Twentieth Century China

Subject Guides Books Reading Lists Twentieth Century China

From the Second Sino-Japanese War to the Cultural Revolution.

Historical fiction set in 20th century China, selected by Forbes Library Staff. Summaries from ContentCafe, NoveList, Wikipedia, March 2011

  • The Good Earth
    by Pearl S. Buck
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, set in early twentieth century China, tells the story of Wang Lung, a peasant who rises from poverty to become a rich landowner with the aid of his patient wife
  • Women of the Silk
    by Gail Tsukiyama
    Spanning the years between the world wars, this tale of a young Chinese girl forced to work in a silk factory describes the sisterhood of workers she discovers there.
  • When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Christopher Banks, an English boy born in early-20th-century Shanghai, is orphaned at age nine when both his mother and father disappear under suspicious circumstances. He grows up to become a renowned detective, and more than 20 years later, returns to Shanghai to solve the mystery of the disappearances.
  • The Middle Heart by Bette Bao Lord
    In 1932, as Japan conquers Manchuria, three young people--the master of a noble clan, his servant, and a gravedigger's daughter disguised as a boy--form a passionate alliance that is challenged and tested through the years as they become a political leader, a writer, and a great actress.
  • Fragrant Harbor
    by John Lanchester
    Follows Tom Stewart, a young Englishman, as he arrives in Hong Kong in 1935 from the intrigue of the 1930s through the Japanese occupation to the present day, sharing a story of forbidden love and ultimate redemption.
  • Tree of Heaven by R.C. Binstock
    Binstock draws a sensitive portrait of a Japanese scholar, Kuroda. In 1938, during the war with Japan, Kuroda has enlisted in the army because his father, shames him into doing so. While in the army, he prevents the rape of Li, a Chinese doctor's daughter; it is this rescue that begins the short-lived but emotional bonding of two enemies that challenges readers' senses.
  • Wild Ginger by Anchee Min
    A story of desire during the time of the Cultural Revolution follows Wild Ginger, who becomes a national model for Maoism, which prohibits romantic love, forcing her to make a difficult decision when she falls in love with a young man.
  • Becoming Madame Mao by Anchee Min
    A fictional portrait of Jiang Ching follows her life from her youth as the unwanted daughter of a concubine, to her search for fame as an actress in Shanghai, to her marriage to revolutionary Mao Zedong, to her role in the turbulent Communist rule of China.
  • White Ghost Girls by Alice Greenway
    The children of a war-photographer father and beautiful but remote mother, Frankie and Kate, two American sisters, grow up in Hong Kong during the turmoil of the Maoist revolution of the late 1960s.
  • The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
    In 1979 Muddy River, a provincial Chinese city, the Gu family struggles to deal with the imminent loss of their daughter, Gu Shan, about to be executed as a counterrevolutionary, while their neighbors deal with the realities of life in China.
  • War Trash by Ha Jin
    Captured by enemy forces, Yu Yuan, a Chinese army officer serving in Korea in 1951, takes on the role of interpreter due to his proficiency in English, a role that places him in a conflict between his fellow prisoners and their captors.
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
    During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, two boys are sent to the country for reeducation, where their lives take an unexpected turn when they meet the beautiful daughter of a local tailor and stumble upon a forbidden stash of Western literature.
  • In the Pond: a novel by Ha Jin
    This novel, which has been compared with Solzhenytsin, details life in the small factory town of Dismount Fort in northern China through the eyes of Shao Bin, a worker at the Harvest Fertilizer plant.

Category: Reading Lists, Historical Fiction

Page last changed: September 22, 2012, at 12:18 PM EST.