Laowai Lit | Essential Expat Books by & for(eigners) in CHINA

A Listmania! list by Thomas Carter (Beijing, China)
(REAL NAME)   
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."
Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom - with a new foreword by Paul French (Tales of Old China)
1.  Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom - with a new foreword by Paul French (Tales of Old China) by Carl Crow
The list author says:
  "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."
$16.71   Used & New from: $11.84
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet
2.  The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet by Graham Earnshaw
The list author says:
  "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.”"
$14.40   Used & New from: $2.50
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland
3.  Eating Smoke: One Man's Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heartland by Chris Thrall
The list author says:
  "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."
$11.70   Used & New from: $7.70
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

Blonde Lotus
4.  Blonde Lotus by Cecilie Gamst Berg
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $2.99
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Katherine
5.  Katherine by Anchee Min
The list author says:
  "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."
$14.72   Used & New from: $0.01
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

Pearl of China: A Novel
6.  Pearl of China: A Novel by Anchee Min
The list author says:
  "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."
$19.72   Used & New from: $0.01
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews) | 1 customer discussion

The Exile: Portrait of an American Mother
7.  The Exile: Portrait of an American Mother by Pearl S. Buck
The list author says:
  "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."
$24.02   Used & New from: $16.33
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

Riding the Iron Rooster
8.  Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $0.01
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)

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Iron and Silk
9.  Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman
The list author says:
  "One of the original Laowai Memoirs, Salzman arrived in 1980's China to teach English and then turned to studying martial arts.  Later made into a film (staring himself, heh)."
$11.44   Used & New from: $0.01
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)

Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory
10.  Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $1.89
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Across China on Foot (Tales of Old China)
11.  Across China on Foot (Tales of Old China) by Edwin John Dingle
The list author says:
  "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."
$21.95   Used & New from: $10.50
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China
12.  Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin
The list author says:
  "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."
$18.76   Used & New from: $0.01
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia
13.  How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia by Shannon Young
The list author says:
  "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."
$16.42   Used & New from: $15.30
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
14.  Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven by Susan Jane Gilman
The list author says:
  "Gilman isn't really an expat in China, just a backpacker passing through in the 1980s. Received good reviews from readers outside of China but razzed by those expats who live there."
$8.89
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)

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Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation
15.  Lost on Planet China: One Man's Attempt to Understand the World's Most Mystifying Nation by J. Maarten Troost
The list author says:
  "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!"
$12.22   Used & New from: $0.01
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)

A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China
16.  A Season in Red: My Great Leap Forward into the New China by Kirsty Needham
The list author says:
  "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"
$17.96   Used & New from: $0.01

Ni Howdy!: An American Woman's (Mal)Adaptation to Life in the People's Republic of China
17.  Ni Howdy!: An American Woman's (Mal)Adaptation to Life in the People's Republic of China by Desi Downey
The list author says:
  "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."
$12.90   Used & New from: $6.60
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

A Million Truths: A Decade in China
18.  A Million Truths: A Decade in China by Linda Jakobson
The list author says:
  "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."
$17.95   Used & New from: $0.01
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

Above the Sea: Expat in China
19.  Above the Sea: Expat in China by Jim Bainbridge
The list author says:
  "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."
$17.42   Used & New from: $14.39
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

The Monkey in Me: Confusion, Love and Hope Under a Chinese Sky
20.  The Monkey in Me: Confusion, Love and Hope Under a Chinese Sky by Caleb Kavon
The list author says:
  "Part sociology textbook, part Laowai memoir, the American author was raised in China and certainly has something to say about it."
$20.35   Used & New from: $0.54
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China
21.  American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks, and the Legend of Iron Crotch: An Odyssey in the New China by Matthew Polly
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $0.01
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

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Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China
22.  Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop
The list author says:
  "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."
$14.45   Used & New from: $4.07
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
23.  The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer
The list author says:
  "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."
$14.50   Used & New from: $2.93
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

Beijing: Portrait of a City
24.  Beijing: Portrait of a City by Alexandra Pearson
The list author says:
  "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."
$22.68   Used & New from: $16.32
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

Ich in Ein Beijinger
25.  Ich in Ein Beijinger by Kaiser Kuo
The list author says:
  "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)."
$9.99
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Shanghai - High Lights, Low Lights, Tael Lights
26.  Shanghai - High Lights, Low Lights, Tael Lights by Karns, Maurine. Patterson, LeRoy
The list author says:
  "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."
$17.09   Used & New from: $12.79
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

Stateless in Shanghai
27.  Stateless in Shanghai by Liliane Willens
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $8.24
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Farewell Shanghai
28.  Farewell Shanghai by Angel Wagenstein
The list author says:
  "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."
$12.31   Used & New from: $0.01
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

The Hotel on the Roof of the World: From Miss Tibet to Shangri La
29.  The Hotel on the Roof of the World: From Miss Tibet to Shangri La by Alec Le Sueur
The list author says:
  "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."
$16.16   Used & New from: $1.75
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

China to Me
30.  China to Me by Emily Hahn
The list author says:
  "Emily Hahn wrote over 50 books in her lifetime and made China her home for a tumultuous decade during the 30s-40s. China to Me is her autobiography."
Used & New from: $9.99
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom (P.S.)
31.  The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom (P.S.) by Simon Winchester
The list author says:
  "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."
$12.83   Used & New from: $0.02
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)

Think Like Chinese
32.  Think Like Chinese by Haihua Zhang
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $37.36
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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China Cuckoo: How I Lost a Fortune and Found a Life in China
33.  China Cuckoo: How I Lost a Fortune and Found a Life in China by Mark Kitto
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $29.81
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Business Republic of China: Tales from the Front Line of China's New Revolution
34.  Business Republic of China: Tales from the Front Line of China's New Revolution by Jack Leblanc
The list author says:
  "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."
$12.06   Used & New from: $2.87
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

To Change China: Western Advisers in China
35.  To Change China: Western Advisers in China by Jonathan D. Spence
The list author says:
  "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."
$12.79   Used & New from: $0.01
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900
36.  The Boxer Rebellion: The Dramatic Story of China's War on Foreigners that Shook the World in the Summer of 1900 by Diana Preston
The list author says:
  "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."
$13.25   Used & New from: $0.01
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)

Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine
37.  Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine by Lloyd Lofthouse
The list author says:
  "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."
Used & New from: $332.86
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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The Journeyer
38.  The Journeyer by Gary Jennings
The list author says:
  "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."
$16.13   Used & New from: $6.49
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (163 customer reviews) | 2 customer discussions

Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China
39.  Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China by Tom Carter
The list author says:
  "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."
$14.74   Used & New from: $7.53
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

China: Portrait of a People
40.  China: Portrait of a People by Tom Carter
The list author says:
  "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."
$20.59   Used & New from: $8.95
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)

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Thomas Carter (Beijing, China)
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People
Last updated: 6/13/14
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