Looking for a little summer reading? This week Sinica sorts the wheat from the chaff with a massive review of books on China. Our discussion touches on a everything from Chinese fiction to non-fiction academic works on Chinese politics, economics and history. There's a good selection here and a combative discussion: we'll tell you what we love, and what we hate and why....

Joining Kaiser in the studio is Gady Epstein, Beijing bureau chief for Forbes magazine, Qing historian and popular blogger Jeremiah Jenne and China public relations expert Will Moss. And rounding out the in-studio discussion we have digital postcards from a number of other Sinica contributors you'll remember from previous episodes: Jonathan Watts, Beijing-based correspondent for The Guardian; Sinica regular Jeremy Goldkorn; Kathleen McLaughlin, a prolific reporter for the Bureau of National Affairs and Global Post; and David Moser, all-around renaissance man and current Academic Director for CET Beijing.

If you enjoy this podcast, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section, or by writing us at sinica@popupchinese.com. And remember, to subscribe to the Sinica show through RSS, just open up iTunes, click on the "Advanced" menu and select the option "Subscribe to Podcast". When prompted, copy the URL http://popupchinese.com/feeds/custom/sinica into the box. If you'd like to download this mp3 directly from our site you can also grab it as a standalone mp3 file. Enjoy!

 said on
June 19, 2010
Hi Kaiser, did Pete Hessler date your sister?
 said on
June 19, 2010
As promised, here are some links to the books mentioned in this podcast. First, the recommendations from Jonathan, Jeremy, Kathleen and David, and then the list of other books that came up in the studio, arranged (mostly) by theme.

Jonathan Watts:

Pete Hessler - River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving; Robert Gifford - China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power; Ma Jun - China's Water Crisis; Jiang Rong - Wolf Totem

Jeremy Goldkorn:

Sang Ye - China Candid: The People on the People's Republic; David Kidd - Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China; Mike Meyer - The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed; Gremie Garme - The Forbidden City:

Kathleen McLaughlin:

Ma Jian - Red Dust: A Path Through China; Liao Yiwu - The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories: China from the Bottom Up; Leslie Chang - Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

David Moser:

Anything and everything by Orville Schell


Contemporary Politics:

Philip Pan - Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China; Susan Shirk - Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise; Richard McGregor - The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers; Jeffrey Wasserstrom - China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know; James Kynge - China Shakes the World; Martin Jacques - When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order; Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao - Will the Boat Sink the Water: The Life of China's Peasants; Ian Johnson - Wild Grass: Three Portraits of Change in Modern China

Business and Economics:

Tim Clissold - Mister China: A Memoir; Paul Midler - Poorly Made in China: An Insider's Account of the Tactics Behind China's Production Game; Yasheng Huang - Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics

Modern History:

Hugh Trevor Roper - Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse; Joseph Levenson - Confucian China and its Modern Fate; Minford and Lau - Classical Chinese Literature; Jonathan Spence - Treason By the Book, The Search for Modern China, The Gate of Heavenly Peace; Immanuel Hsu - The Rise of Modern China; Philip Kuhn - Soulstealers: The Chinese Socery Scare of 1768; Kenneth Pomeranz - The Great Divergence; Paul A. Cohen - Discovering History in China; Jim Mann - About Face and The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression
 said on
June 19, 2010
Jonathan Spence enjoys a poor reputation among his peers in the field because he was a poor scholar (i.e., not because he and Fred Wakeman were rivals - that's just stupid). That is to say, while Spence produced a number of very readable books for non-specialists, he produced virtually nothing for other scholars. Aside from inspiring a handful of Yale undergraduates to go on to graduate school, he did very little to advance the academic field of modern Chinese history. He was widely derided as a frustrated novelist. Indeed, one of his most famous books, "The Death of Woman Wang," is an imposter - a novel posing as a work of history. Spence played loose and fast with the documents, and his peers knew it. It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy certain of Spence's books (I, for one, am also a fan of "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" and "The Search for Modern China"), it is quite another to imagine that he was somehow the equal of Frederic Wakeman (Berkeley) and Philip Kuhn (Harvard), the two best historians of modern China of their generation.

Forget about Spence's "God's Chinese Son" - if you want to learn about the Taiping Rebellion, read Philip Kuhn's treatment of the subject in the Cambridge History of China. Spence's book is not good. Seriously.

Best survey of P.R.C. history, bar none - Maurice Meisner's "Mao's China and After"

Nice to hear someone mention Joseph Levenson. "Confucian China and Its Modern Fate" is a foundational text in the field - it sometimes seems as if half of everything that was written during the last 50 years was written in response to it.
 said on
June 20, 2010
Hey Kaiser and company, it looks like you forgot to add the two James Mann books to your list of links. Thanks for the informative podcast, my reading list just got stuffed.
 said on
June 22, 2010
Agree completely with agan_28 about Spence. I began my study of China by reading Spence, but I have long since moved on to bigger and better things. Wakeman and Kuhn (among many, many others!) were far more substantial scholars than Spence. As a scholar, Spence seemed more like an entertaining and highly learned high school history teacher than a productive member of the faculty of one of the world's best research institutions. There was no rivalry between Wakeman and Spence. I can assure you that students at Berkeley would never have treated Kuhn with the same aggressive disdain with which they went after Spence. It was all about the quality of Spence's scholarship, not his Yale pedigree.

I agree with your guest's recommendation of Kuhn's "Soulstealers." However, the book is really not "about" an eighteenth century soulstealing scare; rather, it makes use of the occasion of the soulstealing scare to speak of other, far more important matters - namely, the relationship between the various administrative layers of power of the Qing bureaucracy, their very near failure to reckon with the social upheaval that took place in Fujian in 1768 (ostensibly the high point of Qing wealth and power), and what all that said about the declining efficacy and future of the Qing. Kuhn is interested in questions having to do with the decline of the Qing and the collapse of the dynastic institution. He's also interested in determining whether an insipient "Chinese" modernity existed prior to the arrival of the West in force (a subject that Levenson also wrote about in "Confucian China and Its Modern Fate" -- a great, great, great book!). "Soulstealers" is one of the best books ever written on the subject of Chinese history. As with a couple of Kuhn's other books ("The Making of the Modern Chinese State" and "Rebellion and Its Enemies"), it appears on graduate seminar syllabi everywhere - and for good reason.
 said on
June 24, 2010
It is exciting to see so many good English written books on China. They show the life a so many aspects of the dynamic changing society. Peter Hessler's books are super for they shae so much about the real lives of China that often go unnoticed.

Stan Zimmer,

President of Zimmer Foundation for China

https://zimmerfoundation.org
 said on
June 25, 2010
Great picks! Kenneth Pomeranz's book The Great Divergence is a fantastic and fascinating book. I also think The Corpse Walker by Liao Yiwu and books by Ma Jian are great. I would add a couple of more academic works for those interested in contemporary politics and economics: Kellee Tsai's Capitalism without Democracy, Guobin Yang's The Power of the Internet in China, and Ching Kwan Lee's Against the Law.
 said on
June 25, 2010
Charles Horner's new book, RISING CHINA AND ITS POSTMODERN FATE (U. of Georgia Press 2009) is very stimulating (the ring of Levenson's earlier title is intentional and relevant to the book).

And, of course, my favorite book of all time, originally published in 1950 but strangely relevant today: TWO KINDS OF TIME, by Graham Peck, republished in 2008 by U. of Washington Press (full disclosure: I wrote the Foreword to the re-issue). Bob Kapp
 said on
July 9, 2010
Thanks for a great podcast. It would have been great to hear your views on Mao: The Unknown Story
 said on
July 9, 2010
Thanks for the discussion! I'm really enjoying everything you put up to these Sinica podcasts. Keep up the great work!!
 said on
October 30, 2010
just wanted to add my thanks for the informative podcasts too.
 said on
May 16, 2011
You can sample a few chapters of Dragons, donkeys, and dust: Memoirs from a decade in China at http://www.binglongbooks.com/contemporary-china-series.html

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