The Best Chinese History Books of 2021

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Are you looking for the best books on China and its rich history? Do you have a paper due and are in need of some immediate help? No matter the reason, this list has something to offer everyone.

It can be hard when searching for historical information. Though many students tend to use Google as their sole resource, books are one of the best options. From the Chinese dynasties to its unique cultural traditions, China is a country known for its rich history.

With a history, including significant events like the Opium wars or even the Treaty of Versailles, China’s history is not something you can gather from just one book. Though this list will include several of the best options, we will also give you tips on how to choose your own. These tips will provide you with the needed questions to ask yourself when contemplating a new text. If you are ready to embark on a journey through Chinese history, keep reading for more.

If you want to just get back to studying, get our top choice for Chinese history here.

Our Top Favorite
The Search for Modern China
Our Top Runner Up
The Art Of War
Our Top Value Pick
The Rise of Modern China 6th edition by Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (1999) Paperback
Book Title
The Search for Modern China
The Art of War
The Rise of Modern China 6th Edition
Prime Eligible?
-
Our Top Favorite
The Search for Modern China
Book Title
The Search for Modern China
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Runner Up
The Art Of War
Book Title
The Art of War
Prime Eligible?
Our Top Value Pick
The Rise of Modern China 6th edition by Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (1999) Paperback
Book Title
The Rise of Modern China 6th Edition
Prime Eligible?
-

Last update: 2021-04-16

Our Favorites for Best Chinese History Books

The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence

Johnathan Spence is an author who is highly revered for his books relating to Chinese history. The Search for Modern China is a heavily recommended text which many people love. The text originated from Spence’s Chinese History course at Yale. In this course, he began to unearth information on the start of modern China. The book is excellent for students and includes information on China’s social and political history.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The Search for Modern Chinahas widely been regarded as one of the best introductions to China’s rich history. The text features an entanglement of analysis as well as narrative accounts.
  • Johnathan Spence introduces readers to notable events like the warlord era and the communist movement, as well as a host of prominent figures throughout Chinese culture.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • If you are a student or someone who has been studying Chinese history, this is an excellent text to add to your collection. Some readers say that this text may be a difficult option for a casual reader.
  • It is one of the most used texts for courses in Modern Chinese history. The book has been categorized as readable, scholarly, and even grounded.

On Sale
The Search for Modern China
The Search for Modern China
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Spence, Jonathan D. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


China in Ten Words by Yu Hua , Allan H. Barr

China in Ten Words was written by an acclaimed Chinese writer, Yu Hua. The book is centered around ten phrases in the Chinese language. These phrases center around things like piracy, fraud, and common misconceptions within Chinese culture.

What Makes it Unique:

  • China In Ten Words aims to compress much of the information of its present and past down into ten words.
  • The book is made up of 10 essays related to different Chinese topics. One phrase is copycat. This essay focuses on how China makes copycat products. Other words include people, leader, writing, and many more.
  • The author uses his experiences to frame the text as it includes many memories of his past, being a China native and a living witness to the Cultural Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • Many individuals who have read China in Ten Wordsfind it to be one of the most fascinating Chinese history books.
  • Many Chinese individuals or individuals living in China found that this text opened them up to a world they were unfamiliar with. One reader even said that it took them on a narrative through time, exposing them and their peers to events they were not familiar with.
  • Many individuals have categorized this text as an autobiography and a social commentary. The author has embedded various aspects of culture in society.

On Sale
China in Ten Words
China in Ten Words
  • Vintage
  • Hua, Yu (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850 to the Present by Jonathan Fenby

China has transformed itself from being almost one of the weakest Asian countries to one of the most powerful. It is a country that has seen a history of natural disasters, revolts, and foreign invasions. This book takes readers through hundred-plus years of Chinese history. He paints portraits of the events which took place and makes even some of China’s most hated leaders, like Mao, seem humane.

What Makes it Unique:

  • Fenby portrays China’s history as a collection of several moving parts. Not only does it focus on the activities of leadership, the communist party, and China’s early rulers. It doesn’t fail at providing a picture of how even the smallest decisions affected millions of people. Not only does it touch on the governmental mistakes but the hardships of “peasants,” which occurred during the Great Leap forward.
  • The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850 to the Presentcovers several of China’s disastrous events, including the Taiping Rebellion, the massacre of Tianemann Square, civil war and much more.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • If you are someone who is interested in history or more specifically interested in Chinese history, this is the perfect text. Some readers feel that it is not a good read for beginners or a book you would read as an introduction to Chinese history.
  • Many readers find this to be a valuable read and say that it is about time that individuals took a deep dive into China. It aids readers in understanding the shifts that China has been through.
  • This book is not an easy read; however, if you can get through the text, you will come out with a better understanding of the fall and rebirth of China.

On Sale
The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850 to the Present
The Penguin History of Modern China: The Fall and Rise of a Great Power 1850 to the Present
  • Fenby, Jonathan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 816 Pages - 05/01/2019 (Publication Date) - Penguin UK (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-16


Runner Ups for Best Chinese History Books

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu writes The Art of War. SunTzu is a military general of high rank, a tactician and strategist. The text looks to provide information on China’s warfare. Many readers have even referred to the Art of War as a definitive text on military tactics of the time period. The book has also influenced the military tactics of Eastern and Western societies.

What Makes it Unique:

  • Though the text is small, it emphasizes military conflict. Many readers say that this text should even be considered required reading for everyone in the military. The knowledge that the book possesses is unparalleled and practical information.
  • The text focuses on not just the aspect of war but a struggle for survival as well.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • The Art of War is a relatively small and easy read though its knowledge goes far beyond its length.
  • Though the central topic of this text is war, the principles that the author discusses can be applied in several different areas. These include business, various competitive endeavors, or simply life in general.
  • If you are looking to pursue a career in the military, this is a great read. The Art of War has been gifted by teachers many times as a way to prepare students for their upcoming change.

The Art Of War
The Art Of War
  • Sun Tzu (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 68 Pages - 11/01/2007 (Publication Date) - Filiquarian (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-16


China: A New History, Second Edition by John King Fairbank, Merle Goldman

China: A New History is a text which covers a large part of China’s rich history and is often considered an authoritative text. Its author, John Fairbank, was an American historian who began his studies with an underdeveloped area of study. This area was China’s foreign relations. Fairbanks went on to author several texts regarding Chinese history as well as living in the country he loved. Harvard University also named the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies after him.

What Makes it Unique:

  • China: A New History provides information on Chinese History ranging from prehistory to modern-day. The text includes several maps and figures to emphasize and illuminate the information it contains.
  • In the text, Fairbanks covers several avenues, including everyday life, religion, archaeology, Confucianism, and so much more.
  • Merle Goldman, another scholar with an emphasis on the Chinese economy and China itself, contributes to the latest chapter in the revised version.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • This is an essential text for Chinese history and an excellent read for students, scholars, and history buffs. The text includes objective descriptions of people and events throughout Chinese history.
  • Though a long read, it filled in holes in history that some texts do not address. It also is an excellent text for students taking Chinese history courses.

China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition
China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition
  • Belknap Press
  • Fairbank, John King (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Last update: 2021-04-16


Value Picks for Best Chinese History Books

The Rise of Modern China 6th Edition by Immanuel C. Y. Hsu

The Rise of Modern China is a text which not only provides a comprehensive view of Chinese history but brings for the connections between historical China and its present-day state. This is a text which can be read for enjoyment or, like many students have done, used for the Chinese studies courses.

What Makes it Unique:

  • The preface opens both as an overview of the text and a nod to the authors’ past. He closes the preface with a quote that reads, “May the brick I have thrown attract jade from others.” His “brick” is the completed book, and he hopes that the text will inspire other scholars to make contributions more significant than he did.
  • Before diving deep into the text, the author provides readers with an overview of what the book will cover. This includes Foreign Relations, the social conditions of the country, and its political institutions. However, these are only a few of the many topics covered within the text.
  • The Rise of Modern China is divided into seven sections, with each chapter covering a significant period in Chinese history. Hsu also uses a series of 19 maps to explain further what he has written. These maps are included in the index for ease.
  • Along with providing an abundance of information, Hsu provides readers with a series of conversion tables to understand the language which he uses throughout the text.

Why Choose This Chinese History Book:

  • The Rise of Modern China has been deemed as detailed, well written, and extremely sharp. Hsu provides readers with the needed information without any fluff or frills. Thought the book comes in at 1000 pages, China’s history has been a long one that still leaves so much more to the imagination.
  • This is a great book to be used as an introduction to modern Chinese history. It is listed in a chronological format making it easy to follow and comprehend. Many readers say that it is a subjective read, which is hard to find.

The Rise of Modern China 6th edition by Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (1999) Paperback
The Rise of Modern China 6th edition by Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (1999) Paperback
  • Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. (Author)
  • 12/09/1999 (Publication Date) - Oxford University Press (Publisher)

Last update: 2021-04-16


How to Choose the Best Chinese History Book for You

Choosing the best Chinese history book can be hard, depending on your needs. There are several questions that you should ask yourself when you begin your search for a text. These same questions can also be applied to the items in this list to determine if they are the right books for you.

What area of Chinese Culture am I looking to Explore?

There are several topics that you may be researching when looking into Chinese Culture. These topics may include politics, traditions, food, and so much more. Are you looking for the best books on Chinese dynasties or the best books on China foreign policy? Regardless of the type of text you are looking for, you should be able to specify that before starting your search. Knowing this will make your search easier.

What period would I like my text to cover?

Another critical element of your search is the time period. The information you find about China in the 1960s will be drastically different from the information you found about China in 1800. Knowing your time period is essential for choosing texts which zero in on all of the parts that you need.

How detailed would I like the text to be?

When looking at different texts, you will notice that some books provide an overview of several topics without diving deeply into anyone. It’s important to know what level of detail you will need to satisfy your assignment or your personal need. Some text may offer so much information that they need to be broken down into several volumes. In contrast, other books provide the perfect balance of information so that you won’t go into information overload or get the illusion that a text is to dry.

What am I using this text for? Is this for a course or for my own informational purposes?

Another one of the crucial questions you need to have an answer to before beginning your search for a text is what exactly the book will be used for. If you are looking for a text for a course, generally, your instructor will provide recommendations or information to make your search easier. However, if you are looking for a book for more informational purposes, you would ultimately be the judge and jury.

You could also be searching for a reference text. This is a text which is used to supplement your course textbooks and ultimately provide information that you otherwise would not have.

Will I need figures and images?

Figures and imagery can provide a break in the text if needed. They not only provide information but keep the books visually appealing for readers. Figures and images can also make information easier to digest and provide summaries of information.

What type of book are you looking for? Are you looking for a narrative style book or a traditional textbook?

Knowing the kind of book, you are looking for essential to choosing the right text. Decide early whether you are looking for a textbook or a historical novel. This information will make searching easier. IF you are using a book, it may be in a more readable and retainable format.

Wrapping Up the Best Chinese History Books

Now that you have reached the end of this list, we hope that these texts will help you in your studies, assignments, and potentially in your Chinese History course. This compilation of books fits a variety of styles and will hopefully make grasping Chinese culture easier.

There are several texts on this list to kick start your study of Chinese history, and some of these texts are easily considered the best history books. These texts come highly recommended by students, researchers, and people just like you.The Search for Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence is a text that students and historians alike love. This is an excellent introduction to Chinese history.

Another excellent text for students who are looking for information on Chinese history in China: A New History. This text is a narrative style book that uses ten words or themes to describe different events in Chinese history through essays. For example, the term copycat refers to China’s remake of popular products and how it fits into their history.

If you have found that none of the texts on this list suit your needs, it’s okay. We have listed several questions that will help you choose a text that is perfect for you and will fit your needs. Before you genuinely analyze the books in this list, read through the questions first. These questions will aid you in picking a book that is genuinely for you. Knowing what you want is half the battle.

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love our history book reviews here.

Here are a few other history book reviews you may find interesting:

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