10 of the best… books on China

Historian Michael Wood reveals his favourite books on the country - from ancient poetry to recent history

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1. Cecilia Lindqvist’s China: Empire of Living Symbols is brilliant on the development of Chinese writing signs – a magical way into the Chinese mind.

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2. River Town by Peter Hessler is an affectionate memoir of two years spent as a teacher in a town on the Yangtze – and was a hit in China, too.

3. China’s poetry tradition is older than the West’s: try Three Hundred Tang Poems, an Everyman pocket edition. At school it opened my eyes to a world I never dreamt existed!

4. No culture is more artistic and Ronald Knapp’s Things Chinese is a gorgeous book about antiques, furniture, household furnishings, arts and crafts. 

5. The Seventy Wonders of China, edited by Jonathan Fenby, is a fine illustrated miscellany on history, landscape and culture. 


 Radio Times Travel offer: 17-day escorted tour of China including in Beijing, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and a Yangtze River cruise


6. For a great overview, look no further than top scholar Patricia Ebrey’s The Cambridge Illustrated History of China.

7. For recent history: Rana Mitter’s A Bitter Revolution is an accessible and readable story of modern China.

8. And a memoir of the time still riveting in its immediacy: Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, which includes a famous interview with the younger Mao.

9. China in Ten Words by Yu Hua is a penetrating collection of personal stories with sharp and very witty analysis of current everyday life.

10. Lastly, literature and poetry are among the great loves of the Chinese. The modern novel is incredibly rich in China: try Decoded by Mai Jia who shares his favourite novels online at goodreads.com.

 The Story of China continues on Thursdays on BBC2 at 9pm


 Radio Times Travel offer: 17-day escorted tour of China including in Beijing, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army and a Yangtze River cruise

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