Year of the Dragon

Readings that explore China in an era of change.

Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China

By Philip P. Pan

Pan, former Beijing Bureau chief for the Washington Post, looks beneath China’s flourishing economy to examine the dark underside of its growing wealth. Published two months before the 2008 Summer Olympics, the harrowing account debunks popular myths about China in the 21st century. From the unmarked graves  in Chongqing housing the dead of the Cultural Revolution to the funeral of a politician who supported the Tiananmen protesters, Pan visits the places that the Chinese government would rather forget and finds a country simultaneously defined by and at odds with its past.

China in Ten Words

By Yu Hua

A “tiny lexicon” that seeks to capture the entirety of China in ten phrases, Yu Hua’s first work of nonfiction to be translated in English is revelatory  (he is also the author of the exuberant, bestselling novel  Brothers). “Disparity” addresses China’s income inequality, a threat to the “harmonious society” the country’s leaders boast of. In “Bamboozle,” he casts light on the rampant forgery, fraud, and chicanery that are becoming endemic as both rich and poor are motivated to ignore the law. And a century of sloganeering, propaganda, and censorship lend special meaning to “Grassroots,” “Leader,” and “Revolution.”

No Enemies, No Hatred

By Liu Xiaobo

As Liu Xiaobo was announced as the recipient of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, the writer languished in Jinzhou Prison, serving an eleven-year sentence for “incitement to subvert state power.” The title of this collection of essays and poems is taken from his saint-like plea for mercy — included here —  toward those who interrogated, indicted, and imprisoned him. Whether addressing peasant land disputes or internet censorship, Liu serenely calls on common sense and decency, and asks us to appreciated freedoms too easily taken for granted. Keep an eye out for his collection of poems, June Fourth Elegies, arriving  in April.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

By Jung Chang

Jung Chang examines three generations of women in China — her grandmother, her mother, and herself — and documents the staggering change the country has undergone over the course of their three lives. Her grandmother had been a warlord’s concubine with bound feet; Chang’s mother became a loyal Communist, only to run afoul of  the Cultural Revolution. And Chang herself became a member of the Red Guard that wreaked havoc during that period, before fleeing the country in 1978.  The author translates her family history of suffering and endurance into a panoramic, irresistible story.


By Ha Jin

This National Book Award-winning novel follows a young doctor, Lin Kong, as he tries desperately to secure a divorce from the wife chosen for him by his parents, so that he can marry the woman he loves. But the burdens of obligation to family and the onus placed on adultery by the Party force him to hang suspended in a state of purgatorial stasis, unable to love, unable to let go. Ha Jin crafts a gorgeous allegory about Party ideology, Chinese culture, and the toll both exact from the human spirit.