The Best Chinese Books | #BookBreak


Welcome back to Book Break! Today we are travelling the globe again, because
in this video I’ve got a selection of nine brilliant books by Chinese authors. And this list was so hard to narrow down. There are so many great classics just to get
started with, so many wonderful books that I remember reading at school, like Wild Swans
by Jung Chang, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. There’s also tons of books by Lisa See, who’s
an American writer but is really influenced in her writing by having a Chinese great-grandfather,
and exploring her heritage there. So, there were just so many to get started
with. But I’ve tried in this list to come up with a selection of nine books that you
might not have read yet. So starting with some nonfiction books, the
first book I’ve got here is the ultimate classic. This is The Art of War by Sun Tzu. So this
is an ancient Chinese military treaties, dating all the way back to the 5th century BC. And
it’s attributed to the Chinese military leader Sun Tzu, though some parts are believed to
be possibly even 100 years older than that. And this book is still so influential, in
warfare but also in business tactics, in legal strategy, The Art of War was referenced once
in an episode of The Sopranos in 2001, which apparently sent sales through the roof, but
it has just always been an incredibly influential book, so it’s a really interesting one to
learn from. And now another classic, but this time a slightly
more modern classic, this one was published in the 70s, is The Woman Warrior by Maxine
Hong Kingston. So Maxine Hong Kingston was born in the US, after her parents immigrated
from China, but in this memoir, she recounts the China of her mother’s memories. And it’s
weaved throughout with myths and folklore about this woman warrior who took her father’s
place in battle. And so the memoir is all about her struggling
to find out her identity, caught between these two differing cultures, but also about how
these narratives of women warriors can filter into our everyday lives. So there’s a reason that this has been hailed
as a feminist classic. And then another memoir I have to recommend
is The Barefoot Lawyer by Chen Guangcheng. So Chen is this incredibly inspiring man.
He was born the son of a poor farmer in rural China, he ended up blinded from an illness
as an infant, but he went on to educate himself and fight for the rights of his country’s
poorest people. In particular, women who’d endured forced sterilisation because of China’s
one-child policy. And for this he was captured and beaten by
Chinese authorities, he ended up being placed under house arrest, until one morning he literally
climbed over the heavily guarded wall and escaped. So it’s a super tense and thrilling story,
but it’s also so inspiring and passionate, because Chen is just this man who has never
accepted limits. And then the last nonfiction book I’ve got
on here is Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang. So this is a really interesting look at China
in the noughties, which is fascinating in its own right, and then also to see quite
how rapidly change has happened in China over the last decade. So in the noughties, millions of migrant workers
left their rural towns every year to come and find work in China’s cities, and to become
part of China’s economic boom, working incredibly hard for very little money. So in this book, Chang looks at this through
the lives of two women who become part of this workforce behind the gadgets and toys
and designer clothes that we then buy. So even ten years on, this is still an incredibly
relevant read. And now, moving to fiction, starting with
Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. So this is a short story collection that’s been
translated from its original Chinese, and the title story in the collection is basically
about a love story that triumphs in wartime Hong Kong. And there was actually a quote from the academic
scholar Nicole Huang that first really made me want to read this collection. She said
that Eileen Chang’s ‘most important literary legacy for the 1940s is her construction of
an alternative narrative of war, one that contradicted the grand narratives of national
salvation and revolution that dominated the wartime literary scene.’ So that really caught
my interest and this collection is definitely another modern classic. Next, one for sci fi fans is The Three-Body
Problem by Liu Cixin. So this is another one that was originally written in Chinese and
has been translated into English and into other languages, and is the first in a trilogy.
And this book is split between two timelines, one in present day and one in the 60s during
the Cultural Revolution. And it follows the efforts of these disillusioned scientists
imploring alien life to come to Earth and redeem humanity. And this is hard sci-fi so
if that’s your thing, this might be the trilogy you’re looking for. One of my favourite books of the last few
years was Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. So this is about a Chinese-American family
living in 70s Ohio, and right at the beginning of the book, their middle daughter Lydia is
found drowned in the lake. And the police think it must have been a suicide, the family
are convinced she never would have done that and they think it’s a murder. And we then
jump around in time quite a lot, going back to discover more about this family, right
back to the parents first meeting, learning about their relationship with their other
children, also the things that Lydia was hiding from them. And it is just so emotional and
so beautifully written. Each of the characters feels so real, that even when they do these
seemingly unforgivable things, you completely empathise with them. And another of my recent favourites was Severance
by Ling Ma, which is a really unusual book. It’s got kind of Station Eleven vibes, in
that it’s a very literary apocalyptic story. And this is another one that jumps around
in time, kind of before, during and after the outbreak of this epidemic, that turns
people essentially into zombies, though they’re characterised in a very unique way that I
won’t say too much about because it’s really original. And a lot of the story just takes
place before this outbreak, and in those sections, it’s just this fun offbeat story about this
young woman living in New York, hating her job, exploring her different romantic relationships.
So when you put that all together, it’s this really effective satire of modern urban life,
and one of the most fun and original stories I’ve read in a long while. And then finally, a debut novel that has been
everywhere at the moment is Braised Pork by An Yu. So this one starts when a woman walks
into the bathroom of her Beijing apartment to find her husband dead in the bathtub. And
next to him in the water is a piece of paper with a drawing on it. So she becomes obsessed
with this and the book kind of follows her mission to find out what this image meant.
And this is a very surreal book, quite philosophical, that’s ultimately about a young woman finding
a new and deeper sense of herself. So those are just nine fantastic books by
Chinese authors, but I would definitely love more of your recommendations. So do leave
a comment below letting me know some of your favourites, and of course give this video
a thumbs up if you liked it, and hit that subscribe button below for new videos every
week. Coming up next week we’re doing a video all
about the beautiful children’s books that you want to keep with you throughout your
life, so make sure you don’t miss out on that one. And in the meantime you can always go
and follow us over on Instagram @bookbreakuk. See you next time.

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9 thoughts on “The Best Chinese Books | #BookBreak”

  1. moon book says:

    Good luck with finding book recommendations (form the last video)

  2. Nicholas Oulton says:

    Everything I never told you is TIP TOP. Anyone who hasn't read it yet – read it now!

  3. Claire Oulton says:

    I agree about Everything I Never Told You – best book I've read for years. Now wondering which of these to read next.

  4. Travels in Fiction says:

    Loved this, and have found some really interesting books to add to my tbr – especially Factory Girls. Also, Everything I Never Told You is so so good!

  5. Robert Pisani says:

    Ooohh Xiaolu Guo's A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is AMAZING!!!!!

  6. Harriet Rosie says:

    Braised Pork sounds really good!

  7. a beautiful chaos of books says:

    I did panic at the start of the video as I thought you were actually in China ๐Ÿ˜‚ that's not the place to be right now! ๐Ÿ™ˆ๐Ÿ˜‚ thanks for the recs!

  8. Sick of Reading says:

    I just got Braised Pork out from the library! Very excited to read it

  9. A.G.H. says:

    Some Chinese authors that I found recently:
    The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
    The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
    Death's End by Cixin Liu

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