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Naughty CHINA | "Spiritual Pollution" Essential Reading List

Tom Carter
The list author says: "As China opens its venerable doors to the world with a welcoming Han bow, and her market surges as the world's fastest-growing economy, globalization is swiftly superseding tradition, subconsciously yet incontrovertibly influencing (some say “poisoning”) the sons and daughters of Han.

From Peking punks to Shanghai socialites to Wuhan whores, the face of the now-clichéd “New China” is evolving after 5,000 years of cultural homogeneity, and so is its literature. China is notorious for its state-controlled propaganda media, and its strict censorship laws – including book burnings, imprisonment of journalists and bloggers, and executing pornographers. But defiance remains.

Resisting the threat of incarceration or ostracization, a brave few “rebel writers” have dared put on paper their stories of non-conformity, sexual deviance and/or drug abuse. The conservative CPC’s knee-jerk government response is to publicly ban these books while branding them with deliciously affronting labels such as “Spiritual Pollution.”

Proving Communist China still has much to learn about market-driven economics, such attention only helps fuel international publicity, resulting in millions of sales for a book that might have otherwise been tossed into the gutters of Huangpu.

Some are forgettable, others are true literary works of art deserving of their acclaim and longevity. But no matter their contents, it is their NOTORIETY that we western readers revel in. Prurience is nothing new to United States of Iniquity, yet hearing it come from a Chinese author intrigues, nay, enraptures us.

This list, compiled by photojournalist Tom Carter, author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, highlights the most notorious works of Chinese controversial or banned literature from the PRC’s most fearless authors.

(Note: see my "Pink List" for books specifically about Chinese sexuality and erotica)"
La la la.
La la la.
"La la la is a collection of short stories (translated into German) preceding Mian Mian's best-selling Candy (English): tales of the P.R.C.'s disaffected youth who grew up on the cusp of old and new China. Candy was banned by the Communist government as "spiritual pollution," inspiring an entire genre of "bad girl" imitators. Candy eternally leads this list as the most profoundly disturbing."
Shanghai Baby: A Novel
Shanghai Baby: A Novel
"While droves of young Chinese netizens decry Shanghai Baby as "plagiarism" of Mian Mian's published stories, the undeniably attractive Wei Hui reaped the international spotlight, fashioning herself as the new face of sexually liberated China. A public book burning by the Communists also fueled sales. Shallow yet mildly amusing; requisite reading simply for its notoriety."
Beijing Doll
Beijing Doll
"Raw and brooding to Shanghai Baby's gloss and glitter, Beijing Doll is the delinquent little sister of the “naughty Chinese girl” genre. Written as a teenager, Chun Sue’s pubescent confessional reads more like a diary then a novel, with pages dedicated to dying her hair and checking out garage bands. Banned in China, Sue made the cover of Time and has since become a fixture in the Beijing scene."
Wild Ginger: A Novel
Wild Ginger: A Novel
"Giving a voice to female empowerment in China, Anchee Min remains the undisputed empress of Chinese literature. Often overshadowed by her seminal Red Azalea, Wild Ginger also explores coming-of-age during the Cultural Revolution. Two young girls discover friendship and sexuality while withstanding the rigors of living in an era of fear and persecution."
Life and Death in Shanghai
Life and Death in Shanghai
"Nien Cheng IS China’s original “bad girl.”  Life and Death in Shanghai is an autobiographical novel of Cheng’s imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution for her involvement in an “imperialist” foreign company. Repeatedly tortured into giving false confessions of espionage, Cheng resists for 6 brutal years. Upon her release, learns that her daughter is murdered by the Red Guard as punishment."
Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas
Raise the Red Lantern: Three Novellas
"Initially entitled Wives & Concubines before being made into a hit film, Su Tong's disturbing story of catty concubines and the deceit, betrayal and shame they must engage in to survive in their household has become the stuff of Chinese literature legend. Tong is unabashed in his descriptions of sex and vulgarities, and shocks readers with one of the most depressing endings ever written."
Please Don't Call Me Human
Please Don't Call Me Human
"China’s only rebel writer NOT to be banned or publicly denounced by the Communists, iconic Wang Shuo is one of the P.R.C.’s most prolific and best-selling authors. Please Don’t Call Me Human, unfortunately, is only his second novel to be translated into English, a deliriously ribald adventure weaving politics, sports and crass Chinese-style mischief into a complex yet entertaining storyline."
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
"Jung Chang seems to ONLY write books that will be banned in China, but we also admire her for her poetic prose and epic story-telling.  Wild Swans is a family autobiography of three generation of strong Chang woman facing off against the hardships of Communism. Censored in China not for its feminism but for its politics, Wild Swans is an excellent read banned or not."
China Underground
China Underground
"Drugs, prostitution, night-clubbing, gang rings, and other shady characters comprise the cast of Mexico's China.  Not exactly the stuff that the CPC wants you reading about China, the book is still found in come of Shanghai's bolder bookshops."
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
"Not technically banned or notorious, Guo’s portrayal of a directionless young Chinese woman is nonetheless not the sort of role model the Communists want publishing books."
Wild Kids
Wild Kids
"Yes, spiritual pollution extends into Taiwan too.  Dachun Zhang tells us true stories about the rogue island's "wild kids" including My Kid Sister (who gets an abortion) and Wild Child (an angsty young boy). Marketed towards teen readers, but still amusing for all."
Rose, Rose, I Love You
Rose, Rose, I Love You
"Taiwanese satire on corruption and prostitution."
Family Catastrophe: A Modernist Novel (Fiction from Modern China)
Family Catastrophe: A Modernist Novel (Fiction from Modern China)
"Taiwan's most notorious banned book. Published in 1972."
Crows
Crows
"Young Chinese girls selling themselves in Singapore. Started a small literary controversy in conservative Singapore following its publication, bringing media attention (and sales) to the author. Seems to be out of print now, however."
Summer of Betrayal: A Novel
Summer of Betrayal: A Novel
"Coming of age story of a young Chinese lady disgusted with the hypocritical and misogynistic policies of the Communist Party."
Lili: A Novel of Tiananmen
Lili: A Novel of Tiananmen
"Annie Wang’s debut novel Lily covers economic disparity, patriotism and forbidden love in pre-Tiananmen China. A young “hooligan” girl released from a Communist rehabilitation prison seeks employment and stability but finds eye-opening romance in the form of a foreign devil.  Wang’s follow-up, The People's Republic of Desire, was dismissed by literati as a Chinese knockoff of Sex and the City."
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
"Rape, emotional abuse, ostracization, prostitution; Beijing journalist Xinran has compiles letters and phone calls from the “unheard” female in contemporary China."
Bound Feet & Western Dress: A Memoir
Bound Feet & Western Dress: A Memoir
"Chinese-American author Pang-Mei Chang writes the true-life biography of a truly brave woman in early 1900's China who defies the ancient traditions of arranged marriage, abortions and abuse – all the while devotedly saving the “face” of her family. The protagonist, Chang’s great aunt Yu-I, is more famously known as China’s first lady of divorce."
Serve the People!: A Novel
Serve the People!: A Novel
"An extremely irreverent (and side-splittingly funny )satire of Mao's "cult of personality." Banned, however, not for spoofing Maoism but for its depictions of sex."
To Live: A Novel
To Live: A Novel
"Yu Hua's beautifully-written book covering the atrocities of Maoism was banned as much for its topics as it was for the resilient spirit of its protagonist (resilience being something Communists prefer not to exist in their populous)."
Lust, Caution: The Story
Lust, Caution: The Story
"Set during the Japanese occupation of Old China, a young female student becomes secretly involved in a passionate romance with a politician.  Erotic stuff for its time! A new movie has updated it with full-frontal nudity."
The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai (Weatherhead Books on Asia)
The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai (Weatherhead Books on Asia)
"A steamy story published in 1894 about Chinese prostitutes, and the men who visit them.  The author, Han Bangqing, made no secret of his patronage of Shanghai brothels."
The Embroidered Couch: An Erotic Novel of China
The Embroidered Couch: An Erotic Novel of China
"China's first "banned" book. Lust and decadence in 17th century China."