CHINA Historical Fiction Books | Essential Reading List

A Listmania! list by Thomas Carter (Beijing, China)
(REAL NAME)   
The list author says: "While there is no end to fictional novels about the Chinese (Amy Tan being the undisputed queen authoress), nor to the volumes of scholarly works on China’s history (Jung Chang presently leading the pack), the China HISTORICAL FICTION genre remains one of literature’s most diminutive.

Whether this is due to China’s notorious cultural and geographical inaccessibility or simply a lack of wherewithal by western authors to tackle such an immense subject, the fact remains that for all its wealth of material, China is one of the least written-about countries in historical fiction.

(Of author James Michener’s vast catalog of historical fiction, not one of his 40+ titles takes place in China; apparently the 9.5 million sq. km., 5,000 year-old China was a bit much for the late Michener to take on.)

Weaving factual accounts into a revisionist narrative, we read historical fiction to learn – and stay awake while doing it! This list, compiled by Tom Carter, author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, is dedicated to the elite few authors whom have had the wherewithal to both meticulously research such a juggernaut culture as China AND successfully incorporate engrossing tales of adventure, romance and intrigue into their pages.

All books herein are based on either true events and/or true personalities throughout Chinese history.


(This list was first started in 2010 and his been occasionally updated with new titles since then)"
The Journeyer
1.  The Journeyer by Gary Jennings
The list author says:
  "Masterful historical fiction author Gary Jennings spent sheaves of years traveling in the countries he wrote about. The Journeyer is perhaps the most complete work on Marco Polo's Silk Road adventures next to Polo's own book.  Spans Polo’s entire lifetime, from Venice to Central Asia to China and back, and laced with graphic sex and violence aplenty."
Used & New from: $7.10
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (161 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

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Tai-Pan
2.  Tai-Pan by James Clavell
The list author says:
  "Second book in the legendary James Clavell’s “Asian Saga,” Tai-Pan takes place in late 19th century Hong Kong during the Opium Wars between Britain and China, and follows the rivalry between two foreign traders vying for market share between China and the west. Like all of Clavell’s massive novels, the story is painstakingly researched and heavily layered with political and emotional subplots."
$9.83   Used & New from: $0.01
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (278 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

Mandarin
3.  Mandarin by Robert S. Elegant
The list author says:
  "Robert Elegant is a lesser known but none-the-less brilliant historical fiction writer whose catalog of books all focus on Asia, especially China. "Mandarin" is about Jewish women in Shanghai during the Taiping Rebellion and Second Opium War."
$30.16   Used & New from: $0.82
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

Family
4.  Family by Pa Chin
The list author says:
  "Centered around the turmoil of the May 4th movement, Pa Chin majestically weaves politics, family and society into a fascinatingly complex read."
$10.00   Used & New from: $3.14
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

Soong Dynasty
5.  Soong Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave
The list author says:
  "Asian scholar/author Sterling Seagrave tackles the pre-Mao era of Chiang Kai Shek and the (semi-fictional) conspiracies and corruption that contributed to his failed Republic of China."
$15.15   Used & New from: $0.01
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

Imperial Woman
6.  Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
The list author says:
  "The Good Earth is Pearl Buck’s legacy, but her fictional biography of Empress Dowager Cixi is just as an excellent read. Known as the “last empress” of dynastic China, the Manchurian-blooded Tzu Hsi had the unfortunate honor of presiding over demise of the Chinese courts. Loved or hated throughout literature, Buck’s Imperial Woman presents the empress fairly yet captivatingly."
Used & New from: $0.01
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (290 customer reviews)

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Becoming Madame Mao
7.  Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min
The list author says:
  "Anchee Min locks up her title as the bravest female voice in contemporary Chinese literature with this daring fictional spin on actress/Communist operative Li Shumeng aka Lan Ping aka Jiang Qing – the last wife of Chairman Mao Zedong.  Portraying a human side to a woman responsible for persecuting millions of Chinese people is no easy task, yet Min writes with empathetic, graceful prose."
Used & New from: $0.01
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)

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My Splendid Concubine
8.  My Splendid Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse
The list author says:
  "Lloyd Lofthouse rivals his wife/famed authoress Anchee Min with his impressive debut My Splendid Concubine, tracing the true-life exploits of Sir Robert Hart, the celebrated expatriate credited for bringing old China into the 20th century. A thought-provoking examination of attitudes, prejudices and cultures; rife with the entertainingly explicit dalliances of a single white man adrift in China."
Used & New from: $3.50
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

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Empress Orchid
9.  Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
The list author says:
  "Anchee Min's positive spin on China's last empress, Tzu Hsi, replete with romantic longings and court conspiracies. "Empress Orchid" follows her beginnings as a mere concubine; the sequel "The Last Empress" includes far more political sub-plots."
$11.70   Used & New from: $0.01
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews) | 3 customer discussions

King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong
10.  King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong by Jonathan Chamberlain
The list author says:
  "Essentially a true story straight from the protagonist's mouth, King Hui falls under Historical Fiction simply because even the author is skeptical of his subject’s flamboyant claims of playboyism, fortunes made and lost and even once controlling Hong Kong’s opium trade. True or not, Jonathan Chamberlain writes an excellent tale of Hong Kong’s glory days in the early 20th century."
$15.94   Used & New from: $0.49
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel
11.  The Painter from Shanghai: A Novel by Jennifer Cody Epstein
The list author says:
  "Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Painter from Shanghai is a moving account of real-life female Chinese painter Pan Yuliang (1899-1977). Raised as a prostitute before becoming a concubine and moving to Europe, Yuliang returned to Cultural Revolution-era China, only to be ostracized by her conservative contemporaries for her nude paintings."
$22.45   Used & New from: $0.01
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

The Girl Who Played Go: A Novel
12.  The Girl Who Played Go: A Novel by Sa Shan
The list author says:
  "Beijing-born Yan Ni Ni (Shan Sa) penned this luminous novel about a young Chinese girl discovering her womanhood at the wake of the Second Sino-Japanese War of Resistance (1937-1945), and of her wordless friendship with a Japanese military officer. Beautiful for its simplicity and poetic prose while portraying war-ravaged North China."
$11.11   Used & New from: $0.01
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel
13.  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel by Ina Rilke
The list author says:
  "Based on his own experiences imprisoned on a Chinese “reeducation” camp (Mao’s Cultural Revolution jailed educated/intelligent Chinese citizens), Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress focuses on two boys sent to a camp and the struggles they endure. Their discovery of banned western literature and an affair with a local girl form the semi-fictional plot line of this touching book."
$11.48   Used & New from: $0.01
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (306 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family
14.  On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See
The list author says:
  "Perhaps the only historical fiction novel ever written that INCLUDES the author, On Gold Mountain: The One-Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family retraces Lisa See’s ancestor’s migratory path from China to the U.S.  Less fiction than family-tree, See contrives just enough dialogue and plot to perfectly balance the book on the fine line between fiction and non-fiction."
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4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (490 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

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The Painted Veil
15.  The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
The list author says:
  "Generally hated by people who watched the movie first, W. Somerset Maugham's feminist-in-China classic focuses less on Chinese culture than it does on romance and relationships."
$12.69   Used & New from: $0.01
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

The Moon Pearl (Bluestreak)
16.  The Moon Pearl (Bluestreak) by Ruthanne Lum McCunn
The list author says:
  "Eurasian author Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s tale of feminism Chinese-style offers a glimpse into the seething hearts of early-19th century Chinese women. Set along the PRD, McCunn’s rendering of three friends who defy convention by shunning their obligations as females, and the abuse they receive in turn, captures traditional Chinese village life as it was – and just may very well continue to be."
$13.78   Used & New from: $0.01
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

The Rice Sprout Song
17.  The Rice Sprout Song by Ai-ling Chang
The list author says:
  "Legendary authoress Eileen Chang centers her story of suffering around the violent land-reform movements of Mao-era southern China."
$26.55   Used & New from: $4.97
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

Dynasty
18.  Dynasty by Robert S. Elegant
The list author says:
  "Another classic by Robert Elegant, this time set in turn-of-the-century Hong Kong and focused on ruthless business men and their manipulative wives."
Used & New from: $1.94
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China (Oriental Novels of Pearl S. Buck)
19.  Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress of China (Oriental Novels of Pearl S. Buck) by Pearl S. Buck
The list author says:
  "Pearl Buck was arguably the first western writer to tackle Tzu-Hsi, the last Empress of China, in a book-length historical fiction novel, and does so with a gently and tender portrayal of an otherwise much-maligned historical figure."
Used & New from: $3.44
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (290 customer reviews)

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Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China
20.  Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China by Sterling Seagrave
The list author says:
  "Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi's notorious reputation can be blamed squarely on Edmund Backhouse and Pearl Buck, if we are to believe the plot of Sterling Seagrave's fantastical historical fiction novel."
$14.88   Used & New from: $0.01
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

Brothers: A Novel
21.  Brothers: A Novel by Da Chen
The list author says:
  "Historical fiction based on the author's own experience.  The life of two brothers paralleled with post-revolution China, one growing up to become a leader, the other left to rot in an orphanage.  Coincidences and symbolism aplenty in this popular novel by Da Chen."
$12.87   Used & New from: $0.01
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

When the Purple Mountain Burns: A Novel
22.  When the Purple Mountain Burns: A Novel by Shouhua Qi
The list author says:
  "Iris Chang’s oft-cited Rape of Nanking, while informative, was unable to channel any emotion into her bloody documentary. When the Purple Mountain Burns succeeds in actually giving a face to victims involved in the travesty. Qi may never receive the publicity that Chang has, however his book holds a special place as one of the few historical fiction novel written about the 1937 massacre."
$17.96   Used & New from: $0.01
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

Wintry Night (Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan)
23.  Wintry Night (Modern Chinese Literature from Taiwan) by Qiao Li
The list author says:
  "Translated from the original three-volume series, Taiwanese author Li Qiao’s epic story of three generations of Chinese Hakka migrants relocating to late-18th century Taiwan. Provides scrupulous background on Taiwan’s history leading up to its 1940’s occupation by the Japanese while presenting a captivating account of rural pioneer life."
$25.20   Used & New from: $3.00
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

Chinese Dragons (Choose Your Own Adventure #30)(Paperback/Revised)
24.  Chinese Dragons (Choose Your Own Adventure #30)(Paperback/Revised) by R. A. Montgomery
The list author says:
  "Chinese Dragons is an excellent work of historical fiction set in China. There are several Choose Your Own Adventures set in China, most about white kids learning Kung Fu, but this is the ONLY one told from the perspective of a Chinese (peasant farmer no less). Very unique for its genre. The illustrations by Yee Chea Lin are nice too."
$6.99   Used & New from: $0.01
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

Butterfly Swords
25.  Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
The list author says:
  "Harlequin authoress Jeannie Lin originally set out to write a love story based in a fantasy dynasty of her own making, but ultimately found the reality of the Tang Dynasty too rich and enthralling NOT to recreate in this romantic yet historically valid tale of 8th-century interracial love."
$4.74
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Daughter of Xanadu
26.  Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang
The list author says:
  "The newest addition to the diminutive China Historical Fiction genre, Daughter of Xanadu is told from the perspective of Mongolian lord Khubilai Khan's 16-year-old grandchild, Emmajin, who proceeds to fall in love with none other than THE Marco Polo! A sequel already in the works..."
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4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Journey of the North Star
27.  Journey of the North Star by Douglas Penick
The list author says:
  "Scholar Douglas Penick delves into historical fiction with this e-book about the 15th century Chinese court of Zhu Di, the Yong Le Emperor, as narrated by a fictional eunuch. Tackles eastern philosophy and religions as its main themes."
$4.99
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai (Weatherhead Books on Asia)
28.  The Song of Everlasting Sorrow: A Novel of Shanghai (Weatherhead Books on Asia) by Michael Berry
The list author says:
  "Spanning post-war Shanghai through the 1980s, this new yet little-known novel follows a female Chinese protagonist and her multitude of friends as they struggle to cope with a changing China."
$17.08   Used & New from: $2.98
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

The Academician - Southern Swallow - Book I
29.  The Academician - Southern Swallow - Book I by Edward C. Patterson
The list author says:
  "Edward Patterson explores even deeper than the usual 19th-century subjects that most China historical fiction focuses on, and instead attempts to portray ancient China - with a fantasy spin."
$13.33   Used & New from: $8.00
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

Yang Shen: The God from the West, Book 1
30.  Yang Shen: The God from the West, Book 1 by James Lande
The list author says:
  "Follow the adventures of an American soldier-of-fortune (apparently modeled after real-life mercenary Frederick Townsend Ward) who arrives in 19th century China to fight against the Taiping Rebellion."
$10.95   Used & New from: $7.50
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Customer Discussions about products in this list
Discussion Replies Latest Post
Readers Should Always Remember That Thie Is Mis-Information 0 Sep 26, 2014
The Gambling Game 0 Oct 5, 2013
Kindle across borders 0 May 11, 2012
portrayal of eunuchs in Empress Orchid? 2 Apr 24, 2012
What ensued... 0 Aug 2, 2011
Tibet and China and historical fiction 4 Jul 24, 2011
Online book club needed 0 Jun 30, 2009
note for Lisa See fans 1 Mar 11, 2009
Does censorship exist in America for reviews written in Mainland China? 0 Apr 11, 2008
The Painter from Shanghai is an amazing book! 1 Feb 4, 2008
Father? 2 Jan 17, 2008
the ending 0 Aug 19, 2007
 
   

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Thomas Carter (Beijing, China)
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: Tom Carter is the author of "CHINA: Portrait of a People"
Last updated: 8/2/12
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