"Looks at China at the end of the cultural revolution and as the country opened up. A collection of short stories. The KFC story comes to mind every time I pass a KFC in China (and that happens every day)."
"Several stories about women surviving in China. it comes from a radio host who had a call-in talk show in the 80s. The translation isn't great and the writing does not flow but some of the stories stick to your soul. Not a pleasant read but maybe the most important of the list."
"The book reads much like NPR. Simple, light yet full of interesting information. It is a pleasant read and will help urge you to hit the road in China. I enjoyed the book quite a bit while reading but to be honest now remember little. Right before a trip to China a book like that might be nice."
"Great book about going through the cultural revolution from a child's perspective. The writer lives close to White Plains. If you like the book, there is a sequel about life in college in Beijing that is also very good - Sounds of the River."
"Hua Yu is most famous for Brothers and To Live below. They have been made into films and are fantastic. But for me Blood Merchant is my favorite. Maybe b/c I know people who have sold blood to pay for children's school books. Anyway I loved all three books and although the translations can't match Ha Jin's English prose they still flow very nicely."
"Su Tong is another great author that has had his films become hits in the west. Most think of Raise the Red Lantern (Wives & Concubines) as his best work. But I would suggest Rice (watch the film Raise the Red Lantern). Not an easy read. It is a bleak world view. One I have not directly witnessed in China. Yet I sometimes feel it deep under the surface."
"Ma Jian is most famous for "Red Dust" a travel memoir but I want to suggest the Noodle Maker instead. If going to Xinjiang or Tibet, Red dust is a must, but noodle maker represents a dark, slightly bitter humor that is common in China. Concise and to the point, it is a quick and interesting read."
"The book that started my reading of memoir & fiction on China. It has lost some of its glow over the years as some of the author's research has come into question but it is still a must read or reread for those coming to China."
"Candy, Shanghai Baby, and Beijing Doll are not good literature. The books often sound like the shallow scratchings of a Chinese Paris Hilton want-to-be. Yet they describe a time, place and personality that I witnessed. They also do in a very limited way speak for a generation that grew up in the fastest transition and change (possibly) ever experienced."
"Below are several very famous authors from the 20's and 30's. An earlier time of great change that lead to the People's Republic of China. Seen as dusty relics by most of my chinese friends today, I still love them. I think you will too. Ba Jin's book family is my favorite. It takes time to get going but then grips you."
"This book is great for traveling to Beijing b/c his home is right off wangfujing. Spending some time in the quite of his courtyard house (siheyuan) so close to the tourist bustle of Wangfujing is a welcome change. Thinking about this novel and the authors tragic life while sitting in the courtyard was a moving experience."
"Lu xun is the most famous of this generation of writers and with good reason. The humor and art of his work is at a different level from all the above. There is a tiny Lu Xun museum in Shanghai. His last home is also preserved and is an interesting visit. Having read the above books will make several tourist spots usually overlooked take on special meaning."
"If you plan to visit Prince Gong's Residence while in Beijing this is a must read. Otherwise it is a bit long and drawn out for me. To be honest, I never read it all the way through. Anyway for those with a love of reading & more class than me - Dream is a classic."
"Journey to the West / Monkey King is the kind of classic I can enjoy. It is a story that captured generations of kids. Yet, I enjoyed the children's TV show from CCTV more than the book. A classic that should be read to understand China. But for a casual traveler, many other works listed here come first."
"Now we are really going back. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was a great time for short prose. Those with the stamina can tackle "Dream of the Red Chamber" and other long novels of the Qing. But these stories are short, often funny and a nice read while going from stop to stop along the trip. It is also compact and fits in a purse or pocket. The pearl sewn shirt is my favorite."