Summer reading list (2023)

Elaine Dunn | China Insight | May 2023

Summer vacation is just around the corner.  Whether you’ll just lounge on a deck chair or beach towel, or plan a China trip, if you like to read during your vacation, China Insight has compiled a few recent publications about China for you.

Author:  Tim Simpson
Publisher:  University of Minnesota Press
Publication date:  April 2028
Hardcover:  388 pagesTim Simpson is an associate professor of communications at the University of Macau.  His research focuses on Asian cities, Chinese tourism and consumption practices, gambling and ethnographic approaches to everyday life.“Betting on Macau” delves into the radical transformation of what was formerly the last remaining European territory in Asia, returned to the People’s Republic of China in 1999 after nearly half a millennium of Portuguese rule.  Examining the unprecedented scale of its development and its key role in China’s economic revolution, Simpson follows Macau’s emergence from historical obscurity to become the most profitable casino gaming locale in the world.Identified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and renowned for its unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese colonial-era architecture, contemporary Macau has metamorphosed into a surreal, hypermodern urban landscape augmented by massive casino megaresorts, including two of the world’s largest buildings.  Simpson situates Macau’s origins as a strategic trading port and its ensuing history alongside the emergence of the global capitalist system, charting the massive influx of foreign investment, construction, and tourism in the past two decades that helped generate the territory’s enormous wealth.Presented through a cross section of postcolonial studies and social theory with extensive insight into the global gambling industry, “Betting on Macau” uncovers the various roots of the territory’s lucrative casino capitalism.  In turn, its trenchant analysis provides a distinctive view into China’s broader project of urbanization, its post-Mao economic reforms, and the continued rise of its consumer culture.


Author:  Kai Jun Chuen
Publisher:  University of Washington Press
Publication date:  April 2023
Hardcover:  248 pages
Kai Jun Chen is assistant professor of East Asian studies at Brown University.  He specializes in the history of imperial institutions and his other publications are on the technical knowledge of making, circulation, and replication of luxuries from imperial China to the world.The exquisite ceramic ware produced at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory at Jingdezhen in southern China functioned as a kind of visual propaganda for the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court. Porcelain for the Emperor charts the career of bannerman Tang Ying, a technocrat in the porcelain industry, through the first half of the eighteenth century to uncover the wider role of specialist officials in producing the technological knowledge and distinctive artistic forms that were essential to cultural policies of the Chinese state. Through fiscal management, technical experimentation, and design, these imperial technocrats facilitated rationalized manufacturing in precapitalist and preindustrial society.Drawing on museum collections and firsthand archaeological evidence, as well as the voluminous Archive of the Imperial Workshops, this book contributes new insights to scholarship on global empires and the history of science and technology in China. Readers will learn how the imperial state’s intervention in industry left a lingering imprint on modern China through its modes of labor-intensive production, the division of domestic and foreign markets, and, above all, a technocratic culture of centralization.


Author:  Linda Jaivin
Publisher:  The Experiment
Publication date:  September 2021
Softcover:  288 pages
American-born Linda Jaivin is internationally published and writes extensively on China.  She undertook China studies at Brown University, moved to Taiwan in 1977 to deepen her understanding of Chinese culture and language.  In 1979, she moved to Hong Kong where she worked a number of publishing jobs.  She now lives in Australia.Her books include “The Monkey and the Dragon,” “Beijing,” “Found in Translation” and novels.  She has been translating from Chinese for more than 30 years.In “Shortest History,” Jaivin charts a path from China’s tribal origins through its storied imperial era and up to the modern Communist Party under Xi Jinping — including the rarely told story of women in China and the specters of corruption and disunity that continue to haunt the People’s Republic today.  A master storyteller and exacting historian, Jaivin distills this vast history into a short, riveting account that today’s globally minded readers will find indispensable.

Jaime FlorCruz, CNN’s Beijing Bureau chief described Jaivin’s book as “a gem … minimalist but immersive … Jaivin cleverly segues from ancient to contemporary, back and forth, always injecting novel insights and nuances while cleverly stitching together China’s meandering past.”


Author:  Megan Walsh
Publisher:  Columbia Global Reports
Publication date:  February 2022
Softcover:   136 pages
A brilliant young critic, Megan Walsh is a writer and arts journalist based in London.  Her interest in the Chinese arts began in 2004 when she lived in Beijing.  She eventually moved to China to “study Chinese properly,” majoring in film and literature and with an intensive one-year language course in Taipei.“The Subplot” takes us on a lively journey through China’s literary landscape: a vast migrant-worker poetry movement, homoerotic romances by “rotten girls,” swaggering literary popstars, millionaire e-writers churning out the longest-ever novels, underground comics, the surreal works of Yu Hua, Yan Lianke, and Nobel laureate Mo Yan, and what is widely hailed as a golden age of Chinese science fiction.  Chinese online fiction is now the largest publishing platform in the world.Walsh shows us why it’s important to finally pay attention to Chinese fiction — an exuberant drama that illustrates the complex relationship between art and politics, one that is increasingly shaping the West as well.  Turns out, writers write neither what their government nor foreign readers want or expect; they work on a different wavelength to keep alive ideas and events that are either overlooked or off limits.  “The Subplot” vividly captures the ways in which literature offers an alternative — perhaps truer — understanding of the contradictions that make up China itself.


Author:  Louisa Lim
Publisher:  Riverhead Books
Publication date:  April 2022
Hardcover:  320 pages
Former award-winning journalist for NPR and the BBC, Louisa Lim was based in China for a decade.  Half Singaporean Chinese and half British, she was raised in Hong Kong and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne.  She self-identifies as a Hong Konger.When protests erupted in 2019 and were met with escalating suppression from Beijing, Lim, a reporter who has covered the region for nearly two decades, realized that she was uniquely positioned to unearth the city’s untold stories.Her well-researched and personal account casts startling new light on key moments: the British takeover in 1842, the negotiations over the 1997 return to China, and the future Beijing seeks to impose.  “Indelible City” features guerrilla calligraphers, amateur historians and archaeologists, and others who, like Lim, aim to put Hong Kongers at the center of their own story.  Wending through it all is the King of Kowloon, whose iconic street art both embodied and inspired the identity of Hong Kong — a site of disappearance and reappearance, power and powerlessness, loss and reclamation.

“Indelible City” is a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.


Author:  John Israel
Publisher:  Rowan & Littlefield Publishers
Publication date:  April 2028
Hardcover:  130 pages
John Israel is well known for his writings on students and higher education in 20th-century China.  Israel conducted research in Taiwan and Hong Kong (1959-1962, 1973) and in the People’s Republic of China since 1980.  Following normalization of US-China diplomatic relations, he became the first post-1949 American resident professor in Kunming.  Over the past 40 years, he has lived and studied in China – particularly in Yunnan province – for extensive periods. He is emeritus professor of history at University of Virginia.Some 17 million educated urban youth answered Mao Zedong’s December 1968 call for them to move to the countryside and be reeducated by the poor and lower middle peasants.Israel’s “Lost Generation” is about the first group of young Red Guards and their return to the cities, undereducated, unemployed and manifestly unprepared to contribute to China’s post-Maoist future.

The Beijing Fifty-Five Beijingers were atypical insofar as they had volunteered to carve rubber plantations out of a tropical wilderness on China’s southwest border a year before the wave of involuntary recruits.  However, their struggle to survive cultural, political, and physical challenges was typical.

Drawing from the spoken and written testimony of the 55, this book shows in dramatic detail how “The Lost Generation” survived the tribulations of the Mao years to help build today’s China.

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