The list author says: "In a republic that used to hold public book burnings, imprisoned its literati, and persecuted “foreign devils” less than 30 years ago, one might consider it prudent for laowai 老外 (foreigners) living in China to stay far away from literature.
On the contrary, we waiguoren cherish a good book, occasionally are known to write them, and can even be seen reading one on the train (though the throngs of curious peasants peering over our shoulders does become a bit draining).
For those excruciatingly long journeys via hard seat from Mohe to Xishuangbanna, how better to pass the time than to read about, well, another yangren’s excruciatingly long train ride.
This definitive list of essential expat reads, compiled by Tom Carter, author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, includes many titles that will not be found in (or are banned by) your friendly neighborhood Xinhua government-run book chain, making them even more precious to literature-starved gweilo in the Middle Kingdom."
"Arriving in China in the early 1900’s and setting up shop as journalist, entrepreneur and political consultant, Carl Crow is THE expat of all China expats. Author of 15 books, each one essential reading for Sinophiles and business-minded foreigners wishing to better understand both Old and New China."
"Graham Earnshaw's 30-year tenure in China as a journalist, businessman and, most recently, publishing magnate, have made him a permanent fixture in the Shanghai scene – which is exactly why Earnshaw makes it a point of de-fixing himself at least once a month to walk in the countryside and “speak to the Real China.”"
"Just might be the funniest if not first autobiography ever penned by a drug-addicted foreigner in China. Chris Thrall's 'Eating Smoke' contains more spiritual pollution than all of the titles on the Communist Party's banned books list combined."
"Blonde Lotus just might become the bible to female expats in China as Sex In The City was for American women. Queen Laowai (or rather, Gweipo) Gamst Berg blazes a trail of broken hearts and weed smoke as she gets in one ribald adventure after another from Beijing to Hong Kong."
"English Teachers in the P.R.C. (and their students) will cherish this riveting account of an American woman’s experiences as a Yingwen Laoshi in post-Cultural Revolution China. Friendship, romance and drama abound from the imaginative pen of historical fiction master Anchee Min."
"We love American novelist Pearl Buck for her classic, heart-warming tales of Old China as much as we do Chinese authoress Anchee Min for her brilliant storytelling. Pearl of China is the best of both worlds: a fictional account of Buck’s life growing up in China, with the twists and turns that only Min could imagine."
"Known for her heart-rendering portrayals of the Chinese (in almost a hundred novels and essays), American novelist Buck in The Exile tells the story of her own mother, a Christian missionary in China, giving birth to her own children whilst playing surrogate to impoverished youth of the era."
"A China backpacker’s essential, Theroux gives an amusing, ill-tempered account of time spent on China’s vast railway network. And while infrastructure in the P.R.C. has markedly improved over the decades, a foreigner in the hard seat of the peasant car will have the same mad experiences in 2010 as Theroux did in the 1980’s."
"There’s not an expat in China who is not familiar with the name Peter Hessler, for his publicists have done a thorough job at marketing him as China Expat demigod (Dashan gets second billing). Hessler has beaten everyone to the punch with his spot-on musings on modern China, rendering all our blogs obsolete. River Town was his first book."
"Why westerners have seen more of China than most Chinese have remains an age-old question. Published in 1911, Dingle sets out to explore Old China the old-fashioned way: walking! Certainly no white-tiled architectural eyesores, tin-foil litter or black plumes of exhaust back then to skew his view."
"A popular installment in the Laowai Memoirs genre, DeWoskin cleverly blends a Sex & The City-esque female perspective with Lost In Translation-style musings as an expat gal cast in a new Chinese television sitcom. A light read, the sort that laowai ladies tend to enjoy more than the male of the species."
"Asia as seen specifically from the mascaraed eyes of female expats, this anthology of 26 true tales includes 6 from Mainland China and are broad enough in subject matter to appeal to readers of any sex."
"Foreigners coming to China for the sheer novelty of it rather than any deep connection they have (or hope to gain) with Chinese culture will enjoy the author’s wit and sensationalism as he navigates the P.R.C. Some call Troost a China basher; he doesn’t mind; the book is a best-seller!"
"Needham offers a unique perspective on Chinese culture as a foreign journalist working for the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, China Daily. One of the lesser-known additions to the Laowai Memoirs genre"
"And yet another addition to the Laowai Memoirs genre, Downey is an American female arriving in China as an English teacher forced to deal with cultural differences and (her favorite topic) disgusting Chinese toilets. Explicit language and wry observations galore in this engaging read."
"A highly-praised account of (yes, yet another) female English teacher in China, though rather than focusing on the country’s cultural quirks as so many Laowai Memoirs tend to do, Jakobson offers deep, insightful annotations on politics, education and humanity in 1990’s P.R.C."
"A collection of correspondences from an American working in China to his family back home. The author marries a Chinese woman and spends time traveling to different cities across the P.R.C., offering his observations and opinions of the country as they move along."
"Of the many Kung Fu training schools atop Shaolin, one is hard-pressed to spot a Waiguoren amongst the colorful legions of track-suit wearing students who populate their venerable courtyards. Matt Polly was one such rarity; an inspiration for any foreigner considering Martial Arts training at one of China’s most sacred temples."
"China is a food culture, and western expats and tourists delight in the affordable yet abundant cuisines all the while shaking their heads at the use of any and every last ingredient. Dunlop offers a spirited, light-hearted view of the Chinese through its numerable, unusual, yet never bland dishes."
"Any expat living in Beijing or Shanghai the past decade will have witnessed the wholesale destruction of those cities’ most scenic neighborhoods: the hutong. Meyer, like most western aficionados of Old China’s aesthetic beauty, longs for a balance between progress and preservation."
"A nice little collection of visual and verbal nostalgia for those of us expats who have come to call Beijing home. Poetry, essays and photography contributed by a colorful cast of Peking natives and expat artists who share a love for the capital city."
"For those of us expats who, upon getting our hands on the newest That’s Beijing magazine every month, immediately flipped to the back to read Kaiser Kuo’s cynically tantalizing column, here is a collection of his best work. Book form exists somewhere, though not on Amazon (where they can’t even spell the title correctly)."
"Written in the 1930’s by two drunken foreign devils on the prowl, this is one of the first expat guide books to Shanghai – and a hilarious read it is. Lonely Planet would never have the audacity to write “There Are Also Some Chinese in Shanghai,” despite this sarcastic observation being as valid then as it is in 2010."
"What’s it like to be a Yang Gizi (foreign devil) born in China? Willens recounts her interesting life growing up in a Shanghai foreign concession in the era leading up to the Revolution. When her family is forced to return to their motherland, the author is left stranded and stateless in New China."
"An ensemble cast of European emigrants comprise the narrative of this gripping spy story set in WWII-era Shanghai. Focusing on the residents of the Jewish concession, Wagenstein weaves together drama, action, romance and history from the distinctive perspective of Jews seeking shelter in war-torn China."
"Nothing says “westerner” more than the Holiday Inn. This laugh-out-loud true story of a foreign capitalist attempting to manage the famous America hotel chain in, of all places, Lhasa is an essential read for expats working alongside Chinese."
"Curious why New China was such a failure at industrialization? So was noted Sinologist Joseph Needham (1900-1995) who came to China to pursue science and civilization, and in doing so becomes a left-wing mad scientist. A true story turned into a mass-market-style narrative, one that will mostly attract nerdy expats."
"For China expats keen on reaping wealth in the world’s fastest growing economy, you will need to know not a little about Chinese culture itself; Guanxi and poor Putonghua could stand between you and your millions. Zhang and her foreign husband Geoff Baker will help you get here with this invaluable tool."
"Mark Kitto is famous amongst Beijing and Shanghai expat scribes like myself for having his successful multi-million dollar "That's" magazine empire stolen from him by the government. Here's (or should I say that's) his story."
"There is no end to advice books for westerners doing business in China. The issue is, then, which ones are actually helpful, which ones are still valid in ever-fluid P.R.C., and which ones don’t put you to sleep. Leblanc offers all of the above in this entertainingly useful read."
"Not all westerners arrive in China with benevolent intentions, and certainly not all of us leave with a good opinion of the place. Such is the focus of Spence’s scholarly work. Here we discover the root of negative opinions prevalent amongst Yangren dating back to the 17th century, yet still heard amongst grumbling expats in the new millennium."
"Modern China may be entirely dependent on Foreign Direct Investment to propel their burgeoning economy, however there was a time when foreigners in China were, shall we say, less idolized. The Boxer Rebellion scares the hell out of its readers and reminds us what can easily happen if our tourist dollars ever lose value."
"No, the most famous laowai in China is not Dashan, it is Sir Robert Hart. No, the founder of modern China was not Deng Xiaoping, it was Hart! In his ‘Concubine’ saga set in the Qing Dynasty, Lloyd Lofthouse portrays Hart as a flawed man lusting for teenage concubines and doing battle with the Taipings."
"If you only have room for one book during your backpacking journey across the Middle Kingdom, make it this 800-page opus. Replete with sex and violence, we follow Marco Polo, China’s original expatriate, on one adventure after another in this graphic retelling by historical fiction god Gary Jennings."
"Unsavory Elements, an unprecedented anthology of original, true stories commissioned from 28 renowned Western writers about their experiences - the weird, the fascinating, and the appalling- living, working or traveling in China."
"No Sinophile’s bookshelf is complete without this definitive collection of over 800 photos of life and humanity from across the 33 provinces of the P.R.C., the most comprehensive book of photography on modern China ever published by a single author."