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