The University of Akron
UA History Department
China Resource Page

Reading Project for World Civilizations: China

Read one of the books on the booklist below and write a 2-4 page response detailing how this work adds to our understanding of Chinese culture.

Structure your review according to the UA History Dept./World Civ. Guidelines:

Historical Fiction

Pearl Buck
          Imperial Woman  Moyer Bell Ltd., 1991; ISBN: 1559210354
The story of the rise of Tzu-Hsi (Cixi), the last empress of China, from a mere concubine to the most powerful person in Ching (Qing) China.
          Pavillion of Women  Moyer Bell Ltd., 2001; ISBN: 155921287X
The story of Madame Wu, a woman whose surprising decision to retire from married life and select a concubine for her husband upsets her extended household, has interesting insights into the limits of  women's lives in China.
          The Good Earth  Washington Square Press, 1994; ISBN: 0671510126
This is the Pulitzer Prize winning story of of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan, ordinary people caught up in the fall of the Qing Dynasty.  Buck gives a graphic view of the vast political and social upheavals in China and the sweeping changes that occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century.

Robert Elegant
          Manchu currently out of print in the US, available from Harper-Collins Australia.
Elegant’s work of historical fiction takes place in 17th century China. Through the eyes of Francis Arrowsmith, Elegant uses historical truth and vivid imagination to re-create the intrigue, decadence, and corruption that led to the demise of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of conquering Manchus.

Taylor Caldwell
            The Earth Is the Lord's: A Tale of the Rise of Genghis Khan currently out of print
The book covers the early life of the great conqueror, focusing primarily on characters: his stern and indomitable mother, the cynical and outcast uncle who educates him, his manipulative wife Bortei, the boyhood friends who become his generals and paladins, and his blood brother Jamuga, who is both his dearest friend and bitterest enemy.

Don Dandrea
            Orlok (paperback edition title: Snow Warrior) currently out of print
A fictionalized account of Subotai Bahadur, the greatest general of Genghis Khan, includes details of the Mongol invasions of China and the West, and of Subotai's travels in India.

Simon Elegant
          A Floating Life: The Adventures of Li Po Ecco Press, 1997; ISBN: 0880015594
The up and down adventures of the Tang poet Li Po, as told to his scribe, give a peak into the court and monastic life of Imperial China.

Jeanne Larsen
          Bronze Mirror  1992; ISBN: 044990671X
A blend of fantasy and history describes how a young maid in twelfth-century China is fascinated by the betrayal, cunning, and affairs of the wealthy family she serves, while the Yellow Emperor watches her through his magical bronze mirror.
           Manchu Palaces  Holt and Co, 1996;
From the hidden rooms of the Forbidden City to the dizzy heights of Taishan temples, Larsen has woven a silken tale that carries the reader into the mystery and magic of Imperial Qing China. Just as in her previous books, Silk Road and Bronze Mirror, she has again overlaid the poignant story of a young girl's coming of age with suspenseful action in the realm of the Immortals of Chinese legend.
           Silk Road: A Novel of Eighth-Century China Holt and Co, 1989;
These are the adventures of Greenpearl, daughter of a powerful Tang dynasty general, as she is is kidnapped by Tibetan raiders, sold to a caravan of traders and then into the life of a courtesan. Along the Silk Road she encounters monks, Persians, and people of the steppes—encounters often brought about by the bumbling interference of a ghost or a deity.

Annette Motley
           Green Dragon, White Tiger Macmillan Publishing Co.,1986;
The story of Black Jade who goes from being a concubine to becoming Empress Wu of China in the seventh-century Tang dynasty.

Robert Hans Van Gulik
          The Chinese Nail Murders (1977)
          The Chinese Lake Murders (1979)
          The Chinese Bell Murders (1987)
         The Chinese Gold Murders (1988)
          Judge Dee at Work: Eight Chinese Detective Stories (1992)
          The Monkey and the Tiger: Two Chinese Detective Stories (1992)
          Necklace and Calabash (1992)
          The Lacquer Screen (1993)
          Murder in Canton (1993)
          The Willow Pattern (1993)
          The Red Pavilion (1994)
          The Emperor's Pearl (1994)
          The Phantom of the Temple (1995)
          Poets and Murder (1996)
          The Chinese Maze (1997)
          The Haunted Monastery (1997)
Robert Van Gulik translates the Ming dynasty novels about the exploits of Dee Goong an (Judge Dee) a  famous magistrate of the Tang dynasty.  Judge Dee solves crimes in his small province and at the same time affords us a glimpse into the difficulties of service as a regional magistrate in the Imperial Chinese bureaucracy

Diane Lee Wilson
        I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade HarperTrophy, 1999; ISBN: 006440773X
Story of a young Mongolian girl and how she overcomes a crippling handicap by becoming a great horsewoman.  Written as juvenile fiction, but very enjoyable for adults as well.

Scar Literature/Biography:

Bound Feet & Western Dress   by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang.
          Anchor Books, 1997; ISBN: 0385479646.
The daughter of a distinguished family, Yu-i was born at the turn of the century in China, and grew up between the fall of the last emperor and the Communist Revolution.  This is the story of her personal struggle with the constant tug between familial duty and individual desire.

Daughter of Han by Ida Pruitt & Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai
          Stanford Univ Press, 1990; ISBN: 0804706069
Ida Pruitt's biography of Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai (literally "old lady Ning"), a peasant woman of northeast China born in 1867, is an anecdotal retelling of Ning's personal history as she related it to the author over the course of their two year long friendship. To survive and feed her children Ning must become first a beggar, then a servant to various households: military, Muslim, bureaucrat, and finally to Christian missionaries. And Ning speaks against concubinage and prostitution, about the penury of employers, the need to support and keep family together.

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Lu Xun
          University of Hawaii Press, 1990; ISBN: 0824813170
Lu Xun is often considered to be one of the greatest of Chinese fiction writers and is touted for his eloquent and beautiful language.  His stories are glimpses into the lives of ordinary Chinese struggling to survive in dificult times and despite an often corrupt system.

Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter  by Adeline Yen Mah
          Broadway Books, 1999; ISBN: 0767903579
Mah’s memoir of life in China, before and after the 1949 revolution, is a chronicle of the emotional abuse she received from her father and his beautiful, but vicious, second wife. Through Chinese proverbs Mah conveys the traditional Chinese worldview that prompted the subservience of women and fostered the belief that daughters were worthless.

The Family by Li Fei-kan Pa Chin
          Waveland Press, 1988; ISBN: 0881333735
Popular in China during the May 4th movement this is an absorbing account of one family in early 20th century China.through whose generational conflicts we can see the larger conflicts about to engulf the nation. The Kao family, five generations living in one complex is headed by the father, Master Kao, an autocrat unwilling and unable to admit that his country and his family are changing before his eyes. His three sons seem to represent a cross section of Chinese attitudes, behaviors, and hopes during post-Imperial revolutionary chaos.

Raise the Red Lantern by Su Tong
          Penguin USA, 1996; ISBN: 0140260307
Three novellas of a disturbing intensity--including "Raise the Red Lantern," the basis of an acclaimed 1991 film. Set in provincial China of the 1930's, all three stories evoke a place where a concubine might have attended college and a landlord's son might have learned to play tennis at his boarding school--but where the harsh old ways still prevail.

Red Azalea  by Anchee Min
          Berkley Publishing Group, 1995; ISBN: 0425147762
Min’s heart-wrenching memoir of herself as a young Chinese schoolgirl, during the collapse of the Maoist regime, tells how, as a distinguished young communist, she denounces her own friends.

Son of the Revolution by Liang Heng
          Random House, 1984; ISBN: 0394722744
An emotion packed account of the destructive practice of Maoist thought and the Cultural Revolution on this Chinese family as seen through the eyes of the son who watches the hardships his intellectual parents must endure.

Spider Eaters: A Memoir  by Rae Yang
          University of California Press, 1998; ISBN: 0520215982
Yang's memoir is of her girlhood torn between two worlds, that of her loyalty to the Communist Party, and that of her parents and friends.  She tells the tale of China's most violent days, during the Cultural Revolution, together with her own struggle to respect party authority in light of its high-handed and destructive campaigns.

The Attic: Memoir of a Chinese Landlord's Son  by Guanlong Cao & Nancy Moskin (trans.)
          University of California Press, 1998; ISBN: 0520204069
Cao's lean elegant prose creates a moving autobiographical account of daily life in urban Shanghai in during the forty turbulent years following the Communist Revolution.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang
          Anchor World Views, 1992; ISBN: 0385425473
Jung Chang tells the story of three generation of Chinese women—her grandmother as a warlord’s concubine, her mother in the Communist movement, and herself—from the end of the Qing dynasty to the Sun Yatsen years, through the revolution, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution dealing with personal survival in a country in constant flux.


Genghis Khan by R. P. Lister
            Cooper Square Press, 2000; ISBN: 0815410522
This book based on the Secret History of the Mongols, the one early primary source for Mongolian history, is a easily readable account of the early life and rise to power of Genghis Khan, the most fearsome warrior of all time, who forged the largest empire the world has ever seen.

Iron and Silk  by Mark Salzman
            Vintage Books; ISBN: 0394755111
In 30 short anecdotes, Mark Salzman gives a compassionate and humorous account of teaching English and studying martial arts in Changsha, a provincial capital in central China shortly after the opening of the country in the early 1980s.

Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition  by Beverley Jackson
             Ten Speed Press, 1988; ISBN: 0898159571
Jackson’s fascinating and detailed account of the thousand-year-old practice of Chinese foot binding is accompanied by personal interviews of women with bound feet and an extensive collection of photos, old and new, of the foot-binding process, the embroidered shoes, and the folklore surrounding this now discarded tradition.

The Devil's Horsemen  by James Chambers
            Cassell, 1988; ISBN: 0304321885
Chambers writes about the Mongolian invasion of Eastern Europe telling the story from the Mongol perspective with rich details of Mongolian cavalry tactics and battle strategies.  I wonderfully concise and detailed military history of a fascinating people who conquered Asia and the Middle East and very nearly conquered the West as well.

Women of Mongolia  by Martha Avery
           Avery Press, 1996; ISBN: 0937321052
A collection of photos, interviews, and anecdotes highlighting the changing roles of women in Mongolia today. 

This page last updated, Jan. 2003
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