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Looking for a good book to read while traveling in China? Check out my list of books about China and by Chinese authors.

Dream of Ding Village

Cindy Carter, Yan Lianke
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

One of the prolific author’s many books to be banned in his homeland China due to its politics, Dream of Ding Village recounts the story of a blood-selling ring in contemporary China, brought on by the AIDS epidemic. Kirkus called the book “a sorrowful but captivating novel about the price of progress in modern China.”

Dream of the Red Chamber

Cao Xueqin
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

One of the four “great classic novels of Chinese literature” (along with Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Water Margin, and Journey to the West), the work was intended by its author to be a memorial to the women he knew in his youth and is to the Chinese what The Brothers Karamazov is to Russian or Remembrance of Things Past to French. Also known as The Story of the Stone, the book was written in the 18th century and has been translated numerous times over the centuries, but this version by Hawkes is considered the most faithful.

Project Gutenberg

The Garlic Ballads

Mo Yan
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant | Person/Place/Event

Based on a real-life 1987 uprising in rural China, the 2012 Nobel Prize winner’s novel was banned in his native China for its harsh yet realistic depictions of rural life under the thumb of the Communist government. The author is one of the country’s most popular authors, even though he is also one of the most often banned.

The Good Earth

Pearl S. Buck
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

Buck wrote her Pulitzer-winning novel, which was the best-selling book in the U.S. for two years, based on her experience growing up in China as the daughter of missionaries. The Good Earth not only helped prepare Americans of the 1930s to consider Chinese as allies in the coming war with Japan, but it has remained a stalwart classic — even in China. “Many of us feel we should include Buck as part of Chinese literature,” her Chinese translator, Liu Haiping, said in a 2006 New York Times article.

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

One of the most-translated books of all time is often credited to Laozi (also sometimes spelled Lao Tzu), the “Old Master” who, according to some, lived more than 2,000 years ago, while others debate his existence altogether. As one of the fundamental texts of Taoism, the ancient script, more commonly called the Dao De Jing in recent years, has been translated numerous times, so whichever version you pick up will greatly influence your experience with the material, although all will help guide you on “the way.” The Project Gutenberg version linked to here offers a minimalist translation, which the translator says is intended to make the reader “have to wrestle with some sentences, trying to wring out of them whatever meaning their author was trying to express 2300 years ago, instead of my simply telling you what I think they mean.”

Project Gutenberg

The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu, Ken Liu
CATEGORIES: Classic/Culturally Significant

The first book in the renowned science-fiction writer’s trilogy has been bestowed with numerous honors, including the 2006 Science Fiction Yinhe (“Galaxy”) Award and, in its translated form, the Hugo Award for Best Novel (the first-ever Asian novel to receive the honor) and a nomination for a Nebula Award. A signal is sent out through space during China’s Cultural Revolution — and is answered by an alien race that is itself on the brink of destruction. After the publication of his 1989 novel China 2185, Liu has often been cited as the first cyberpunk Chinese author.

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