Danwei Christmas book list

This is a list of recommended China books published in English this year. They are all available on; delivery to China is reliable, sometimes taking as little as a week.

China Candid — The People on the People's Republic by Sang Ye

This is a superb book. It's an almost psychedelic tour of China during the last 50 years, told through the life stories of 26 Chinese people.

Author Sang Ye is a Chinese journalist who lives in Australia, but returns to China frequently for research. He interviewed 26 people during the last decade, got them to tell their life stories candidly, and then compiled the transcripts into a collection of eloquent, anonymous autobiographies.

The subjects include:

- A Shenzhen prostitute who explains how her "big cunt" enables her to do a better job
- A retired cadre who is still a true believer in communism, and is disillusioned by the reforms
- A profiteering businessman who operates entirely outside the official system, and a successful entrepreneur who is a loyal Party member and considers his business to be for the public good
- A disabled woman who managed to gain admission to university despite a discriminatory system, and the fact that she has no use of arms
- A veteran executioner who describes the procedure for carrying out the death sentence in China
- An elite athlete who dishes the truth about doping in Chinese athletics
- A couple who run a private orphanage in Hubei
- A PLA soldier who ran some of armies lucrative businesses in Hainan

Every story in this book is fascinating. What's more, it's highly readable, and as entertaining as it is informative. If it had been released by a commercial publisher instead of the University of California Press, it would have been talked about at least as much as the other books on this Christmas list.

The book is also available in Chinese (called 1949, 1989, 1999). The English version was edited by Geremie R. Barmé with Miriam Lang. You can get a taste of the book by reading Beijing's Bloody August, the tale of two people who did not make it into the English language version of the book because of length considerations.

Buy this book on Amazon

Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler

This is Peter Hessler's second book, a follow up to his bestselling which was a record of his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small town in rural Sichuan.

Oracle Bones follows a few of the author's students whose stories he first told in River Town, and also tells the stories of a range of Chinese people, including the lovable Uighur trader identified by the pseudonym Polat. The finely detailed recent histories of the characters Hessler knew personally are woven in a rather literary manner together with Hessler's search for the truth behind the suicide of Cheng Mengjia, a scholar of Chinese oracle bones which are the earliest known writing in Asia. It's shines lght on some dark personal corners of contemporary China and it's a damned good read.

Buy this book on Amazon.

Chinese Lessons by John Pomfret

Pomfret also looks at China through the eyes of several very different Chinese people: four of his classmates from Nanjing University, where the author was one of the first American students to gain admittance after China and the U.S . began diplomatic relations.

He lived in a Chinese university dormitory with Chinese room mates, a rare experience for a foreigners until very recently. Pomfret covered China in 1989 for AP, and was expelled for his efforts, but returned in 1998 as the Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post.

The light touch that Pomfret uses to trace his classmates' lives from the Cultural Revolution until 2005 makes for a compulsively readable account of recent Chinese history.

Buy this book on Amazon

Will the Boat Sink the Water? by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao

First published in 2004 in Chinese as "A survey Chinese peasants" and banned shortly afterwards, the book still sold millions in pirate editions in China. This year sees the publication of the English version. Despite the unrelenting misery of the peasants and the corruption and cruelty of the officials whose stories are told in this book, it's a gripping read. There is a review of the book by on Danwei by Göran Leijonhufvud here.

Buy this book on Amazon

China Shakes the World — The Rise of a Hungry Nation by James Kynge

Opening with the tale of a German steel mill that was bought, dismantled and rebuilt completely in China, Kynge's book examines what's behind China's economic rise and describes the effects China is having on everyone else on the planet.

It's a sober and balanced look at China's strengths and weaknesses, told through Kynge's rich personal and journalistic experiences — he first arrived here in 1982, and was the China Bureau Chief of the Financial Times from 1998 to 2005.

Highly recommended.

Buy this book on Amazon

One Billion Customers — Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China by James McGregor

This book is something in between a how-to guide and a rollicking tour of some of the worst moments in Sino-foreign business. Your correspondent's favorite chapter is a description of the war between Xinhua and Dow Jones and Reuters ten years ago, when China's state-owned news agency pulled the same stunt it did a few months ago: requiring foreign news agencies to sell their information products through Xinhua. The foreign news agencies won that battle; it took another decade for Xinhua to try it again.

Buy this book on Amazon

Also noteworthy:
Mr China by Tim Clissold (published last year so not on the list above)
Carl Crow, A tough Old China Hand by Paul French (your correspondent has not yet read the book although I have heard good things about it, but can recommend the classic written by Carl Crow himself in 1937 — 400,000 customers, now in reprint.

There are currently 3 Comments for Danwei Christmas book list.

Comments on Danwei Christmas book list

China Candid sounds similar to a book I once found in my university library. It also interviewed a prostitute, who immigrated to Australia. Such books are quite a good way of understanding China. I agree with the recommendation for One Billion Customers, but I strongly disagree with the recommendation for Mr China. That book really sucked.

Little porker above should not criticize books without a reason. Tim Clissold's books is divine. So boo to you.
PS Why would interviewing a whore be a good way of understanding China? Stuff and Nonsense.

Mr China was badly written and didn't have any strong business observations. A lot of the time, Clissold was making judgements on the personalities of the Chinese partners. Why is interviewing a whore a good way of understanding China? Because the book translates an interview without passing judgement.

If I am not allowed to criticise books without a reason, then you should not be allowed to call a book divine without a reason.

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