Non-guidebooks, either about China, or by Chinese writers.


The Travels of Marco Polo
by Marco Polo - the Venetian traveler's stories in the Middle Kingdom see also: On the trail of Marco Polo
Dialogues Tibetan Dialogues Han
by Hannü ISBN 9789889799939 - Tibet through the Tibetans with a Han traveler


The Good Earth
by Pearl S. Buck - The classic tale of Chinese peasant life at the turn of the twentieth century, by the author who kindled the American public's interest in China in the 1930's. Ms. Buck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 for the body of her work about China.
Winter Stars
by Beatrice Lao ISBN 988979991X - a collection of poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
三国演义 - the classic Chinese novel of the heroic deeds of the generals and leaders of the three kingdoms following the collapse of the Han dynasty. Noted for its details of cunning military and political strategies. One of the Four Great Classics. It continues to inspire films, TV series, comics, and video games throughout East Asia.
Water Margin
or Outlaws of the Marsh 水浒传 - a Song Dynasty tale of bandits living in the Huai River Valley who fight against the corrupt government. Noted for the rebellious nature of its main characters against an established order. It's the Chinese version of "sticking it to the man". One of the Four Great Classics.
Journey to the West
西游记 - perhaps the most famous Chinese novel, a fantasy account of Xuan Zang's Tang Dynasty journey to retrieve sacred Buddhist texts with the aid of the monkey king Sun Wukong, the gluttonous Zhu Bajie and dependable Sha Wujing. Noted for its extremely creative fantasies and adventures. One of the Four Great Classics.
Dream of the Red Chamber
红楼梦 also known as The Story of the Stone Penguin Classics, 5 volumes- a lively account of aristocratic life in the Qing dynasty told through the stories of three powerful families. Noted for its extremely accurate portrayal of Chinese aristocrats and the work is often regarded as the zenith of Chinese literature. One of the Four Great Classics.


Twilight in The Forbidden City
by R.F. Johnston ISBN 0968045952 Also available in Kindle Edition. As the British-born Tutor to the Dragon Emperor, Johnston was the only foreigner in history to be allowed inside the inner court of the Qing Dynasty. Johnston carried high imperial titles and lived in both the Forbidden City and the New Summer Palace. Twilight in the Forbidden City reflects his eyewitness accounts of the memorable events of the time.
The Search for Modern China
by Jonathan Spence - a renowned book written by a Yale professor about Chinese history since 1644.
1587, A Year of No Significance
by Ray Huang - describes an uneventful year in the history of Ming Dynasty China. Its Chinese edition is one of the most well known history books on this period.
China: A New History
by John K. Fairbank - the last book of a prominent American academic that helped shape modern Sinology.
The Cambridge History of China
ongoing series of books published by Cambridge University Press covering the early and modern history of China. This is the largest and most comprehensive history of China in the English language.
The Open Empire: A History of China to 1600
by Valerie Hansen - presents in colorful detail the history, culture, and socio-economic development of China from the Shang period to the Ming.
1421, The Year China Discovered the World
by Gavin Menzies ISBN 0553815229 - well known but well contested account of China's alleged efforts to explore and map the entire world. Interestingly, this book which suggests that Chinese first discovered the New World is largely denounced as fictional by Chinese academics.
The Sextants of Beijing
by Joanna Waley-Cohen - a book that summarizes recent thinking on how China was much more open and less xenophobic than often assumed.
Red Star Over China
by Edgar Snow- recounts the months that he spent with the Chinese Red Army in the summer and fall of 1936.
The Rape of Nanking
by Iris Chang ISBN 0140277447 - the forgotten Holocaust in WWII
The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe
by John Rabe - firsthand description of the sadistic rapes, torture and slaughter perpetrated by Japanese soldiers in WWII and Rabe's ultimate success in saving perhaps a quarter of a million lives
Wild Swans
by Jung Chang ISBN 0007176155 - a biography of three generations, from the warlord days to the end of Mao's era, illustrating life under China's version of nationalism and communism banned in China
Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now
by Jan Wong, a reporter for the Globe and Mail of Toronto, Canada. The book describes her experiences as one of the first foreign exchange students to study in China after the Cultural Revolution and her life and experiences as a reporter in China until the mid 1990s.
Dynasties and capitals

Many cites have served as the capital of China, or of various smaller states in periods when China was divided. Beijing and Nanjing mean northern capital and southern capital respectively; each has been the capital several times.

Legend has it that the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 sānhuáng wǔdì, who were mythical God-like kings, ruled China from about 2852 BCE to 2205 BCE.

The Xia dynasty 夏朝 Xià cháo is said to have ruled the Yellow River valley area from about 2100 BCE to 1600 BCE, though some experts consider this period more legend than history. However, archaeological evidence at Erlitou has shown that at the very least, an early Bronze Age civilization had already developed by that period.

The first historically confirmed dynasty, the Shang 商朝 Shāng cháo, 1700-1027 BCE, ruled only the Yellow River valley and had their capital near Anyang in Henan. Written Chinese characters began to develop during this time, as evidenced by court records carved on turtle and cattle bones.

The Zhou Dynasty 周朝 Zhōu cháo, 1027-221 BCE, had their first capital at Hao near modern Xi'an. After a military defeat in 771 BCE, they continued as the Eastern Zhou with capital Luoyang. The Zhou is the longest dynasty in Chinese history, lasting about 800 years. However, the Eastern Zhou was a period of political turmoil with various feudal lords vying for power, culminating in the Spring and Autumn Period 春秋时代 chūnqiū shídài, during which prominent Chinese philosophers like Confucius and Laozi lived, but later stabilized into seven large states during the Warring States period 战国时代 zhànguó shídài.

The Qin Dynasty 秦朝 Qín cháo, 221-206 BCE was established when King Ying Zheng of Qin defeated the Zhou and the six other feudal states, and became the first ruler to unite an area anything like all of China. The empire thus united, Ying Zheng took a new title: Qin Shi Huangdi - the First August Emperor of Qin. The Qin were the first introduce a centralized system of government for all of China. Their capital was at Xianyang, near modern Xi'an. Our word "China," and the word "Chin" in languages of India, probably comes from their name.

The Han Dynasty 汉朝 Hàn cháo, 206-220 CE, had its capitals at Chang'an near modern Xi'an Western Han and Luoyang Eastern Han. This was the period of the first Silk Road trade, was also the period when paper was invented. Chinese still use Han as the name of their largest ethnic group and Chinese characters are still called "hànzì" 汉字 in Chinese, with similar cognates in Korean and Japanese. The Han is considered by most Chinese to be the first golden age in Chinese civilization.

The fall of the Han Dynasty saw China split into the three states of Wèi 魏, Shǔ 蜀 and Wú 吴, known collectively as the Three Kingdoms 三国 sān guó. Despite lasting for only about 60 years, it is a greatly romanticized period of Chinese history. The capitals of the three states were at Luoyang, Chengdu and Nanjing respectively.

The Jin Dynasty 晋朝 Jìn cháo, briefly re-unified China from 280-317. Though they continued to exist until 420, they only controlled a small area for most of the period. During the unified period, the capital was at Luoyang and later Chang'an.

From 317-581, China was divided. Capitals of various important states included Luoyang, Nanjing and Suzhou.

The short-lived Sui Dynasty 隋朝 Suí cháo, 581-618, managed to re-unify China. It had its capital at Chang'an. The dynasty embarked on major public works projects including the Grand Canal but bankrupted the through massive military campaigns in Korea.

The Tang Dynasty 唐朝 Táng cháo, 618-907, had its capitals at Chang'an and Luoyang. This was the golden age of Chinese poetry, Buddhism and statecraft. It saw the development of the imperial examination system, which attempted to select officials by ability rather than family background. The Tang is considered by most Chinese to be the second golden age in Chinese civilization, and Chinatowns overseas are often known as "Street of the Tang People" 唐人街 Tángrén jiē in Chinese.

China was then divided once again for about fifty years, during which it was under then control of several small short-lived states. The capitals of the various states include Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Yangzhou, Changsha and many others.

The Song dynasty 宋朝 Sòng cháo, 960-1279, again united most of China and had its capital at Kaifeng until it fell to the Jurchens. The Song moved the capital to Nanjing and later to Hangzhou. Eventually, the Mongols defeated the Jurchens and proceeded to conquer the Song empire. Although militarily weak, the Song reached a level of commercial and economic development unmatched until the West's Industrial Revolution. Marco Polo, who was in Hangzhou a few years after the Mongol conquest, describes it as one of the richest and most beautiful cities on Earth. The Jurchen Jin Dynasty maintained a capital at modern-day Beijing.

The Yuan Mongol dynasty 元朝 Yuán cháo, 1279-1368, used the area that is now Beijing as their capital. Polo mentions it under the name Canbulac, the Khan's camp.

The Ming dynasty 明朝 Míng cháo, 1368-1644, initially had Nanjing as their capital then moved the capital to Beijing. They built many of Beijing's famous buildings including the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Several of the most famous Chinese novels including "Journey to The West" 西游记 Xīyóujì, "Water Margin" 水浒传 shuǐhǔzhuàn and "Romance of The Three Kingdoms" 三国演义 Sānguóyǎnyì were written during this period.

The Qing Manchu dynasty 清朝 Qīng cháo, 1644-1911, used Beijing as the capital of China but they had their own Manchu capital at Shenyang. The famous Chinese novel, "Dream of the Red Chamber" 红楼梦 Hónglóumèng was written during this period. The Chinese empire grew to its current geographical size largely during this period.

The Republic of China 中华民国 Zhōnghuá Mínguó, which ruled from 1911 to 1949, moved the capital back to Nanjing. Since retreating from the mainland in 1949, they have controlled Taiwan and a few small islands off the coast of Fujian. Taipei is their "temporary capital". During the Second World War, Chongqing was also a temporary capital.

Beijing has been the capital of the People's Republic of China 中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó since the Communist victory in the civil war in 1949.


Bernardo Bertolucci - The Last Emperor 1987

Zhang Yimou - Raise the Red Lantern 1991

Chen Kaige - Farewell My Concubine 1993

Zhang Yimou - To Live 1994

Wu Ziniu - Don't Cry, Nanking 1995

Zhang Yimou - Keep cool 1997

Xie Jin - The Opium War 1997

Zhang Yang - Shower 1999

Feng Xiao Gang - Sorry Baby 1999

Zhang Yimou - Not one less 1999

Xiaoshuai Wang – Beijing bicycle 2001

Zhang Yimou - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles 2005

Gianni Amelio - La stella che non c’è or The Missing Star 2006

Zhang Yuan - Little Red Flowers 2006

Daniel Lee - Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon 2008

Roger Spottiswoode - The Children of Huangshi 2008

Wu Tianming - The King of Masks 1996


China is a one-party authoritarian state tightly ruled by the Communist Party of China. China has actually only experienced one open nation-wide election, in 1912. The government consists of an executive branch known as the State Council 国务院 Guó Wù Yuàn, as well as a unicameral legislature known as the National People's Congress 全国人民代表大会 Quánguó Rénmín Dàibiǎo Dàhuì. The Head of State is the President 主席 zhǔxí, lit chairman while the Head of Government is the Premier 总理 zǒnglǐ. In practice, while neither one holds absolute power, the President holds the most power, while the Premier is the second most powerful person in the country.

China largely follows a centralized system of government, though the country is administratively divided into 22 provinces, 5 autonomous regions and 4 directly-controlled municipalities. Each of the provincial governments is given limited powers in the internal, often economic, affairs of their provinces. Autonomous regions are supposedly given more freedom than regular provinces, one valid example of which is the right to declare additional official languages in the region besides Mandarin. In addition, there are the Special Administrative Regions SAR of Hong Kong and Macau, both of which have separate legal systems and immigration departments from the mainland, and are given the freedom to enact laws separately from the mainland. Their political systems are more open and democratic in nature. Taiwan is also claimed by the PRC as a province, though no part of Taiwan is currently under the control of the PRC. Both governments support re-unification in principle and recently signed a trade pact to closer link their economies, essentially removing the danger of war.