China's history is so vast, its geography so massive, its politics so controversial, and its customs so perplexing, that there was just no way to contain this list to ten books. Even twenty is cutting it short. The country's long, abysmal record of human rights abuses, rampant government corruption, heartless property confiscation and categorical censorship of news, knowledge and information make China fertile grounds for fiction and non-fiction alike. Some of these books are shocking, some scholarly, some simply entertaining, but each reveal a different facet of Chinese culture that, when read all together, should give readers a complete and well-rounded portrait of a nation that just might become the next world superpower.
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It's no secret that the Chinese and Japanese despise each other, or at least their governments do. It is a sibling rivalry that dates back millennia, but came to a head during the early-20th century Sino-Japanese war, whence Japanese soldiers stormed China's then-capital city of Nanjing and proceeded to rape, mutilate and execute upwards of 400,000 innocent Chinese civilians within just 8 weeks. Or so claims Iris Chang (the Japanese military wholly denies this event took place), who was commissioned by the Communist Party to write this fact-finding novel. Chang later committed suicide for mysterious reasons, but her work holds an important place in academia, for, if true, then the Nanking Massacre is the world's worst war-time holocaust in history.
Also Rankedsee more on The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
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Following the commercial success of her best-selling family biography, Wild Swans, Chinese author Jung Chang felt confident enough to tackle the life of China's most hated - and loved - leader: Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong. Chang alleges that Mao was hardly the brilliant military strategist and patriotic rebel that revisionist Chinese propaganda portrays him as, but rather an opportunistic, hypocritical, bumbling and bloodthirsty killer who climbed China's political ladder upon the bodies of tens of millions of innocent civilians. Faulted for lacking proper citations or irref*table evidence, even if just half of this controversial biography is true, then we can be sure that Mao Zedong is in a very warm place right about now. see more on Mao: The Unknown Story
China's single-party government has been controlled by the Communists since the 1949 inception of Mao Zedong's New China. The Party controls every aspect of life in China, from censoring news to suppressing spirituality to limiting 1 child per family. The Communists are also directly responsible for the deaths of at least 100 million innocent lives under 60+ years of disastrous social experiments. But what 1.3 billion citizens fail to understand is that there is absolutely no legal or even constitutional basis for the Communist Party to exist. At any point, the people could rise up and take control of their oppressors. Richard McGregor makes this and other cases in his meticulously researched book, while also revealing how someone might go about joining the Communist Party, how they are promoted in its dog-eat-dog ranks, and how they thrive under its openly-corrupt lifestyle of bribery and murder. see more on The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers
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Mao's Great Famine
In short, the Great Leap Forward was a politically-exacerbated famine in China whereby 45 MILLION innocent civilians were purposefully starved to death, in the course of 4 years, under direct orders from Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, making it one of the largest human slaughters in the history of mankind. In his revealing book, Frank DikÃ¶tter explains that Mao, deluded with visions of China becoming a world superpower under his reign, thought that locking up the entire peasant population of China in labor communes to generate steel and wheat around the clock was a good idea. What resulted instead was corrupted metals, falsified harvest reports, and millions of people being worked literally to death. Present-day CPC leaders like to pretend that this incident never occurred, which makes this book even more valuable. see more on Mao's Great Famine
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CHINA: Portrait of a People
What other authors on this list have done with words, photojournalist Tom Carter has done with pictures. Carter's lens unbiasedly reveals to us the ugly, the beautiful and - most profound - the ordinary face of present-day Chinese society. Carter candidly portrays every imaginable facet of life, from farmers to prostitutes to corrupt police to punk rockers to monks, and beyond, effectively proving to us with his photos 2 main points: that Chinese are not all as evil as we might believe, and that China is hardly the economic powerhouse the Communist Party claims it is.
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The best selling - and most heartbreaking - book ever published about the Cultural Revolution. Nien Cheng, a middle-aged mother and employee of a foreign firm in Shanghai, has her house ransacked by the Red Guard, and is then publicly "struggled against" by her neighbors and co-workers. Refusing to sign a false confession that she is a spy, Cheng is locked away in solitary confinement for 6 years while the Communists "investigate" her case. Despite her age and failing health, Cheng refuses to break under pressure. She is finally released and returns home, only to find that her only daughter has been murdered (pushed off a roof) by local Communist leaders in retaliation for Cheng's insubordination. see more on Life and Death in Shanghai
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Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China
Exiled to a prison labor camp simply for asking to read a book, Kang Zhengguo kept an extensive diary on the atrocities he witnessed first-hand throughout Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. Spanning five decades, Kang subtly yet brilliantly portrays daily life in a totalitarianism society, where anyone and everyone is a "class enemy" and waking up fearing for your freedom - and your life - are commonplace.
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Poorly Made in China
While Leslie Chang's book focused on the plight of China's exploited factory workers, businessman Paul Midler expounds in his behind-the-scenes memoir on the management-end of Chinese commerce. According to Midler, a fatal combination of short-term greed, rampant corruption, negligent quality control and a sheer lack of enforceable laws is resulting in the world marketplace being flooded with shoddy (and often highly toxic) products.