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These recommendations are geared for the first or second-time visitor to China. They are a sampling only. Many fine books were deliberately omitted as they were too "dry" or too "deep". All of these recommendations can be found online, at your local bookstore, or possibly at your local library. The overwhelming majority are worth your time whether you plan a visit or not.


Wild Swans, Jung Chang (Doubleday, 1992) �This is nothing short of the history of 20th century China as told in the true stories of a grandmother, a mother , and a daughter. It is one of the best eyewitness-history books written about China and is a book to be read whether you ever set foot in China or not. (Banned in China until 2004)

The Chinese, Jasper Becker (Oxford University Press, 2002)�Becker explores the contrasts of modern China as only someone who has kicked around the country for the last twenty years can. His writing explodes many of the myths and western preconception. A great primer.

The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Zhisui Li (Random House, 1996) �From 1954 until Mao’s death in 1976, Dr. Li was Mao Zedong’s personal physician. This extraordinary tale is fascinating as it reveals a side of Mao unseen until the publication of this book. Do not bring this book with you on the trip however—it is banned in China.

Mao: The Untold Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Alfred A.Knopf <U.S.>, 2005) - The author of "Wild Swans" spent over ten years, with her husband, writing this account of the "Great Helmsman". It will never be characterized as "balanced" and won't  be available in China for a long, long time.

Hungry Ghosts, Jasper Becker (The Free Press, 1996) �The best English-language account of the disastrous Great Leap Forward and the Great Famine of 1958-1962 written by a reporter that really delves into the causes of the starvation, cannibalism, torture, and murder of Mao's social engineering

Mr. China, Tim Clissold (Harpers Collins Publishers, Inc., 2005) An absolutely hilarious account of what it was like doing business in China during the '90's. Could only have been written by a guy who suffered a massive heart-attack at the age of 38.

Wild Grass, Ian Johnson (Pantheon, 2004) �This well-written books uncovers 21st century China through the eyes of three people: a young Beijing architecture student, a peasant lawyer, and the bereaved daughter of a Falun Gong member. Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Red China Blues, Jan Wong (Anchor, reprint 1997) �This is a Canadian journalist’s account of her time in China from being a gung-ho foreign student in the Cultural Revolution to her coverage of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. It is well-written and humorous—a good read.

Mandate of Heaven, Orville Schell (Simon & Schuster, 1994) Written by one of the premier American "sinologists", the first half of the book is arguably the best portrayal of events before and after June 4, 1989 on Tiananmen Square. The second half is informative and well-written, but a little dated.

Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, Peter Hopkirk (U of M Press, 1980) Written by a former London Times reporter, this is the book for the story of the early Western explorations of the old Silk Road. Must reading for our Silk Road Adventure tour.

Trespassers on the Roof of the World Peter Hopkirk (Kodansha Global, reprint 1995) Hopkirk traces the various attempts to break Tibet's isolation from the outside world. Anything by Hopkirk is worth reading whether you visit or not.

The Search for Modern China, Jonathan D. Spence (W.W. Norton, 1990) �This 800-page monster covers Chinese history from for our the Ming Dynasty to the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989. This probably falls under the heading of “reference�book and consequently can be found in almost every library.

China-Blue Guide, Frances Wood, with Neil Taylor (A & C Black, 2001) �Far and away this is the best guidebook to China for its detailed coverage of the art, architecture, and history of China. Best to look this book over before you buy it as it is very detailed.

Lonely Planet-China, multiple authors (Lonely Planet Publications, 9th edition) �This is the consummate backpackers book. This latest edition is heads and shoulders above previous efforts. The sections on history, art, cuisine, and general sidebars about the country are well worth reading. Most of the sections that travelers buy the book for—hotels, restaurants, travel information—need to be taken with a grain of salt.

China Remembers, Calum MacLeod and Lijia Zhang (Oxford University Press, 1999) �An outstanding collection of stories and essays that illuminate the last 50 years of China. A fascinating read as the different periods come to life through the stories of real people.


The Last Emperor (Director: Bernardo Bertolucci, 1988) �The classic film of the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. If you’ve seen it already, see it again and pay close attention to the scenes of the Forbidden City.

The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993) �This film tells the story of one family, but really the story of China from 1953 to the beginning years of the Cultural Revolution. Whether you know anything of this period or not, this movie is the real deal. It has been banned in China and the director has been forbidden to work on the mainland. A must-see!

Raise the Red Lantern  (Zhang Yimou, 1992) â€?A film by China’s most famous director. Set in 1920’s China, it tells the story of a concubine, from the concubine's point-of-view. Our Many Faces of China  trip will visit the setting of this movie.

Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993) - Based on a true story, it is notable for both its depiction of Peking Opera and its attempt to show the history of post-Qing Dynasty China all the way up to the Cultural Revolution. Winner of many awards.

Big Shot's Funeral (Feng Xaiogang, 2002) - Starring Donald Sutherland, this satirical comedy perfectly encapsulates the crazy headlong rush to incorporate capitalism into China in the 1990's.

Beijing Bicycle (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001) - This movie is worth watching not so much for the story, (although it works on different levels) but for its ultra-realistic portrayal of China's urbanization and some great shots of Beijing.

Not One Less (Zhang Yimou, 1999) - The story of a young girl in a rural village assigned as a teacher. Zhang uses the real people not actors and the film is shot entirely on location. It reveals modern day life in rural China and is a great story to boot.

The Road Home (Zhang Yimou, 1999) - This is yet another tear-jerker from Zhang Yimou. The modern city business man returns to his home village to bury his father and in flashbacks, the story of how his mother and father met and fell in love is revealed.

The Joy Luck Club (Wayne Wang, 1993) - Amy Tan’s bestseller on the big screen. The story of four Chinese women and their daughters. Although a lot of the movie takes place in California, it is well worth seeing if you haven’t already.

The Silk Road (NHK & CCTV, 2000) â€?Over 10 years in the making and with a cost of over $50 million, this documentary was the first venture by China Central TV with the outside world. It traces the Chinese portion of the ancient Silk Road routes, and in addition offers some extremely rare glimpses into Chinese life immediately after the opening up in 1979. For those traveling on our  Silk Road Adventure tour, try to get your hands on this film!


You could literally spend days on the internet searching out sites about China. But you will rarely find anything that can compete with the books or films. Nevertheless, here are a few sites you may find of interest:

China Digital Times (http://journalism.berkeley.edu/projects/chinadn/en/) �One of the best sites for news, opinion, and analysis of current events in China. It not only picks up feeds from international papers, it also has links to the better China bloggers.

China Travel Service (www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/index.htm) �Although somewhat cleverly disguised as a travel agency’s website, this is actually the government’s website to promote tourism. It is jammed with information about almost anything about China you would want to know. However, as it is government controlled, take everything with a little grain of salt.

China Daily Although http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/) �This is the only English language daily on the mainland. As there is a high degree of censorship in Chinese journalism, it is not quite what a Westerner would expect from a daily rag. But it is a fairly comprehensive website and well constructed.

Peoples Daily (http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/) �This is the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. Great site to check out the latest take from the Party's view or if you want to see what George Orwell was talking about all those years ago.

Asia Times (http://www.atimes.com/) �This is an fairly reliable source for news and commentary about Asia in general and of the mainland. You can sometimes find "the story behind the story" at this site. Although it leans a little to the left (about 78 degrees), it still attracts and features some well-respected writers.

China Radio International (http://www.cri.com.cn/) �This is the government’s foreign language radio service, broadcast in many languages. However, its English service is by far the most popular, listened to by millions of Chinese. It is actually a good station, playing an eclectic mix of all types of music from all over the world. (It is also commercial free!) You can listen online and you really should give it a try.

Note: The media in China is strictly controlled. Here are some of the international newspapers that offer excellent coverage of the Chinese mainland and do not require a subscription; the New York Times, the Financial Times of London ,the Washington Post, the Straits Times, and the Guardian.


Here are some of our favorite China Blogs, in no particular order, along with a brief description of each.

EWSN derives its name from the manner in which the Chinese understand the points of the compass; east, west, south, north. The site is run by a statistician from Hong Kong. He does a great deal of translating from the mainland media and bulletin boards, unavailable anywhere else

Danwei is a multiple-poster blog that focuses on the media in China. This site along with EWSN must hold the record for being the most plagiarized by the government's English language newspapers.

Image Thief is written by an American PR guy here in Beijing. He offers hilarious and insightful commentary on events and issues in China.

Travel Insurance

Here are two websites (Insure My Trip and Complete Travel Insurance) that offer a multitude of travel insurance programs. It would be a good idea to consult a trustworthy travel agent.

We are very interested in your feedback about these recommendations. If you are so inclined, please email you comments at feedback@redmonkeytravel.com.

(rev 6/2009)