The Best Chinese Books From Only Chinese Authors

China, officially the People’s Republic of China, is always in the news, just like the United States. After all, they both have political and economic stakes in a globalized world. Interestingly, very few people have firsthand knowledge of China. Even if someone knows about China, it mostly comes from the Western world.

That knowledge is very limited in terms of China’s cultural, sociological, and political history. That’s why this article shares the best Chinese books by Chinese writers only. 

After all, these Chinese writers, born and raised in China, know better about their homeland than outsiders.

The best books about China that we are going to discuss are both fiction and nonfiction. There will also be some books on Chinese history, as Chinese history is almost as old as time. 

So, let’s discuss the best Chinese books and learn about the great country from lived experiences.

chinese books

1. Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en - 4.1/5

Although there’s little known about Wu Cheng’en, who was born around 1500 during the Ming Dynasty in China, his book remains a timeless classic. The sounding proof is Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West, considered one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature.

One of the best classic Chinese novels tells the story of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong, and his quest to achieve immortality. Wukong’s journey begins with his quest for wisdom and power, during which he gains incredible abilities, such as shape-shifting and cloud-somersaulting. Despite his powers, his mischievous nature always lands him in trouble, leading to his imprisonment by the Buddha.

Five hundred years later, Buddha releases him as the guardian of Xuanzang, a holy monk who travels to India to retrieve sacred Buddhist sutras. Two other fallen immortals, the Pig Spirit, and the Sand Monster, join them. Together, they face challenges and demons on their journey through the Silk Road to India.

It is one of the best books on Chinese history, as it has a rich commentary on Imperial China’s society, politics, and religious beliefs. It offers a different perspective on Chinese culture, where Wu Cheng’en questions religious orthodoxy. With its blend of mythology, morality, and satire, the story remains a classic piece of Chinese literature.

2. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

2. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin - 4.1/5

Recently, The Three-Body Problem has become a buzz name, especially for TV show lovers who like the adventure, science, and fantasy genres. And why shouldn’t it be? The TV show is based on one of the best Chinese novels of the same name by Liu Cixin.

Liu Cixin is one of the best Chinese writers of the science fiction genre who won the prestigious Hugo Award for The Three-Body Problem. Liu’s approach is unique as he explores complex scientific concepts and their potential impact on society. His work is unlike American science fiction writers where there’s always an apocalypse, and the world is in need of a superhero.

The Three-Body Problem is the first book in Liu Cixin’s “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” trilogy. It is set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution. It follows Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who is disillusioned with humanity and invites extraterrestrial life to Earth. As a result, Earth becomes caught in the middle of a conflict between two alien civilizations, the Trisolarans and the humans.

Liu’s work is considered one of the best Chinese novels for its plot, scientific accuracy, and philosophical depth. It combines complex concepts from physics, mathematics, and astronomy to create a compelling narrative. You can stream The Three-Body Problem on Netflix or watch the Chinese series here.

chinese books

3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck - 3.8/5

Pearl S. Buck is an exception as she is not Chinese. However, she spent most of her childhood and early adult life in China, where her parents served as Presbyterian missionaries. So, her childhood experiences deeply influenced her experiences. The Good Earth and her other novels are a reflection of that experience.She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938, becoming the first American woman to receive the honor.

The story follows the life of Wang Lung, a poor farmer in rural China, and his wife O-Lan, as they struggle to survive and improve their station in life. Through hard work, Wang Lung manages to acquire more land and wealth. However, his newfound status brings a series of challenges and moral dilemmas.

One of the best books about China, the novel spans several decades, taking readers through the changes in Chinese society during the early 20th century. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and has also been adapted into a film, a Broadway play, and an opera.

Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

4. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin - 4.2/5

“Dream of the Red Chamber,” also known as “The Story of the Stone,” is the second historical fiction in our post. The novel is considered one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature (one already discussed above). 

The novel is set in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. It revolves around the Jia family and the lives of its members. The focus, however, is on the romantic entanglements and personal struggles of the young heir, Jia Baoyu, and his two cousins, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai.

Cao Xueqin intelligently uses the Jia family’s rise and fall as a metaphor for the decline of the feudal aristocracy and the changing social landscape of 18th-century China. It is one of the best Chinese books on 18th-century society, culture, and politics of the Qing Dynasty.

chinese books

5. Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong - 4.1/5

War and revolution are synonymous with a country like China, which has a history of hundreds of centuries. And you will find plenty of revolutions in the Great Republic of China. Wolf Totem is one such novel set in the 1960s during China’s Cultural Revolution. It focuses on the life of Chen Zhen, a Beijing student, who goes to live among the nomadic herders of Inner Mongolia.

Although life is difficult, the beautiful landscapes fascinate him. He develops a fascination with the wolves of the grasslands, seeing in them a symbol of freedom, social order, and environmental wisdom. His observations and experiences led him to deeply respect the Mongolian nomads’ way of life, which maintains balance and harmony with nature.

The novel may seem like a city boy’s fascination with the Mongolian way of life. However, Chinese writers are great at using metaphors due to authorities’ censorship, and Wolf Totem is no different. Jiang uses metaphors to explore the relationship between humans and nature. He uses the wolf totem as a powerful character for the tensions that arise from this interaction. 

The metaphors provoke thought-provoking reflections on cultural identity and impassioned critiques of China’s political and ecological policies. It is one of the best Chinese novels to have come out in the past decade, and you should give it a read.

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

6. Wild Swans by Jung Chang - 4.3/5

As discussed, Chinese writers are great at using metaphors to avoid censorship. Not all writers like to use metaphors, though. Jung Chang is one such writer whose autobiography is banned in the People’s Republic of China. This is even more strange as Wild Swans has sold over 10 million copies worldwide.

Chang grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and later, she moved to the United Kingdom. Her autobiography is one of the best Chinese history books with a powerful account of three generations of women in her family. These women include her grandmother, her mother, and herself. 

As one can easily tell from three generations, the book spans nearly a century of Chinese history, from the early 20th century to the post-Mao era. Chang’s grandmother was a concubine to a warlord. Her mother was a passionate Communist who experienced the hardships of the Cultural Revolution. The writer herself grew up during the turmoil of the Mao years before leaving China for a new life in Britain.

If you want to learn more about modern Chinese history, this is one of the best Chinese books you can find. Apart from personal experiences, Chang’s criticism of China and Chinese politics makes it a worthy read.

The Private Life of Chairman Mao - Li Zhisui

7. The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Li Zhisui - 4.2/5

The Private Life of Chairman Mao is a revealing memoir about one of the most influential figures of 20th-century China, Mao Zedong. The writer of this best Chinese book is Li Zhisui, who served as Mao’s personal physician for nearly 22 years. 

The book provides a unique insight into Mao Zedong’s private world. It sheds light on his personality, habits, and even the inner workings of his regime.

Throughout the memoir, Li Zhisui recounts his experiences as a close confidant to Mao. His years with Mao started in the early days of the Communist revolution and ended in the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution. He describes Mao’s complex and often contradictory character and political maneuvering. 

The book also delves into Mao’s relationships with his family, colleagues, and numerous mistresses. It is a perfect portrait of a man who was charismatic and ruthless, brilliant and deeply flawed.

Although the book has been controversial, some question the accuracy of Li Zhisui’s account. Despite the odds, this is one of the best Chinese books that gives a rare glimpse into the private life of one of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Pearl of China By Anchee Min

8. Pearl of China by Anchee Min - 3.8/5

Pearl of China is one of the best books on China in the form of a novel. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of Pearl S. Buck, the renowned American writer and Nobel laureate who spent much of her life in China, and her close bond with a Chinese woman named Willow.

It tells the story of the enduring friendship between these two women, set against the backdrop of 20th-century China. The novel follows their childhood from the early 1900s through the decades of war, revolution, and political upheaval that shaped modern China. 

Willow, the daughter of a poor farmer, and Pearl, the daughter of American missionaries, form an unlikely and unbreakable bond that sustains them through the challenges. As they age, their paths diverge, with Pearl becoming a celebrated writer. Whereas, Willow lives through the complexities of life in a rapidly changing China.

As mentioned, the novel is based on real figures. Although Pearl S. Buck is an American writer, her novels are set in China, inspired by her experiences. Some of her best books on China include The Good Earth (discussed above), Sons, and A House Divided, among many others.

9. Call To Arms by Lu Xun

9. Call To Arms by Lu Xun - 4.3/5

Call to Arms is a powerful collection of short stories by Lu Xun. Lu is a master of the Chinese short story genre and is considered one of the most influential Chinese writers. So, it is no surprise that this best Chinese book is considered a landmark work that defined Chinese fiction in the early 20th century.  

As a satirist, Lu Xun’s short stories are known for their biting social commentary. He also had a knack for depicting the harsh realities of life in early 20th-century China and showed deep empathy for the struggles of ordinary people. 

Through his satirical prose, he exposed the absurdities of a society in transition, from cruel feudal traditions to the hypocrisy of the modern era. Some of the stories like “Kong Yiji,” “Medicine,” and “The True Story of Ah Q” are considered one of the best short stories for their wit, and emotional depth.

Chineasy_ The New Way to Read Chinese

10. Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chinese - 4.2/5

Learning Chinese is always considered difficult. As it is a tonal language, which means that when you pronounce a word, it can change its meaning, which could be challenging for new learners. 

Additionally, written Chinese has thousands of unique characters, which require learners to memorize them individually, as opposed to an alphabet-based system used in many other languages.

The question is: Is learning Chinese that much difficult? It may be, but not anymore.

Chineasy, written by ShaoLan Hsueh, can be your go-to book for learning Chinese. 

The book simplifies a system that makes grasping the fundamentals of the written language more accessible. In collaboration with celebrated illustrator Noma Bar, Hsueh has created a captivating collection of illustrations. 

These artworks assist in the learning process and also make it entertaining. It is one of the best Chinese books for learning the language and culture.

A Recap of the Best 10 Chinese Books

The best Chinese books discussed above give us insight into China’s history, culture, and societal evolution. 

We discussed fiction and nonfiction to comprehensively explore the historical and cultural context of one of the oldest civilizations. 

The list mostly includes native Chinese writers who convey the story of their homeland through their lived experiences and insights. 

These best books about China also bridge the gap between China and the world, showcasing its diversity, richness of culture, and complexity of societal structures.

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