Here are a few suggested books about China that might prove enjoyable and informative. Perhaps bring your Kindle, Nook, or other mobile reader and enjoy on the plane?
Chang, Jung. Wild Swans (2003) – From Amazon.com: “In Wild Swans Jung Chang recounts the evocative, unsettling, and insistently gripping story of how three generations of women in her family fared in the political maelstrom of China during the 20th century. Chang’s grandmother was a warlord’s concubine. Her gently raised mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao’s revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the Communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. Born just a few decades apart, their lives overlap with the end of the warlords’ regime and overthrow of the Japanese occupation, violent struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists to carve up China, and, most poignant for the author, the vicious cycle of purges orchestrated by Chairman Mao that discredited and crushed millions of people, including her parents.”
Rob Gifford, China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power (2008) – From Booklist: “National Public Radio China correspondent Gifford journeyed for six weeks on China’s Mother Road, Route 312, from its beginning in Shanghai for nearly 3,000 miles to a tiny town in what used to be known as Turkestan. The route picks up the old Silk Road, which runs through the Gobi Desert to Central Asia to Persia and on to Europe. Along the way, Gifford meets entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on China’s growing economy, citizens angry and frustrated with government corruption, older people alarmed at changes in Chinese culture and morality, and young people uncertain and excited about the future. Gifford profiles ordinary Chinese people coping with tumultuous change as development and commerce shrink a vast geography, bringing teeming cities and tiny towns into closer commercial and cultural proximity; the lure of wealth is changing the Chinese character and sense of shared experience, even if it was common poverty. Gifford notes an aggressive sense of competition in the man-eat-man atmosphere of a nation that is likely to be the next global superpower.”
Fallows, Deborah. Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language (2011). From Booklist: “Fallows manages to take the relatively dry subject of translation and create a warm and witty memoir. Dwelling less on her own feelings then on the intricacies of language mastery, she shares experiences after she and her husband moved to China that taught her just how complex Mandarin can be. Such as the fact that there are 400 syllables in Mandarin as opposed to 10 times that number in English, making tone crucial in conversation. Fallows makes all this fascinating by writing in a thoroughly engaging manner that not only invites readers into her experiences, but also delights them with her discoveries. There is confusion with a Cantonese cab driver, the manicurist who envisioned “almost perfect happiness,” and the employee at Taco Bell who thought Fallows wanted to hug him (she was inquiring about takeout). From observations about maps, naming children, and the struggle over one language for a nation where over 300 million speak something other than Mandarin, Fallows takes readers on a ride through Chinese culture that is as entertaining as it is informative.”
Hessler, Peter.River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (2006) – From Amazon.com: “In the heart of China’s Sichuan province, amid the terraced hills of the Yangtze River valley, lies the remote town of Fuling. Like many other small cities in this ever-evolving country, Fuling is heading down a new path of change and growth, which came into remarkably sharp focus when Peter Hessler arrived as a Peace Corps volunteer, marking the first time in more than half a century that the city had an American resident. Hessler taught English and American literature at the local college, but it was his students who taught him about the complex processes of understanding that take place when one is immersed in a radically different society . . . Poignant, thoughtful, funny, and enormously compelling, River Town is an unforgettable portrait of a city that is seeking to understand both what it was and what it someday will be.”
Hessler, Peter. Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (2010) – From Amazon.com: “A century ago, outsiders saw China as a place where nothing ever changes. Today the country has become one of the most dynamic regions on earth. In Oracle Bones, Peter Hessler explores the human side of China’s transformation, viewing modern-day China and its growing links to the Western world through the lives of a handful of ordinary people. In a narrative that gracefully moves between the ancient and the present, the East and the West, Hessler captures the soul of a country that is undergoing a momentous change before our eyes.”
Hessler, Peter. Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip (2011) – From Amazon.com: “There is, as everyone knows, no place in the world changing as fast, and at such scale, as China. Accounts of the upheaval can be breathless and even alarming, but Peter Hessler is the calmest and most companionable of correspondents. In his reporting for the New Yorker and in his books River Town, Oracle Bones, and now the superb Country Driving, he’s observed the past 15 years of change with the patience and perspective–and necessary good humor–of an outsider who expects to be there for a while. In Country Driving, Hessler takes to the roads, as so many Chinese are doing now for the first time, driving on dirt tracks to the desert edges of the ancient empire and on brand-new highways to the mushrooming factory towns of the globalized boom. He’s modest but intrepid–having taken to heart the national philosophy that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission–and an utterly enjoyable guide, with a humane and empathetic eye for the ambitions, the failures, and the comedy of a country in which everybody, it seems, is on the move, and no one is quite sure of the rules.”