The Rough Guide to China and Lonely Planet China (China, 7th Ed), though aimed at budget travellers, are both accessible and reliable. They are general without being simplistic.
If you desire a much more thorough appreciation of China's art history and sites, pick up a copy of Blue Guide China.
| Language Books
We will give you a sheet with the most useful words and phrases written for you in Chinese when you arrive. However, if you would like something more substantial, the language books published by Lonely Planet, Mandarin Phrasebook , and Berlitz, Chinese for Travellers, are both useful. The more Chinese you try to speak, the more friends you will make.
A fun and demystifying introduction to the whys and wherefores of chinese language and writing is ably written by Raymond and Margaret Scrogin Chang in Speaking Of Chinese.
| City Guides
Competition is rife for Beijing guide books.
For a thoroughly researched text, Cadogan's Beijing
by Peter Neville-Hadley is recommended. A more colourful &
less academic publication is Lonely Planet's Beijing
by the well-informed Caroline Liou. For more background
detail on Beijing's sites, China's Foreign Language Press
offers "Beijing". (Since the latter is not available from
Amazon.com, you'll have to wait to pick this up at Beijing's
| (Other Cities)
Odyssey's series of China city guides provide
interesting background information for each of the cities.
They do not aim to supply practical travel information, concerning
hotels, transport, etc. Illustrated guides are available for
Yangzi River, & Xi'an.
An easy-to-read introductory history by John King Fairbank, recently updated by Merle Goldman, is entitled, China : A New History . This takes you from pre-history to the modern day.
For a highly readable account of China's modern history from 1949 to June 1989, Harrison Salisbury's The New Emperors is a worthwhile eye-opener.
Red Star Over China is the account of US journalist, Edgar Snow's interviews with Mao Ze Dong and other ranking Chinese Communists during the Chinese civil war. It is probably the most politically divisive history of modern China.
A detailed analysis of political reform through the 1980's is provided by Merle Goldman in Sowing the Seeds of Democracy in China
China Remembers is edited by a husband and wife team, Zhang Lijia and Calum Macleod. It consists of narratives by 33 people, both Chinese and foreign. Divided into five sections, corresponding roughly to the five decades of communist rule in China, each section begins with an informative introduction by the editors. To contact the Beijing resident authors with a comment, click here.
Great Wall of China by Arthur Waldron carries as its subtitle
"from history to myth" - enough to reveal the work's central
thesis. It is practically the only history in either English
or Chinese on the surprisingly under-researched Great Wall.
Jonathan Spence has written a cursory biography
Zedong. Zhisui Li, Mao's personal physician has provided
a sensationalist account in The
Private Life of Chairman Mao.
Emperor of China : Self-Portrait of K'ang-Hsi is an ambitious attempt by Jonathan Spence to recreate the diary of the great eigtheenth century Qing dynasty Emperor K'ang-Hsi (also spelt Kangxi).
There were three Song sisters. Chinese say
that one married for money (Ai Ling married Taiwan's Chancellor
of the Exchequer); one married for power (Mei Ling married
Chiang Kaishek, the leader of the Guomindang party and Taiwan);
and the one married for love (Qing Ling married Sun Yatsen,
the founder of modern China, 31 years her senior). How these
Wellesley & Wesleyan Chinese American graduates came to
prominence is wonderfully told by Sterling Seagrave in his
modern classic, The
Sterling Seagrave provides a revision of
the life of the much maligned Empress Dowager Cixi in Dragon
Lady : The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China.
In so doing, he simultaneously alienates conservative historians
in both Communist China and the west - a rare feat.
Fung Yu-Lan is one of those brilliant people who can communicate extremely complex thoughts in simple language. His Short History of Chinese Philosophy, recently re-issued, gives a comprehensive and comprehensible introduction to this fascinating topic.
De Jing by Lao Zi is the cornerstone of Daoism. Its 81
verses distill the universal laws whose unyielding constancy
belie the claim of Progress to genuine improvement. Criticized
as retrograde and impractical, this quintessentially Chinese
classic remains highly charged and powerful.
Confucian Analects expound a doctrine that has underpinned
China's history and continues to play a major role in Chinese
thought. Confucius imbued traditional Chinese culture with
an ethical essence.
Paradoxes of relativity, language, and structure
- are these the concoctions of Wittgenstein, Barthes or Derrida?
No. This nihilistic satire of human thought forms the ideological
pillar of Daoism's second sage,
Chuang Tzu (Also known as Zhuang Zi).
| Art History
A good, if brief, introduction is Mary Tregear's
Art (World of Art).
Another solid reference is The
Art and Architecture of China by Sickmann and Soper.
Swans : Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang introduces
China's turbulent modern history and social customs. An expose
of the Cultural Revolution that is popular amongst ordinary
Chinese people in mainland China is provided by in the Chinese
film "To Live", directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Though set in the States, this book affords a revealing insight into the traditional Chinese mindset.
In Chinese classical fiction, there is little
to compare to
The Three Kingdoms. This is a fantastic presentation of
traditional Chinese heroes, their ethics and, most importantly,
their strategies. If takes twenty chapters to get a head of
steam, but once you get to chapter 42 you won't look up before
For contemporary Chinese fiction written by
Chinese authors for a Chinese audience, but translated into
English, you might have to wait until you get to the book
shop at Beijing's Friendship Store. There you can browse through
a range of such fiction publised by Panda Books. We'd especially
recommend works by Liu Heng and the marvelous Shi Tie Sheng.
The quintessential China travelogue - Paul Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster
A more controversial travelogue is that named
City of Light . This is the diary of an Italian Jewish
merchant during his precarious business trip to China in 1271,
four years before Marco Polo claims to have arrived in 1275.
However, the authenticity of this fascinating account has
been thrown into question by the English translator's refusal
to submit the original Italian manuscript to academic inspection.
| Guide books
Again, Lonely Planet Tibet (4th Ed) will give you the most succinct overview. Other general guides include Stephen Bachelor's The Tibet Guide : Central and Western Tibet and the Odyssey Illustrated Guide to Tibet . For those with more particular interests, there are a number of specialized guide books available such as Trekking in Tibet and Victor Chan's wonderfully exhuastive Moon Handbooks: Tibet .
| Language Books
For those of you brave enough to attempt the Tibetan language, Lonely Planet publishes a Tibetan Phrasebook .
The most comprehensive, single-volume publication is A Cultural History of Tibet by David Snellgrove and Hugh Richardson, which takes you from the early kings to the twentieth century.
A standard text on the development of Tibetan
culture is R.A. Stein's Tibetan
Civilization. However, its arrangment of information is
A History of Modern Tibet, 1913-1951 by Melvyn Goldstein is a political history of Tibet between the fall of the Qing dynasty and the arrival of China's Liberation Army in 1951.
The Dragon in the Land of Snows by Tsering Shakya brings us up to date with a history that takes us from 1947 to 1988.
An amusing read is Peter Hopkirk's Trespassers on the Roof of the World which recounts the often times bizarre stories of the men and women who tried to pentrate the forbidden borders of Lhasa between the mid nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
| Religion and Philosophy
Concise books on Tibetan Buddhism are difficult to find and may require some familiarity with the teachings of Buddhism itself. Edward Conze's Buddhism: A Short History is a good introductory work.
A well-established presentation of Tibetan Buddhism is Religion of Tibet written by Charles Bell, with a more recent study by Keith Dowman, The Sacred Life of Tibet , also being an excellent source of information.
His holiness the Dalai Lama has written some
great books. One of his most recent publications, Ethics
for the New Millennium, written in a simple and eloquent
style, is aimed both at the layman and serious student alike.
It tackles the serious issues we commonly face in our daily
| Art History
Iconography of Tibetan Lamaism by Antoinette K. Gordon gives a systematic outline of the main deities in the Tibetan religion as well as the main symbols and attributes of each. Another more recent publication put together by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art of their own collection is entitled, Art of Tibet.
A fascinating journey into Tibet in the early
twentieth century is Heinrich Harrer's in his Seven
Years in Tibet .