For me, reading novels is not only reading a nice story, but in the best case I will also learn something about culture, history, politics… Especially Chinese novels can teach you a lot of things about China. So I looked at my bookshelf, and picked some of my favorite books for introducing them to you. They are all available in English and German translation, so no worries about not knowing enough Chinese.
The style is generally very different from what we are used to read. Chinese stories often don’t have a happy ending or sometimes the whole book can be just one big depression after the other, but it still might be worth reading. It can also be that you cannot identify with the main character of the story (which, of course, can also happen in western novels). Quite often authors use their stories to write down their experiences, political views. This can either be humoristic or really depressing. This is one of my most favorite novels ever: “Brothers (2005)” by Yu Hua (余华)! The story is about two brothers, who live through the Cultural Revolution together, lose their parents and couldn’t be more different. A lot of funny stuff happens while they grow up, but be careful, sometimes is really violent and sad! I recommend this book because you can learn a lot about Chinese history while being entertained by a good story.
I made the experience that quite often in Chinese novels a lot of stuff is NOT happening and what is happening happens so slowly, that you don’t really notice. Ba Jin’s (巴金) novel “Cold Nights (1947)” (he’s a very famous Chinese writer) is the perfect example and still really worth reading. As a foreigner, you might not be able to understand why the protagonist is acting like he is acting, but this book is a great opportunity to learn about the feelings people had and the life they were leading before the founding of the People’s Republic.
As a third recommendation I have a novel from this year’s Nobel price winner Mo Yan (莫言) for you. I know “Red Sorghum (1987)” is his most famous book in the Western World (mainly because Zhang Yimou adapted it for a movie), but I prefer “The Garlic Ballads (1988)“. Chinese authors might have a different way of writing, but they definitely have great abilities in evoking a lot of images, smells and feelings in the readers mind and for me the Garlic Ballads are the perfect example for this kind of ability.
For those of you, who can also speak (and read) German or Chinese, I can also recommend Han Han’s (韩寒) books (Chinese), especially “1988: 我想和这个世界谈谈 (2010)” and Wang Shuo’s books (王朔, some available in English or German, all of them in Chinese and all are worth reading!).
Are you interested in learning Chinese to be able to read Chinese literature? Apply for an Internship in a Chinese company or for a home-stay and language classes: email@example.com or www.internchina.com
Today, we start our new mini-series.
We’re going to take turns at suggesting you different books (English and German) about China, to help you prepare for your internship or your travels, but also for people who just share a common interest in China!
Wild Swans (1991) by Jung Chang – One of the best known books about China, having sold over 13 million copies and claimed international recognition. It is a story of three generations of Chinese women in twentieth-century China, the author, her mother and her grandmother. It shows the clash of Communism with China’s deep-routed traditions, values and culture and the terror ensuing the Cultural Revolution. A very good read, which is more of a novel than a history, but a novel which will help you to understand China. If you enjoyed this, then her next piece (which she wrote with her husband) is also very exciting: Mao: The Unknown Story. More of a history book, it depicts Chairman Mao’s life. It has undergone a lot of scrutiny about how “factual” it is, and her interpretation of Mao is seen as having a strong negative bias, but it is still an interesting read!
China Road (2008) by Rob Gifford – Well worth a read for anyone interested in China. It tells the story of Gifford’s journey overland from Shanghai in the east, to China’s border with Kazazhastan in the north-west. It is a short, funny, and lively narrative, whilst being packed with insight into China and how it is changing. His adventure is explained through interviews with people he meets on the way – from prostitutes to Tibetan monks. He looks at China in a much more personal way, past China’s economic statistics and into the hearts of the people. Thoroughly recommended!
“Informative, delightful, and powerfully moving . . . Rob Gifford’s acute powers of observation, his sense of humor and adventure, and his determination to explore the wrenching dilemmas of China’s explosive development open readers’ eyes and reward their minds.”
–Robert A. Kapp, president, U.S.-China Business Council, 1994-2004
Lonely Planet (2011) or Rough Guide (2011): China – I have to say I am not sure which of these is better. Whichever you choose to go for it is a vital part of your luggage! Have a read through bits which interest you before you come and you should be able to be much more time efficient when you arrive – having an idea of what you want to see and do in China is very important; otherwise you might get swamped by the possibility of doing everything and may end up going nowhere! They also have little sections about China’s history and culture; very basic but also very interesting. They will give you a taste of what is to come. If nothing else, having a look through these before you leave will get you very excited about your trip.
Please feel free to swap out your own books, DVDs, and magazines at our station at Intern China. We have a small selection and we want it to grow. Please leave some and take some. If you take a book or DVD please return it after you are finished with it so that others can enjoy as well. Thank you:)
Check about About.com and what people have to say are the Top 13 Books to Read about China: Click Here!