is an amazing one. Climate change and US-China rivalry combine in an incredibly realistic and gripping yarn. Even if you are not interested in China, this is a good one for the beach!