2020 China Books

2020 China Books (Part 2): Shanghai and Borderlands

A second list of new China history books not to miss – compiled by Brian Spivey

This is part two of a series we’re calling 2020 China Books, showcasing new or forthcoming books about China’s past and giving their authors an opportunity to suggest why readers might be interested in them at this current historic moment. Part one was themed around China and the World. The books in this second list (all blurbs written by the authors) are emblematic of two enduring themes in literature about Chinese history: a fascination with Shanghai – the “Paris of the East” – and a desire to understand China at its fringes. Both subjects are appealing in their apparent exceptionalism. Shanghai’s unique cosmopolitanism and energy have fascinated writers and travelers for more than a century. Meanwhile the people living in borderland regions like Tibet, Xinjiang and Manchuria have their own rich and complex histories. By placing these exceptional and peripheral regions and the experiences of China’s minorities at the center of their writing, the authors below do the important work of providing a more capacious understanding of what constitutes China’s history.

2020 China Books

2020 China Books (Part 1): China and the World

A list of new China history books, freshly relevant for our times – compiled by Brian Spivey

This is part one of a series we are calling ‘2020 China Books.’ The series showcases books about China’s past that came out, or are coming out, in 2020. We want to provide not just a more thorough accounting of the most up-to-date research and thinking about China’s past, but also to give authors an opportunity to suggest why readers might be interested in their book in this current historic moment. With that in mind, we gave authors who published or are publishing books in 2020 the same prompt:

“This is a difficult time for books about China's past to be coming out, due to the intense nature of the current news cycle. Can you think of any aspect of your book that might make it especially appropriate reading right now for one of two reasons. Either because of the light it sheds, either directly or indirectly, on a pressing issue of the moment? Or because it might offer a reader a complete diversion from thinking about contemporary crises?”

We received dozens of responses from a wide range of authors. As much as we could, we organized responses by theme. A benefit of compiling these responses has been to see more clearly the broad questions and frameworks animating historical work about China. China’s “rise” on the global stage has clearly stimulated many to think about how China and the Chinese people have related to the world throughout history. The ten books below are all loosely united around this theme of China and globalization. They show how China has changed and been changed by the world through a variety of registers: capitalism, commodities, global trade, ideology, human migration, art, and more. – Brian Spivey

General

Support the China Channel’s Future for Christmas

A year of anniversaries for China has passed, and the China Channel celebrates its third year as we break for Christmas. We’d like to take this opportunity to ask you to support our future by donating – however small an amount – on Patreon. Whereas we have been funded by grants in the past, we rely on your support to directly fund our translations of Chinese essays and stories into English. The money that you give is set aside and goes expressly for this purpose; all those small gifts tot up to pay translators, authors and publishing partners we work with, so as to bring writings into English that would not otherwise be possible to read.

We won’t keep asking after this, promise. But do consider donating the price of a pint this holiday season to bring Chinese voices to a wider readership (and if any generous souls want to support at a higher level to fund the future of the site as a whole, feel free to reach out directly.) Below is a selection of a dozen translations we have published over the last year, funded by your generosity, for which we thank you. – The Editors

Listicles

20 China books to read (and 5 to avoid)

Essential reads for your China library

'Tis the season of merriment and listicles. Before we break for Christmas, we've updated our list of essential China books, in case our latest staff picks weren't enough for you. We’ve split this into five lists of five: books on contemporary China; books on Chinese history; books from Chinese voices; Chinese classics; and a new fifth section, China books to avoid. (We don't mean that these books have no value – they are all informative – but that they are ultimately misleading and so you should avoid them in favour of others.)

We hope this is useful as an open sesame for new China watchers, or for old China hands to plug holes in their bookshelf. The lists are designed as all-you-need to pack your bag/Kindle to grasp that aspect or perspective of China, without being overwhelming. Naturally, we have missed out a plethora of wonderful books. But, we hope, this is only the beginning of your reading. See also our lists of 12 must-read Chinese fiction books, and a dozen Chinese films to watch.

Staff Picks

Christmas Staff Picks

It’s not too late for some last minute Christmas shopping – so the editors of the China Channel are stepping in with the third installment of our winter staff picks. From books to films to music and audiobooks, these recommendations are of the overlooked fringes of Chinese society – junk, gangsters, domestic workers, Turkic beats – and so not your traditional festive fare. But who needs It’s a Wonderful Life when you can watch a slapstick Sino-Russo romcom instead?  – The Editors

Recommended by Jeff Wasserstrom (founder):
Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale, by Adam Minter

I’ll begin this recommendation with a disclosure and a confession. The disclosure: Adam Minter is a friend whom I have enjoyed meeting up with and talking to about China since the scrap metal beat, of all things, took him to Shanghai about a decade ago. The confession: I’ve only had the chance so far to read the first part of his second book. There are three reasons, though, while I still feel confident suggesting Secondhand as a gift. One: it is written in the same unpretentious yet informative, personal yet knowledgeable style as his debut book. Two: that first book, Junkyard Planet, on a similar topic of China’s trash and recycling, was excellent. Third: while blurbs should always be taken with a grain of salt, climate-change writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s endorsement speaks volumes: “Minter’s travels through the afterlife of stuff are revelatory, terrifying, but ultimately hopeful.”