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If you’re like me, you may feel like your education only scratched the surface of all there is to know about China. From ancient dynasties to the rise of communism to the current modernity, China’s history is LONG and these books about China will help you dive into that history and culture in a fun and accessible way.
Whether you are planning a trip and want books about China to read before you go, or you are sitting at home and want an armchair travel experience, these books set in China will take you on a great adventure.
More Asia Book Lists For You
Novels About China
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
The Zhen family has been living in America for years, but has now moved back to China. Husband and wife, Wei and Lina, as well as their daughter Karen, adjust to the cultural changes of coming back to China after being in the US. And then a valuable bracelet goes missing, highlighting the cultural unease even more. Plus, Lina still has feelings for Wei’s brother, who suddenly reappears after decades. For fans of contemporary fiction.
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See
This historical novel is inspired by a real-life 15th century woman in China. Tan Yunxian is taught about medicine, particularly helping women, by her grandmother. But when she enters her arranged marriage, her mother-in-law prohibits her from practicing her skills. Nevertheless though, she found a way to make a remarkable impact. For fans of historical fiction.
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
I could almost fill this entire list of books about China with books by Amy Tan. She is so prolific and writes such great historical novels about China. In this one, Violet is a courtesan after the fall of China’s last dynasty, and it follows her and two other women who watch the incredible change that comes to China. For fans of historical fiction.
Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua
Desperate to escape poverty, Mei travels to the capital city to do her communist duty and instead finds herself as part of a recruitment class of women meant for Party elites. She becomes close with Chairman Mao himself, gaining his trust and becoming his lover. But then she goes out on an assignment and begins to question everything the communist party has told her. For fans of historical fiction and strong female protagonists.
Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu
In 1938 China, Renshu is four years old. Japan is invading, and he goes on the run with his mother. Decades later he is living in the US, and his daughter wants to know more about her father’s past. But it’s a story he is reluctant to share. For fans of historical fiction and literary fiction.
Bury What We Cannot Take by Kristin Chen
When Ah Liam reports his grandmother to authorities (because she is destroying a picture of Chairman Mao) it sets into motion a chain of events that will split his family. Eventually, fleeing their home, his mother learns they must leave a child behind as proof that they will return, and the family feels the impact of her decision for a long time. For fans of family sagas.
A Song Everlasting by Ha Jin
After performing in the US, Yao Tian returns to China and is asked to hand over his passport because the sponsors of his tour had been supporters of Taiwan. Instead, he returns to the US and fights for artistic integrity even as he is blacklisted by the Chinese government. For fans of literary fiction.
A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang
When Yitian’s father goes missing in China, he travels from the US to look for him. But it’s difficult for him to navigate this country he has been gone from for so long, so he looks to an old flame, Hanwen, to help him. They had once dreamed of their future together, but Yitian ended up in the US while Hanwen was left behind in China. For fans of literary fiction.
Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng
In 1986 China, Junie loves her life in a small village living with her grandparents and wants to stay put. But her parents, who moved to America, have promised to return and bring her with them back to the States. Meanwhile though, her parents have become estranged, as the shadows of their past lives during China’s Cultural Revolution lurk. For fans of literary fiction.
Little Gods by Meng Jin
After her mother dies, Liya travels back to her mother’s home: China. There, she meets people from her mother’s past and pieces together who her mother was before she immigrated to the US and refused to remember her past. The book description says this is an “immigrant story in the negative” as it explores what is left behind. For fans of literary fiction.
Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen
In this book of short stories, Te-Ping Chen explores the social stratospheres of China, both in its history and present. There are people looking for upward mobility, family members who take different paths in life, and all of it is underpinned with the political and governmental changes of China. For fans of literary fiction and short stories.
Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories by Gish Jen
This book of short stories is all about American-Chinese relations. Families spread across the two countries grapple with that it means to belong and be connected to each other and China, while the US and China work on their political relationship. For fans of literary fiction and short stories.
Hao – Stories by Ye Chun
Hao means “good” in Chinese, and these stories reflect on what good means and how good can be turned into something darker. Many of the stories focus on women both in China and the US as they grapple with motherhood, their role in society, sexism, and racism. For fans of short stories and literary fiction.
Ghost Music by An Yu
Song Yan is a piano teacher in Beijing who longs to have a child but isn’t on the same page about it as her husband. Then her mother-in-law arrives (who of course wants a grandchild) along with mysterious mushrooms that start to come in the mail. For fans of literary fiction and magical realism.
Deep as the Sky, Red as the Sea by Rita Chang-Eppig
When Shek Yeung’s husband, a pirate, is killed, she starts vying to take control. She marries his second-in-command and promises to have a son, all to keep control of the fleet. But there are bigger problems looming from the Chinese government and the Europeans. For fans of strong heroines, literary fiction, and high-seas adventures.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
Xingyin lives on the moon with her mother, hidden from the Celestial Emperor who exiled her mother. But then her magical powers cause her to be discovered and she goes on the run to the Celestial Kingdom where she befriends the Emperor’s son. For fans of fantasy romances.
Non-Fiction Books About China
Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick
This book about China focuses on a remote region of Tibet that is extremely hard to get to. This history of this region explains the conflict that continues: in the 1930s, the communist army fled to this remote area and literally ate the religious statues (made of flour and butter) of the Tibetans. Now, the tension between Tibetans and Chinese continues, and it’s highlighted in personal stories of the people who live in this region.
The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet by Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston
Another look at the history of Tibet, this book tells the story of the Dalai Lama’s exile in 1959 through the eyes of his brother, who became an important part of Tibet’s fight for independence. This gives you a look at the Dalai Lama’s family and the political tensions (although that is perhaps an understatement) between China and Tibet. For fans of historical non-fiction and political non-fiction.
This book tells the story of two of the author’s aunts, who were separated at the end of the Chinese Civil War. One sister was on vacation on a nearby island, and suddenly couldn’t get back to her home in China. Over decades, readers follow the lives of these two women as one makes a home in Taiwan and the other becomes a good communist, erasing any connection with her sister in order to protect herself and her family. It’s a fascinating look at China’s history and how policies and political decisions impacted the individual lives of people. For fans of historical non-fiction and family stories.
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
This book mixes memoir with historical non-fiction, as Chang tells the stories of three generations of her family. Her grandmother was a warlord’s concubine, her mother was part of the communist party, and Chang herself was sent to the countryside by the communists to learn how to be a peasant. For readers who like family histories and fans of historical non-fiction. And I think this would make a great pairing with Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden listed above.
China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower by Frank Dikötter
If you want a book that gives you a complete look at how China got from the Cultural Revolution to current world superpower, here’s your book. Dikötter, a historian, takes a deep look at the political motivations of China and talks about everything from communism to surveillance. For fans of sprawling books of history.
Written on Water by Eileen Chang, Edited and Translated by Andrew F. Jones, Edited by Nichole Huang
In this book first published in 1944, Chang reflects on life before and during wartime China. She talks about everything from fashion to food and cinema, as well as the lives of her family and friends. For fans of memoirs, modern classics, and historical slice-of-life books.
Children’s Books About China
Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book by Joan Holub, Illustrated by Benrei Huang
This is a fun book about Chinese Lunar New Year traditions for young kids, including preparing for and celebrating the holiday. Recommended ages: 2-5 years.
The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson, Illustrated by Joel Stewart
You may recognize Donaldson from her popular book The Gruffalo, and she is one of my favorite children’s book authors! Here she writes about Shen, who has a magic paintbrush where she can paint food for the poor. But then the emperor hears about her paintbrush and wants her to paint gold for him. Recommended ages: 3-6 years.
Playing with Lanterns by Wang Yage, Illustrated by Zhu Chengliang, Translated by Helen Wang
Follow Zhao Di and her friends as they celebrate Chinese New Year each night with lanterns. This book is a translated children’s book, first published in China. Recommended ages: 3-7 years.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
The way this book in engrained in my head from elementary school! It’s exactly what the subtitle tells you: a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood. But it also has beautiful illustrations! Recommended ages: 3-8 years.
Scroll by Hui Li
When Lulu learns about Chinese characters from her grandfather, they start to come to life and she and her dog are transported to a magical world. This is a great book for introducing kids to Chinese characters. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Peng’s Vase: A Chinese Folktale by Angus Yuen-Killick, Illustrated by Paolo Proietti
When the emperor is looking for an heir, he sets a contest for the local children. He gives them a seed and tells them to bring it back in a year to show what they have grown. But poor Peng can’t get his seed to grow. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Alone Like Me by Rebecca Evans
When Liling moves to a new city with her family, she feels lonely. The other children at the playground tease her, and she’s desperate to make a friend. Then she sees another girl in her apartment building who seems lonely like she is, and they form a connection. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Lost and Found: Adèle & Simon in China by Barbara McClintock
In this series installment, Adèle and Simon visit their uncle in China. He takes them to buy souvenirs before exploring, where Simon chooses lots of small items (which he loses during their adventures) and Adèle chooses a camera that captures all the places they travel to in China. Recommended ages: 4-8 years.
Watercress by Andrea Wang, Illustrated by Jason Chin
In Ohio, a young girl is embarrassed that her parents hop out of the car to forage watercress on the side of the road. But then her mother tells her about her past in China, and the significance of the watercress takes on a new meaning. Recommended ages: 6-9 years.
Middle Grade and YA Books About China
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
In an impoverished village, Minli is captivated by her father’s stories about the wise Old Man on the Moon. So, Minli sets off on a magical journey to find the Old Man on the Moon and learn how she can change her family’s fortune. This book makes for a great read aloud, and it has beautiful illustrations (although it’s not fully illustrated; just some beautiful pictures in some sections). Recommended ages: 7-10 years.
The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang
Mia Chen is enjoying spending time with her aunt on a family trip to China. But then her aunt disappears and it sends her on a treasure hunt to save her beloved aunt and uncover the treasure she had been looking for years ago. Recommended ages: 8-12.
The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim
In an ancient Chinese village, Li Jing is sold by her family so that her family can survive. And things just keep getting worse for her until she decides to escape and gets help from some magical animals. Recommended ages: 8-12 years.
This Time It’s Real by Ann Liang
Set at an international school in Beijing, Eliza has an essay about meeting the love her of life go viral. The only problem? She made it up. So she strikes a deal with a famous actor in her class for him to be her fake boyfriend if she helps him with college applications. But then her feelings get a little too real. Recommended ages: 12 and up.
My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong
Iris Wang’s life in the US is falling apart, so her parents send her to China to visit family and figure things out. But she gets more than she expected, rubbing elbows with Beijing’s wealthy society and discovering more about her family. Recommended ages: 14 and up.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
This book set in 1926 Shanghai pits two rival gangs against each other in a Romeo and Juliet retelling. Oh, and there’s a monster attacking both sides, which meants Juliette and Roma will need to work together. For fans of fantasy romance. Rocommended ages: 14 and up.
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