Abstract:This is a comprehensive and detailed review of 50 of the most relevant books about China by a dozen of the most experienced China experts..

A review of 50 of the most relevant books about China.

Frans Vandenbosch 方腾波 08.07.2024

Not all recent, famous books about China are written with honest, veracious intentions.  

A brief historic overview of Chinese literature

The Classics

Ancient Chinese literature starts with the Yi Jing / I Ching some 500 to 1000 years BC. Soon after came the  Classic of Poetry (poems, folk songs, festival and ceremonial songs, hymns and eulogies), the Book of Rites, the Book of documents (a Chinese prose collection of documents), the Spring and Autumn Annals, traditionally regarded as compiled by Confucius 2500 years ago.
The “four books” are: 
the Analects of Confucius, a book of pithy sayings attributed to Confucius and recorded by his disciples;
the Mencius, a collection of political dialogues;
the Doctrine of the Mean, a book that teaches the path to Confucian virtue.
the Great Learning, a book about education, self-cultivation and the Dao.
All these books are readily available in English translation.

Chinese poetry

Chinese poetry began with the Shijing (Classic of Poetry) and Chuci (Songs of Chu). The Shijing, compiled around 7th century BCE, consists of over 300 poems categorized into folk songs, court songs, and hymns, reflecting both courtly life and rural themes in simple yet profound language.
In contrast, the Chuci, compiled during the Han dynasty, introduced a more lyrical and irregular style, emphasizing personal emotions and vivid imagery influenced by the state of Chu.

Throughout Chinese history, poetry evolved significantly. The Han dynasty popularized yuefu folk songs and developed the fu form, blending prose and verse. The Tang dynasty marked a pinnacle with regulated verse forms like jintishi and lushi, exemplified by poets such as Li Bai and Du Fu. Chinese poetry became integral to cultural expression, influencing social norms and reflecting societal changes across different dynasties.

Modern era

Over the past century, thousands of non-fiction books have been written and published about China. Amazon presents more than 50 000 English language books about China. The famous Goodreads website lists 730 English language books about China. The influence of commerce and Western views is visible in both the Goodreads ranking and ratings.

Rating and criteria

Here below, I present you a selection of more than 50 non-fiction books about China, most of which I have read myself over the past thirty years. Some of these books were recommended and reviewed by my friends; they’re all accomplished China experts. Most of these books are written by Westerners, some of them have lived in China. I especially value books written by authors who have extensive knowledge of both Chinese and Western culture and language. Authors who don’t speak Chinese language and authors who have lived in China for just a few weeks or months get a lower quotation. I can’t imagine an author, writing a book about the USA or American politics if he can’t speak English.

I have not listed all the books I have read (or not read) about China. Some books were such a disaster that they were not worth to be mentioned. The ratings are not based on ideology, they’re independent from my political or social viewpoints, they are almost exclusively based on factual accuracy of the manuscripts of the books. Readability and presentation are minor criteria.

I strongly encourage you, my dear reader, to investigate the authors credibility, to follow the money and to check who sponsored the book or a scholarship for the author.

Harsh negative critics are mostly based on obvious factual inaccuracies, negligence, ignorance, conscious omission of significant facts or deliberate unwillingness to consult information sources that are freely accessible in (Chinese) university libraries. Books that are written with exaggerated personality cult (for Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, …), insufficiently researched, deliberately omit unpleasant facts or do not place that person in context usually receive a negative review.

The rating scale ranges from minus 10 to plus 10. Books with a minus appraisal are in my opinion not worth the time and effort to read. The books are sorted by year of publication, the oldest books first, the most recent books at the bottom.

Most of these books I have read myself, some of the authors I have personally met or interviewed. The final rating however is not just based on my own opinion, but on the appreciation of many China experts, with even more China experience than myself. The reviews are based in small part on the book reviews of online bookstores, the link of which is indicated immediately after the description of the book.

Summary table

In summary, the ratings are as follows:

50  Non-Fiction Books about China  
AuthorBook titleYearRating
Edgar SnowRed Star Over China19379.2
William HintonFanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village19668.0
Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)Les Habits neufs du président Mao1971-9.0
Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)Ombres chinoises1974-9.0
Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans)Images brisées1976-9.0
Jonathan SpenceThe Search for Modern China1990-7.0
Jung Chang (Zhāng Róng)Wild Swans1991-8.0
Wáng Hùníng 王沪宁America against America19919.1
Steven W. MosherA mother’s ordeal1993-8.8
Chris BramallIn Praise of Maoist Economic Planning19939.0
Lǐ Zhìsuí 李志绥The Private Life of Chairman Mao1994-9.2
Joseph NeedhamScience and Civilisation in China19959.7
Maurice J. MeisnerMao’s China and after: A History of the People’s Republic1999-8.0
Hàn Dōngpíng 韩东屛The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village20009.4
Gordon ChangThe Coming Collapse of China2001-9.8
Gāo Mòbō 高默波Gao Village: a Portrait of Rural Life in Modern China20029.2
Frederick W. MoteImperial China, 900–180020039.5
Geerdt MagielsPaul Janssen, pioneer in China20049.0
Jung Chang (Zhāng Róng)Mao: The Unknown Story2005-8.2
John PomfretChinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China2006-6.0
Roderick MacFarquharMao’s Last Revolution2006-9.0
David ShambaughChina-Europe relations : perceptions, policies, and prospects2007-9.0
Ming ZengDragons at your door20077.0
Gāo Wénqiān 高文谦Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary2008-9.5
Orville SchellWatch out for the foreign guests!: China encounters the West2009-9.0
Gilbert Van KerckhoveToxic Capitalism20122.0
Wei LingChuaDemocracy: What the West can learn from China20138.5
Jung Chang (Zhāng Róng)Empress Dowager Cixi2013-9.0
Frank DikötterThe Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945–19572013-9.0
Wei LingChuaTiananmen Square “Massacre”? The Power of Words vs. Silent Evidence20148.5
Gāo Mòbō 高默波The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution20159.4
Jonathan HolslagChina’s coming war with Asia2015-9.3
Jeff J. BrownChina rising20169.3
Frank DikötterThe Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962–19762016-9.0
John PomfretThe Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom2016-5.0
Jonathan HolslagTrapped giant: China’s military rise2017-9.6
Sven AgtenHoe maak ik het in China ?20177.5
Gāo Mòbō 高默波Constructing China: Clashing Views of the People’s Republic20189.4
Ties DamsDe nieuwe Keizer2018-4.0
Gāo Mòbō 高默波Gao Village Revisited: Whither Rural China20199.4
Joshua EisenmanRed China’s Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change, and Economic Development under the Commune20199.0
Jonathan HolslagThe silk road trap2019-9.0
Pascal CoppensChina’s new normal20199.0
Ramin MazaheriI’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China20199.2
Stefaan BlommaertDe eeuw van Xi2019-2.0
Jeff J. BrownBig red book on China20209.2
John King FairbankThe Cambridge History of China2020-9.0
Kishore MahbubaniHas China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy20208.8
Adrian ZenzThe Xinjiang Papers2021-9.8
Charles Hampden-Turner, Peter Peverelli and
Fons Trompenaars
Has China Devised a Superior Path to Wealth Creation?
The Role of Secular Values
2022
Frans Vandenbosch 方腾波Statecraft and Society in China20229.3
Godfree RobertsWhy China leads the world20219.5
Frank DikötterChina After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower2022-9.5
Pascal CoppensCan we trust China ?20229.1

Book reviews:

·  Red Star Over China  by Edgar Snow (1937)
Rating: 9.2
Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China” is a seminal work that provides a first-hand account of the early days of the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders, including Mao Zedong. Snow’s intimate portrayal and insightful interviews with revolutionaries offer a gripping narrative of the communist movement’s rise in China, making it a landmark in modern Chinese history.

··  Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village by William Hinton (1966)
– Rating: 8
In “Fanshen”, William Hinton meticulously documents the profound social transformation in a rural Chinese village during the land reform period. Through detailed interviews and narratives, Hinton reveals the complexities and human stories behind the communist revolution’s impact on ordinary villagers, offering a compelling documentary of grassroots change.

·  Les Habits neufs du président Mao  by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) (1971)
– Rating: – 9
“Les Habits neufs du président Mao” by Simon Leys critiques Mao Zedong’s leadership and policies, grossly exaggerating their negative impact on Chinese society. Leys argues against the benefits and prosperity that Mao Zedong brought to the Chinese people.
Pierre Ryckmans has not lived for more than four months in China proper. How could he know what really happened in China at that time?

·  Ombres chinoises  by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) (1974)
– Rating: – 9
“Ombres chinoises” continues Simon Leys’ critique of Maoist China. It is a disjointed and self-indulgent mess that fails to deliver any meaningful insight. The author’s pretentious writing style is both tedious and grating. Leys’ shallow understanding of Chinese culture and politics results in a superficial and often misleading analysis. The book’s structure is haphazard, jumping from one incoherent thought to another without any logical progression. Leys’ attempts at wit fall flat, only serving to highlight his own arrogance and lack of depth.

·  Images brisées  by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) (1976)
– Rating: – 9
In “Images brisées,” Simon Leys further explores Maoist China. The book is an insufferable exercise in vanity, masquerading as intellectual commentary. Leys’ writing is pretentious and convoluted, lacking any genuine substance or coherence. His superficial grasp of the subject matter is painfully evident, resulting in a series of misguided and banal observations. The book’s erratic structure makes it nearly impossible to follow, reflecting Leys’ own confused thinking. Ultimately, “Images brisées” is a worthless endeavour that only highlights the author’s inflated ego and lack of true insight.

.

·  The Search for Modern China  by Jonathan Spence (1990)
– Rating: – 7
Jonathan Spence’s “The Search for Modern China” provides a comprehensive overview of China’s tumultuous journey from imperial decline to revolutionary upheaval and modernization. Spence does not hesitate to twist the facts a bit or leave out important points. Despite its attempts for scholarly depth and insightful analysis, Spence’s narrative lacks the engaging storytelling needed to fully captivate readers unfamiliar with Chinese history.

·  Wild Swans  by Jung Chang (Zhāng Róng) (1991)
– Rating: – 8
“Wild Swans” by Jung Chang has been criticized for its portrayal of three generations of women in China under Mao’s rule, viewed by some as overly sensationalized and lacking historical nuance. Critics argue that Chang’s narrative oversimplifies complex social and political dynamics, potentially distorting understanding of the era.

·  America against America by Wáng Hùníng (王沪宁) (1991)
– Rating: 9.1
Wáng Hùníng’s book carefully explores the complexities of U.S.-China relations through a critical lens, examining ideological clashes and geopolitical tensions. Wang’s insightful analysis and nuanced perspective shed light on the evolving dynamics between these two global powers, offering valuable insights for understanding contemporary international relations.

·  A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-child Policy  by Steven W. Mosher (1993)
– Rating: -8.8
is a sensationalist and poorly substantiated work that shamelessly exploits a sensitive socio-political issue for personal gain. Mosher’s narrative lacks credible evidence and scholarly rigor, relying instead on anecdotal accounts and emotional appeals to manipulate readers’ sympathies. His portrayal of China’s one-child policy is alarmist and one-dimensional, failing to acknowledge the complexities and nuances of population control in a developing nation. Overall, the book not only fails as an academic contribution but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misinformation about Chinese social policies.

·  In Praise of Maoist Economic Planning by Chris Bramall (1993)
– Rating: 9
Chris Bramall’s “In Praise of Maoist Economic Planning” challenges conventional critiques of Mao’s economic policies, arguing for their effectiveness in fostering rapid industrialization and social progress during the first decades of the People’s Republic of China. Bramall’s rigorous analysis and empirical evidence present a provocative reconsideration of Maoist economic strategies, stimulating debate on their significant long-term impact.

·  The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Lǐ Zhìsuí 李志绥  (1994)
– Rating: – 9
“The Private Life of Chairman Mao” by Lǐ Zhìsuí has faced controversy for its unauthorized and disputed portrayal of Mao Zedong’s personal life. Critics argue that the book lacks credible sources and is filled with sensational claims, undermining its reliability as a historical account.

·  Science and Civilisation in China (1954- 1995) by Cambridge Professor Joseph Needham
– Rating 9.7
Joseph Needham’s monumental 27-volume series, Science and Civilisation in China, is a scholarly tour de force that stands as a testament to his profound understanding and appreciation of Chinese scientific and technological advancements. Needham’s meticulous research uncovers the depth and sophistication of China’s contributions to various fields such as astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and medicine, long before many similar developments in the West. His work reveals not only the technical details of these achievements but also places them in the broader context of Chinese philosophical and cultural history, showcasing the unique interplay between China’s intellectual traditions and its scientific progress.
This encyclopaedic series is widely regarded as one of the most significant and comprehensive works on the history of Chinese science, reshaping Western perspectives and highlighting the global importance of China’s ancient innovations. Needham’s dedication and scholarly rigor have earned him immense respect, and his legacy continues to influence historians and scientists worldwide. (Cambridge)

·  Mao’s China and After: A History of the People’s Republic by Maurice J. Meisner (1999)
Rating: – 8
Meismer’s book is often criticized for its dense, overly detailed narrative that can be challenging to follow. The book’s strong reliance on Marxist theory can lead to biased interpretations, reducing its objectivity (Wikipedia) (Libcom). Furthermore, the frequent revisions suggest a lack of definitive conclusions, making the work seem unfinished. (Wikipedia). Lastly, the intricate ideological discussions may alienate readers seeking a more straightforward historical account (Libcom).

·  The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village by Hàn Dōngpíng (2000)
– Rating: 9.4
provides an enlightening and refreshing perspective on the Cultural Revolution by documenting the significant improvements in rural living conditions, infrastructure, and agricultural practices. The book challenges the conventional negative narratives by showing how the Cultural Revolution fostered local democracy, economic planning, and educational expansion, which collectively empowered the rural population (Monthly Review) (MR Online). Han Dōngpíng’s meticulous research, including extensive interviews and local records from Jimo County, offers a deeply personal and vivid portrayal of the positive social changes during this period (Monthly Review). The author’s background as a farmer and manager of a collective village factory during the Cultural Revolution adds authenticity and a unique insider perspective to his account (MR Online). This work stands out for its detailed documentation of the transformative potential of mass education and community empowerment, making it a crucial read for anyone interested in contemporary Chinese history or rural development (Monthly Review) (MR Online).

The Coming Collapse of China by Gordon Chang (2001)
Rating: -9.8
This book is a big joke, the worst book in my collection. It is an egregious exercise in failed prophecy and unfounded pessimism. Chang’s prediction that the Chinese government would collapse by 2011 was not only wildly inaccurate but also reiterated with baseless confidence even after it proved wrong, earning him a spot on Foreign Policy’s “10 worst predictions of the year” twice in a row. His arguments are laden with sweeping generalizations and lack rigorous, evidence-based analysis, making them read more like political sensationalism than serious scholarship (Wikipedia) (PublishersWeekly.com). Moreover, Chang’s subsequent attempts to push back the collapse date further only highlight the speculative nature of his thesis, undermining his credibility as an analyst (Wikipedia).

·  Gao Village: A Portrait of Rural Life in Modern China by Gao Mobo高默波 (2002)
– Rating: 9.2
is an exceptional work that provides a nuanced and deeply personal account of rural Chinese life. The book masterfully blends ethnographic research with memoir, giving readers an insider’s view of the transformations that have occurred in Gao Village, Jiangxi Province, over several decades. Gao’s narrative is rich with historical context, detailing the impact of land reforms, the commune system, and the subsequent economic changes on the village’s social fabric and daily life (Project MUSE) (UH Press).

One of the book’s most striking features is Gao’s ability to convey the complexities and contradictions of rural development policies. His vivid storytelling and use of personal anecdotes highlight the resilience and adaptability of the villagers in the face of often disruptive state policies. This approach not only humanizes the statistics but also provides a deeper understanding of the lived experiences of rural Chinese citizens (Project MUSE).

The author’s critical yet empathetic perspective offers a balanced view of the successes and failures of governmental interventions, making it an invaluable resource for understanding rural China’s socio-economic landscape. Gao’s insights into the local impacts of national policies, such as the eradication of schistosomiasis and the introduction of fertilizers and pesticides, are particularly compelling (UH Press).

Additionally, the book is praised for its accessibility and engaging prose, which make complex social and economic issues understandable to a wide audience. This combination of scholarly rigor and narrative flair ensures that “Gao Village” is not only informative but also deeply moving and thought-provoking. Gao Mobo’s work stands out as a significant contribution to the field of rural studies and contemporary Chinese history (Project MUSE) (UH Press).

·  Imperial China, 900–1800 by Frederick W. “Fritz” Mote (2003)
– Rating: 9.2
is a meticulously researched and comprehensive examination of a crucial millennium in Chinese history. Mote’s scholarly rigor is evident in his detailed analysis of political, economic, and social developments, which he presents with clarity and nuance. His ability to weave complex historical narratives with insightful commentary on cultural and philosophical changes offers readers a deep understanding of the era’s intricacies. While the depth of detail might be overwhelming for casual readers, it significantly benefits those seeking an in-depth study. Overall, Mote’s work stands as a monumental contribution to the field of Chinese historical studies, providing a valuable resource for both scholars and serious enthusiasts.

·  Paul Janssen, Pioneer in China by Geerdt Magiels (2004)
– Rating: 9
is a compelling biography that captures the extraordinary life and achievements of Paul Janssen, a trailblazer in the pharmaceutical industry. Magiels, based on Joos Horsten, meticulously documents Janssen’s innovative contributions, including the development of over 80 medications, and his strategic expansion into China during a transformative period. The book excels in its detailed exploration of Janssen’s visionary leadership and the profound impact of his work on global healthcare. Rich with historical context and personal anecdotes, it is both informative and inspiring, showcasing Janssen’s enduring legacy (Hive Books). This book is published in English and in Dutch language.

·  Mao: The Unknown Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (2005)
Rating: -8.2
has faced severe criticism from scholars for its lack of balanced scholarship and selective use of sources. The book is described as a polemical narrative that aims to demonize Mao rather than provide an objective historical account. Critics have pointed out numerous inaccuracies and argued that it relies heavily on sensationalism, diminishing its credibility as a historical biography (Wikipedia) (The Peking Duck) (Routledge). Despite its popularity, many experts in Chinese history have dismissed it as a flawed and misleading portrayal of Mao Zedong’s life and legacy.

·  Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China  by John Pomfret (2006)
Rating: -6
While offering unique insights into the lives of five Chinese classmates during a transformative period in China’s history, falls short in several areas. The narrative structure, which attempts to blend memoir with historical observation, often lacks the necessary cohesion and depth, leading to a somewhat disjointed reading experience (Five Books). Furthermore, Pomfret’s proximity to the events he describes, while initially engaging, ultimately results in a lack of critical distance, making some of his observations feel superficial and overly subjective (LibraryThing.com). Additionally, the book’s focus on the city of Nanjing, while unique, may not provide a comprehensive view of the broader Chinese experience. (Barnes & Noble).

·  Mao’s Last Revolution  by Roderick MacFarquhar and Michael Schoenhals (2006)
Rating: – 9
While extensively researched, suffers from significant flaws that detract from its scholarly value. The book’s narrative is bogged down by an excessive focus on minute details, which often overwhelms the reader and obscures the broader historical context of the Cultural Revolution. Additionally, the authors’ reliance on a multitude of sources, including those of questionable reliability, introduces a degree of uncertainty that undermines the credibility of their conclusions. Moreover, the work’s attempt to provide a comprehensive account results in a convoluted and disjointed presentation, making it a challenging read even for those deeply interested in Chinese history (Reviews in History) (Barnes & Noble).

·  China-Europe Relations: Perceptions, Policies, and Prospects  by David Shambaugh (2007)
Rating: – 9
Despite its ambition, this book falters due to its overwhelming reliance on institutional analysis at the expense of more dynamic geopolitical insights. The book’s fragmented structure, with contributions from various authors, leads to a lack of cohesive narrative and repetitive content. Moreover, the overemphasis on policy intricacies renders the text excessively dry and inaccessible to a broader audience. Lastly, the work’s failure to provide fresh perspectives or critical evaluations significantly diminishes its impact and relevance​ (Barnes & Noble)​ .

·  Dragons at Your Door by Ming Zeng and Peter J. Williamson (2007)
– Rating: 7
This booklet offers a compelling analysis of how Chinese companies are revolutionising global competition through innovative cost strategies. The book provides valuable insights into the strategies employed by major Chinese firms such as Huawei and Lenovo, demonstrating their shift from low-quality producers to leaders in high-end markets (Manager Tools) (National Library Board). The authors’ use of detailed case studies and clear, actionable advice makes this an essential read for executives aiming to understand and counter the rise of these formidable competitors (Manager Tools) (Liberty Books). This work stands out for its ability to demystify complex economic concepts and present them in an accessible manner, making it both informative and engaging.

·  Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary  by Gāo Wénqiān (2008)
Rating: -9.5
disappoints with its overly idealized portrayal of Zhou Enlai, failing to critically engage with the complexities and controversies of his political career. Gāo’s narrative lacks depth, neglecting significant historical nuances and debates. The book overlooks crucial aspects of Zhou’s governance, such as his role during the Cultural Revolution and his political manoeuvring within the Communist Party. Overall, “Zhou Enlai: The Last Perfect Revolutionary” falls short as a scholarly work by glossing over controversies and presenting a one-dimensional view of its subject.

·  Watch out for the Foreign Guests!: China Encounters the West   by Orville Schell (2009)
-Rating: – 9
This book is a disappointing and superficial treatment of Sino-Western relations. Schell’s reliance on outdated stereotypes and anecdotal evidence renders his analysis both trite and uninformative. The book fails to engage with the complexities of Chinese society, instead opting for a simplistic and often condescending portrayal of Chinese interactions with Westerners. This lack of depth and nuance makes the work feel more like a collection of banal observations than a serious scholarly endeavour (Barnes & Noble) (AbeBooks).

·  Toxic Capitalism by Gilbert Van Kerckhove (2012)
– Rating: 2
offers a compelling critique of modern consumerism and its environmental impacts, particularly from the perspective of China. The book is well-researched and packed with data that highlights the severe consequences of unchecked capitalism and consumer waste (Internet Archive) (musicMagpie). Van Kerckhove’s extensive experience and insights into China’s economic and environmental policies provide a unique and informative angle. However, while the book’s message is urgent and necessary, it might benefit from a more engaging narrative style to reach a broader audience.

·  Democracy: What the West can learn from China (The Art of Media Disinformation is Hurting the World and Humanity) by Wei LingChua (2013)
– Rating: 8.5
This book provides an in-depth evidence-based analysis on the issue of democracy and good governance, using hundreds of actual examples comparing the Chinese and Western political systems based on theories, structure, processes and performance. The current Chinese political system is designed for wide-based consultation with socialism as their core value whilst avoiding the flaws inherent in the design, process and structure of the Western political model. Despite the democratic nature of Chinese politics that persistently attracts a very high level of citizen satisfaction in each and every public opinion survey when compared to any Western democracy, the Western media has successfully brainwashed the world into believing that the Communist Government in China is an autocratic regime. In reality, Western democracies are in serious trouble, facing an unprecedented level of debt, unemployment, political corruption in the form of political donations, advertising and lobbying, and social dissatisfaction. It is the Western political system that requires urgent reform, or risks a revolution from the 99% — its people — in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is time to have a look at the merits of the Chinese model.

·  Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China” Jung Chang (Zhāng Róng)  (2013)
Rating: – 8
is a deeply flawed biography that reads more like historical fiction than rigorous scholarship. Chang’s overly simplistic portrayal of Cixi fails to mention the circumstances and several national crises in which Cixi had to operate. The book’s heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence and speculative assertions compromises its scholarly integrity, resulting in a work that feels more like a romanticized novel than a rigorous historical account. Ultimately, this work falls short of providing a balanced and rigorous historical analysis. The skewed perspective of this book undermines its credibility, making it more of a partisan stance than an objective historical account.  (Kirkus Reviews) (The Diplomat).

·  The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945–1957 by Frank Dikötter (2013)  
Rating: – 9
In “The Tragedy of Liberation,” Frank Dikötter continues his pattern of distorting historical facts to fit his anti-communist agenda, presenting a one-dimensional and misleading narrative of the Chinese Revolution. His methodologically flawed research, marked by cherry-picking evidence, undermines any claim to scholarly rigor. Dikötter’s persistent use of emotive language and hyperbole detracts from any serious academic analysis, rendering the book more as a polemic than a genuine historical account. His work does a disservice to readers seeking a comprehensive understanding of this critical period in Chinese history.

·  Tiananmen Square “Massacre”? The Power of Words vs. Silent Evidence (The Art of Media Disinformation is Hurting the World and Humanity) by Wei LingChua (2013)
– Rating: 8.5
The so-called Tiananmen Square “Massacre” is one of the most misleading events the US government and the Western media have used to demonize the Chinese government each and every year since 1989. There was ample silent evidence in the images produced by the Western media that told the story of a highly restrained and caring Chinese government facing a protest similar to those in the West at various stages of their economic development. However, the West and anti-communist forces had capitalized on the situation in 1989 to fuel the public’s anger, intending to overthrow a good government. How the Western media lied about a massacre given the silent evidence that suggests otherwise, and the moral implications of Western powers making use of common pain and dissatisfaction within an economic cycle of a society to justify the overthrowing of governments across the globe are issues that this book is structured to explore.

·  The Battle for China’s Past: Mao and the Cultural Revolution by Gāo Mòbō 高默波  (2015)
– Rating: 9.4

This book is a masterful and insightful work that challenges dominant narratives about Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution. Gao meticulously presents a nuanced perspective that highlights the positive aspects of Mao’s policies, particularly their impact on social equality and welfare. His deep research and critical analysis offer a refreshing counterpoint to mainstream accounts, making a compelling case for the benefits of Maoist policies on the Chinese populace, especially the rural poor and urban working class. Gao’s bold critique of contemporary historiography and his defence of the Mao era demonstrate his commitment to a more balanced and comprehensive understanding of Chinese history. The book is a courageous and thought-provoking contribution that invites readers to reconsider widely accepted views and appreciate the complexity of China’s revolutionary past (Pluto Press)

·  China’s Coming War with Asia   by Jonathan Holslag  (2015)
Rating: – 9
is a heavily flawed work that sensationalises the geopolitical landscape. Holslag’s argument hinges on speculative and alarmist predictions, often presenting a one-dimensional view of China’s foreign policy ambitions. The book is riddled with factual inaccuracies and unsubstantiated claims, undermining its credibility as a scholarly resource. Moreover, Holslag’s heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence and his failure to engage with existing scholarly work make this book a disappointing and unreliable analysis of China’s regional dynamics (US-China Institute) .

·  China Rising by Jeff J. Brown (2016)  
– Rating: 9.3
Jeff J. Brown’s book stands as an illuminating masterpiece that intricately weaves together historical narrative, geopolitical analysis, and cultural insights to paint a vivid picture of China’s ascent in the global arena. Brown’s meticulous research and deep understanding of Chinese history provide readers with a compelling exploration of how China has evolved from a tumultuous past to a powerhouse of the 21st century. His adept storytelling effortlessly bridges complex political landscapes with personal anecdotes, offering readers both a macroscopic view of China’s economic rise and a microscopic examination of its societal fabric. Brown’s prose is not only informative but also engaging, making this book a captivating read for anyone interested in global affairs. Furthermore, “China Rising” deftly challenges conventional Western perspectives, offering a refreshing and thought-provoking alternative that encourages readers to rethink their assumptions about China’s role in the world today. In summary, Brown’s work is a triumph of scholarship and storytelling, providing invaluable insights that resonate long after the final page is turned, and solidifying “China Rising” as essential reading for understanding contemporary China.
For more information or to purchase the book, you can visit Jeff J. Brown’s official website.

·  The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962–1976 by Frank Dikötter (2016)
Rating: -9
Frank Dikötter’s “The Cultural Revolution” is marred by a blatant disregard for objectivity, presenting a heavily biased and inflammatory account of one of China’s most tumultuous periods. His persistent reliance on anecdotal evidence and sensationalism results in a narrative that lacks depth and scholarly integrity. Dikötter’s reductionist approach fails to capture the complex motivations and experiences of the Chinese people during this era, instead resorting to sweeping generalizations and unfounded conclusions. This book is more of a politically charged diatribe than a well-researched historical study.

·  The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom  by John Pomfret (2016) 
Rating: – 5
attempts to provide a comprehensive history of the U.S.-China relationship but ultimately falls short of its ambitions. Despite Pomfret’s extensive experience in China, the book is frequently criticised for its dry and overly detailed narrative, which may alienate general readers​ (Five Books) (The Fiction Addiction). The historical anecdotes, while informative, often lack the coherence needed to weave them into a compelling story, resulting in a fragmented reading experience. Moreover, the book’s depth is sometimes undermined by Pomfret’s tendency to overly rely on his personal observations, which can feel more like subjective accounts rather than balanced historical analysis (Kirkus Reviews) (Five Books).

·  Trapped giant: China’s military rise  by Jonathan Holslag (2017) 
Rating: – 9
Jonathan Holslag is presenting with this book a deeply flawed and alarmist piece that does little to advance meaningful discourse on China’s military strategy. Holslag’s arguments are overly simplistic and heavily biased, lacking the nuance and depth required to understand China’s complex geopolitical manoeuvres (Internet Archive) (Asia Bookroom). The book’s narrative is mired in fearmongering, portraying China as an imminent threat without adequately addressing the broader context of regional security dynamics and the defensive nature of many of China’s military policies (Internet Archive).
Holslag’s writing is riddled with speculative assertions and unsubstantiated claims, making it difficult to take his conclusions seriously. Moreover, his one-dimensional portrayal of China’s rise neglects the significant economic and diplomatic strides China has made, focusing disproportionately on militaristic interpretations (Asia Bookroom). Overall, “Trapped Giant” fails to provide a balanced or insightful analysis, leaving readers with a skewed and superficial understanding of China’s military evolution.

·  Hoe maak ik het in China?  by Sven Agten (2017)
– Rating: 7.5
This book offers a practical and insightful guide for anyone planning to live or do business in China. The book excels in providing a realistic depiction of China’s rapid evolution from a producer of cheap goods to a global powerhouse, covering social, economic, and cultural trends with clarity. Agten’s first-hand experience in China enriches the narrative, offering valuable, often surprising perspectives on topics like green energy initiatives, the rising middle class, and environmental challenges. This comprehensive approach makes the book a valuable resource for understanding the complexities of modern China. Overall, Agten’s work is a well-rounded and informative read for those interested in China’s dynamic landscape. (Standaard Boekhandel)(De Slegte)

·  Constructing China: Clashing Views of the People’s Republic  by Gāo Mòbō 高默波  (2018)
– Rating: 9.4
“Constructing China: Clashing Views of the People’s Republic” by Gāo Mòbō is a masterful and thought-provoking examination of how our understanding of China is shaped by various narratives and agendas. Gao, a distinguished professor of Chinese Studies, meticulously dissects the political and intellectual biases that influence perceptions of China, urging readers to critically evaluate commonly accepted views. His bold, revisionist approach challenges mainstream interpretations, particularly regarding the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, and offers fresh insights into these contentious periods (Barnes & Noble) (Pluto Press)
Gao’s ability to blend historical analysis with contemporary critique makes this book an essential read for anyone interested in Chinese politics and history. He provocatively addresses the dichotomy between Western liberal democracy and Chinese authoritarianism, exposing the fallacies and prejudices in both Western and Chinese scholarly discourses (Barnes & Noble) (Pluto Press). The book is praised for its elegant and provocative style, making complex issues accessible without compromising scholarly rigor (Pluto Press).
Endorsements from prominent academics like Kerry Brown and Dorothy Solinger highlight Gao’s creativity and the book’s significance in sparking vigorous debate about China’s role on the global stage (Barnes & Noble) (Pluto Press). “Constructing China” is not only a critique but also a call to re-examine and broaden our perspectives on China’s past and present. This work is an invaluable contribution to the field and a testament to Gao’s profound understanding of both Western and Chinese intellectual terrains (Pluto Press).

·  De nieuwe Keizer  by Ties Dams (2018)
– Rating: – 4
is a disappointing and shallow analysis of contemporary China. The book suffers from an overly simplistic western narrative that fails to capture the complexities of Xi Jinping’s leadership and the country’s socio-political dynamics. Dams’ writing is marred by numerous generalisations and lacks the depth needed for a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Furthermore, the book’s structure is disjointed, making it difficult to follow the author’s argument coherently. Overall, “De nieuwe Keizer” falls short of providing valuable insights and instead presents a superficial overview that leaves much to be desired.

·  Gao village Revisited: Whither Rural China by Gāo Mòbō 高默波   (2019)
– Rating: 9.4
This book is an exceptional and deeply insightful continuation of Gao’s exploration of rural Chinese life. This sequel to his earlier work, “Gao Village,” brilliantly captures the profound changes that have swept through rural China over the past two decades. Gao provides a rich, ethnographic account that is both personal and scholarly, illustrating the significant improvements in living standards, healthcare, and economic opportunities due to China’s rapid modernization and urban migration (Project MUSE) (Asian Review of Books).
Gao’s narrative is compelling, offering detailed profiles of villagers, from the wealthiest entrepreneurs to the humblest rubbish collectors, showcasing their resourcefulness and adaptability. His ability to present these stories with empathy and depth highlights the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of rural Chinese communities (Project MUSE) (Walmart.com). The book not only updates readers on the drastic socio-economic transformations but also challenges preconceived notions about rural China, making it an indispensable resource for understanding contemporary Chinese society (Asian Review of Books).

Moreover, Gao’s work stands out for its balanced and nuanced perspective, acknowledging both the positive outcomes of economic reforms and the ongoing challenges faced by rural populations. This combination of rigorous analysis and vivid storytelling makes “Gao Village Revisited” a must-read for anyone interested in the dynamics of rural China and its future trajectory (Project MUSE) (Asian Review of Books).

·  Red China’s Green Revolution: Technological Innovation, Institutional Change, and Economic Development under the Commune by Joshua Eisenman (2019)
– Rating: 9
Joshua Eisenman’s “Red China’s Green Revolution” offers a compelling reevaluation of the Mao-era commune system, arguing that it significantly boosted agricultural productivity and laid the groundwork for China’s later economic boom. Eisenman meticulously supports his thesis with previously inaccessible data and a detailed analysis of technological and institutional changes. Goodreads reviewers appreciate the book’s thorough research and fresh perspective, although some note that the heavy reliance on statistical data from the Maoist period could be seen as a limitation. Overall, this work enriches our understanding of China’s complex economic history and is praised for its depth and systematic approach (Project MUSE), Goodreads, Amazon, and Columbia University Press.

·  The silk road trap  by Jonathan Holslag (2017) 
Rating: – 9
Jonathan Holslag’s “The Silk Road Trap” is a disappointing foray into the geopolitics of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, lacking the nuance and depth needed to fully understand this complex issue. Holslag’s arguments are often reductive and fail to account for the multifaceted nature of international trade and diplomatic relations. The book is marred by a sensationalist tone that oversimplifies China’s ambitions and the European response, which detracts from any substantive analysis it might offer. Moreover, the reliance on fearmongering rather than evidence-based critique makes it difficult to take Holslag’s conclusions seriously. (The Earthbound Report) (Financial Times Adviser) (Goodreads)

·  China’s new normal by Pascal Coppens (2019)
– Rating: 9
“China’s New Normal” by Pascal Coppens offers an insightful and compelling analysis of China’s rapid advancement in innovation, positioning the country as a global leader in various technological domains. Coppens meticulously explores eight key industries, demonstrating how China’s approach to artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge technologies is reshaping these sectors in ways that often seem futuristic to Western observers. The book is lauded for its vivid storytelling and comprehensive coverage, making complex technological trends accessible and engaging. It has a revolutionary new layout style. Overall, it is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in understanding the profound impact of Chinese innovation on global markets and future technological landscapes (nexxworks) (www.storytel.com) (Pascal Coppens).

·  I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China by Ramin Mazaheri (2019)
– Rating: 9.2
“I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China” by Ramin Mazaheri is a thought-provoking critique of Western narratives on China, challenging prevailing misconceptions with meticulous research and incisive analysis. Mazaheri’s background as a journalist adds credibility and depth to his exploration of the historical and contemporary issues surrounding Western propaganda. The book’s engaging style and comprehensive coverage make it a compelling read for those seeking a deeper understanding of China’s socio-political landscape. This work stands out for its fresh perspective and urgency, encouraging readers to re-evaluate their views on modern China (CHINA RISING RADIO SINOLAND) (Readings Books) .

·  De eeuw van Xi   by Stefaan Blommaert (2019) 
Rating: – 2
“De eeuw van Xi” by Stefaan Blommaert, while offering an engaging narrative about China’s rise under Xi Jinping, often falls short of providing the deep analytical insights expected from such a topical subject. The book tends to read more like a travelogue with interesting interviews rather than a thorough examination of the geopolitical dynamics and the inner workings of the Chinese Communist Party, which are crucial for a comprehensive understanding of modern China (Bol) (Voor lezers. Door lezers.). Additionally, some readers may find the book lacking in originality, as it does not significantly differ from other works covering similar ground, and at times it appears somewhat superficial in its coverage (Bol). Despite these shortcomings, it serves as a decent introductory read for those new to the subject of China’s contemporary political landscape (Voor lezers. Door lezers.).

·  Big red book on China  by Jeff J. Brown (2020)
– Rating: 9.2
“Big Red Book on China” by Jeff J. Brown is an extensive and insightful exploration of China’s historical, cultural, and political landscape. Brown’s deep knowledge, accumulated over 16 years of living in China, shines through in his meticulous research and engaging narrative. The book is praised for its comprehensive A-Z reference format, covering a wide array of topics from governance and economy to technology and daily life, making it an invaluable resource for both newcomers and seasoned China watchers. Brown’s personal anecdotes and vivid storytelling bring the subject matter to life, offering readers a nuanced perspective often missing in Western media. His ability to weave historical context with contemporary developments provides a holistic understanding of China’s evolution and its global impact. The inclusion of lesser-known facts and cultural insights adds depth and richness to the reading experience. Overall, “Big Red Book on China” is an indispensable guide for anyone looking to gain a deeper, more informed understanding of this complex and rapidly changing nation (CHINA RISING RADIO SINOLAND) .

·  The Cambridge History of China  by J John King Fairbank (2020) 
Rating: -7.5
“The Cambridge History of China,” edited by John King Fairbank, is an expansive and detailed work, but it suffers from several critical issues. The primary critique is that its dense and scholarly approach makes it inaccessible to general readers who lack a specialized background in Chinese history, thereby limiting its audience significantly (Cambridge) (Wikipedia). Additionally, the multi-author format, while providing diverse perspectives, often results in inconsistent writing styles and uneven coverage of topics, making the narrative feel disjointed at times (Cambridge). Furthermore, despite its comprehensive nature, the book has been criticized for underrepresenting certain periods and aspects of Chinese history, which could leave readers with a skewed understanding of the subject matter (Wikipedia).

·  Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy  by Kishore Mahbubani (2020)
– Rating: 8.8
 provides a nuanced and thought-provoking analysis of the current geopolitical dynamics between China and the United States. Mahbubani effectively highlights the strategic missteps and misconceptions on both sides, advocating for a more realistic and cooperative approach to their rivalry (The National Interest) (International Affairs). His deep insights into Chinese governance and the comparative analysis of Western and Chinese political values offer a fresh perspective, though some of his assertions may be contentious and provoke debate among readers (Kishore Mahbubani). Overall, the book serves as a compelling call for greater understanding and mutual respect between the two superpowers.

·  The Xinjiang Papers  by Adrian Zenz  (2021)
– Rating: -9.8
is a deeply problematic work that leans heavily on sensationalism and lacks rigorous academic scrutiny. The book’s reliance on “leaked” documents of dubious authenticity raises serious questions about its credibility and methodology. Zenz’s narrative is heavily biased, presenting an alarmist view that fails to consider any context or nuance regarding China’s policies in Xinjiang. His approach to interpreting the documents often seems aimed more at confirming pre-existing prejudices than at providing an objective analysis. Overall, “The Xinjiang Papers” reads more like propaganda than a serious investigative work, undermining its reliability and scholarly value. (Internet Archive) (Rusi) (Polygraph.info) (Uyghur Tribunal).

·  Has China devised a superior path to wealth creation ? The Role of Secular Values.
by Charles Hampden-Turner, Peter Peverelli and Fons Trompenaars (2022)
– Rating: 9
offers a profound and insightful analysis of China’s economic ascent. The book meticulously employs the 7-Dimension model of national cultures to explain why China is outperforming many Western economies in wealth creation (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). It challenges the prevalent negative Western media narrative, highlighting China’s impressive achievements such as leading global patent applications and sustaining positive GDP growth during the COVID-19 pandemic (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). By combining theoretical rigor with practical examples, the authors convincingly argue that China’s success is deeply rooted in its unique cultural and secular values. This compelling read not only broadens our understanding of global economic dynamics but also serves as an essential resource for anyone interested in cross-cultural business practices (Cambridge Scholars Publishing). This is a purely academic book that delivers a well-founded message. It does make the text a little more difficult to access for the average reader. For further insights, you can read the full review on Cambridge Scholars Publishing here

·  China after Mao: The rise of a superpower by Frank Dikötter (2022)
– Rating: – 9.5
“China After Mao: The Rise of a Superpower” is a highly flawed account that lacks balance and nuance. The book’s relentless focus on failures and repression ignores significant economic and social advancements, resulting in a misleading portrayal of China’s progress. Dikötter’s emphasis on palace intrigue and conspiracies detracts from serious academic discussion, offering a one-dimensional view instead. His dismissal of China’s economic achievements as illusions undermines the experiences of millions lifted out of poverty. Overall, the work reads more like a polemic than a rigorous historical analysis, leaving readers with an overly negative perspective on China’s recent history. (Bloomsbury) (Barnes & Noble) (Pacific Affairs (UBC Journal).

·  Can We Trust China?” by Pascal Coppens (2022)
– Rating: 9.1
offers a nuanced and insightful analysis of China’s rise and its global implications. Coppens uses his extensive experience to explore Chinese societal norms and business practices, moving beyond common stereotypes. While some readers might find the depth of detail challenging, the book provides a valuable and comprehensive perspective on China’s evolving role in the world. Overall, Coppens encourages a balanced view, urging readers to understand the complexities of China’s growing influence (Barnes & Noble) (OverDrive).

·  Why China Leads the World. Talent at the top, data in the middle, democracy at the Bottom.  by Godfree Roberts (2021)
– Rating: 9.5  
This book is a masterpiece, a must-read, a profound analysis that showcases the author’s deep expertise in Chinese culture and political systems. Roberts meticulously explains how China’s strategic focus on talent, data, and grassroots democracy has propelled it to global leadership. His comprehensive research and clear presentation of data and case studies provide a compelling narrative that challenges Western preconceptions. The book is particularly notable for its detailed examination of China’s grassroots political engagement, offering readers a rare glimpse into the mechanisms driving China’s success. Roberts’ work is an indispensable resource for understanding the intricacies of China’s ascent on the world stage. If there’s one single book that I have to recommend, then it is this one. It got very high appreciation scores at (Amazon) and at (Goodreads)

·  Statecraft and Society in China (ed. 2022) by Frans Vandenbosch 方腾波
– Rating: 9.3
This is my own book. The review here below is not written by me.
This is a masterful exploration of Chinese culture and politics, showcasing the author’s profound and genuine knowledge. It is a remarkable exploration of Chinese grassroots politics, offering an in-depth and authentic portrayal of the complexities within Chinese society. The author’s extensive experience and deep understanding of the subject matter shine through, providing readers with a unique insight into how local neighbourhood committees and grassroots movements contribute to a harmonious society in China.

The book meticulously dismantles common Western misconceptions, revealing the dynamic and participatory nature of Chinese governance at the local level.  A detailed analysis demonstrates how ordinary Chinese citizens engage in politics, and how their concerns and issues influence new legislation. His writing, while direct, is both passionate and scientifically accurate, making the book a compelling read for anyone seeking to understand the true workings of Chinese statecraft. “Statecraft and Society in China” stands out as a significant and unique contribution to the field, providing a well-rounded and richly detailed perspective that is often missing from Western narratives.

Furthermore, the book’s in-depth analysis of the Chinese political system and its historical and cultural contexts makes it an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the complexities of Chinese society. The clarity and rigor with which Vandenbosch writes ensure that this work is both accessible and highly informative, cementing its place as a crucial resource for scholars and general readers alike​ (CHINA RISING RADIO SINOLAND)​​ (Barnes & Noble)​​ (AbeBooks)​.
For more information or to purchase the book, you can visit the Yellowlion website

I have more than a dozen other, very interesting books at my to-read list. The “landscape” of non-fiction books about Chinese culture, politics, economy and society is changing very fast.

Enjoy reading !

I am looking forward to your comments.