The Hutong Gets Literary Fever: Our Favorite China Books!

The Bookworm Literary Festival is in full swing and will continue until the end of March. The festival has been a cornerstone of the Beijing expatriate cultural calendar for almost a decade and it’s a favorite among The Hutong staff as well.  Since our thoughts have turned literary this month, we thought we’d share our favorite China books. These are the authors and books which captured our imagination about China as well as those books that uncover little-known corners of China’s contemporary society and rich history.

Brave Dragons



Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing by Jim Yardley. Interesting narrative that follows the story of former NBA head coach Bob Weiss during his first two years behind the reins of the CBA’s Shanxi Brave Dragons. Includes engaging accounts of basketball’s initial entrance into Chinese consciousness, as well as the influence that basketball (and more specifically, the NBA) has in modern China.

 – Ben Kalman, Corporate Programs Coordinator


The Last Days of Old Beijing



The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City by Michael Meyer. This is a must read for anyone living in Beijing and interested in the history and current situation of hutong housing. Meyer settles down in the area of Dashilar and gives the reader a glimpse of a way of life that has all but vanished in the capital.

– Jeffrey Schwab, Education Programs Coordinator

(Note: Michael Meyer will be a speaker at this year’s literary festival promoting his latest book In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China.)


Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom



Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War by Stephen Platt. Highly readable account of the Taiping Rebellion which devastated the central provinces of the Qing Empire and was the defining event of China’s long 19th century. Well-researched but never turgid, Platt has a lively style which will appeal to both hardcore history buffs and general readers alike.

– Jeremiah Jenne, Executive Director


The Party



The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers by Richard McGregor. Former Beijing Financial Times correspondent Richard McGregor’s book is an eye-opening investigation into China’s Communist Party and the integral role it has played in the country’s rise as a global superpower and rival to the United States. Many books have examined China’s economic rise, human rights record, turbulent history, and relations with the U.S; none until now, however, have tackled the issue central to understanding all of these issues: how the ruling communist government works. The Party delves deeply into China’s secretive political machine.

– Joe Wood, Director of Corporate Programs


Red Dust



Red Dust: A Path through China by Ma Jian. I first picked up this book when I was a student in Edinburgh and it’s what sparked my interest in China. One of the great travelogues, it has been described by one reviewer as “part Matsuo Basho, part Jung Chang, part allegory.” In 1983, with his life in shambles, Ma Jian begins an epic journey through the back roads of his home country.

– Josh Kernan, Director of Education Programs


Midnight in Peking



Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French. A true story about the horrific murder of a young expat girl in the late 1930’s of old Beijing, this story still haunts me but I love recommending it to everyone I know. It’s one of those books you just can’t put down (I think I read the whole thing in 48 hours). The book begins with the discovery of her dead, mutilated body found at the base of a haunted watchtower and the conclusions of her autopsy, so the scariest part is pretty much over after the first chapter, but it really draws its readers deep into the twisted plot of this story as the murder mystery unfolds. While offering fresh insights into pre-war Peking, it’s incredible to learn about how Beijing’s network of alleys that surrounded the privileged and exclusive Legation Quarter was a seedy mix of brothels, dive bars and opium dens. In this tragic quest for justice, you have to just remind yourself that this isn’t fiction.

– Kristen Lum, Education & Corporate Cheerleader

Genghis Khan



Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford, if mostly for the fact we tend to think of Genghis Khan and the Mongols as pillaging barbarians, when in fact he was a brilliant leader whose conquests enabled civilization to flourish for centuries.

– Morgan O’Hara, Managing Khan