This abbreviated list is part of my journey in studying Chinese history and culture. China’s courts and intelligentsia were debating economic regulation, philosophy and art long before most other civilizations existed though much was destroyed through periods of conflict.
The summary of China since the Qing dynasty fell in 1911: An attempt at a modern Republic with too thin of a bench, rampant warlordism and significant internal interference by Japan, the Soviet Union and others that still had a chance of emerging as a modern, open society.
Unfortunately, World War 2, adroit foreign policy moves by Stalin and internal sabotage of support for the Nationalists in the U.S. State Department and U.S. Treasury enabled the communists to take power and the deaths of so many millions and continuing repression and mass murder of its own citizens to this day. The books and materials below are hardly exhaustive and all would be worth your attention.
Discourses on Salt & Iron (1st century, BC. Edited 1967) E.M. Gale
Heated debate over pros and cons relating to economic policies shortly after the death of Emperor Wu of Han in 87 BC. The debate was requested by the new Emperor. The legalists (in charge) argued for continued state monopolies, a centralized state and continued conquests of nomadic tribes. The scholars (critics) argued for moral principles and other considerations.
Mo Tzu, Basic Writings (470-391 BC. Translation 1963) Burton Watson (Translator)
Chinese philosopher during the early part of the Warring States period during what was called the Hundred Schools of Thought period. He was against Confucianism and argued for universal love 400 years before Christ was born, social order, the will of heaven, sharing, and honoring the worthy. While Confucianism won out his work has survived and this is an enjoyable book.
Local Government in China Under the Ch’ing (1962) T’ung-tsu Ch’u
Study supported by the East Asian Research Center of Harvard University. Great detail. The system never worked as well as one might have thought and being a Magistrate was financially and personally challenging. Not a “must read” for everyone unless you want to learn how a local civic government and economy really worked. China was surprisingly decentralized.
Eastern Shame Girl (1929) George Soulie de Morant (Publisher)
Beautiful stories of love and tragedy from China in the 17th century. George de Morant (1878-1955) was a French scholar and diplomat, known for introducing acupuncture to the west and his translations of Chinese literature. I am fortunate to have stumbled across copy 992 of 1000 which he published privately for friends and acquaintances. Take a break from gender studies and social media, sit down with your tea and enjoy.
Anglo-American Steamship Rivalry in China, 1862-1874 (1962) Kwang-Ching Liu
U.S. trading firms funding and building out their own river fleets to improve Chinese logistics (yeah, including opium) and reducing costs of transport. Took the english by surprise for awhile. Makes me want to rent the movie Sand Pebbles.
Bandits in Republican China (1988) Phil Billingsley
A gritty, intensive study of gang life driven by poverty, lack of stable authority and civic society. The poor joined to get food and expected to die young and never marry. Gang leaders could operate “within reason” or the authorities would put a stop to them. Sort of like modern Chicago.
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China (2019) Ms. Jung Chang
Three very strong personalities who helped determine the fate of an entire region and the world. A page turner. (One of them scolded President Teddy Roosevelt at age 14!).
Mao Tse-Tung and I Were Beggars (1959) Dr. Siao-yu
Up close and personal look at Mao’s character as a student and then a young teacher by a friend who went on to be a professor in the west. Mao liked the idea of accumulating power for its own sake at an early age. Basically, as young students they both decided to travel by begging and seeing if they could survive.
My Country and My People (1935) Lin Yutang
The first book of Lin Yutang’s translated into English (and many other languages), this book was considered a standard text on China for many years. Yutang was an inventor, linguist, novelist, philosopher and translator. His father was a Christian minister, and through his life he journeyed from Christianity to Taoism, then Buddhism and back. This is a beautifully written book. It tells the story of China along many strands, compares it (favorably) to the West in a way which can only happen when the author lives in and understands both.
A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman (1945) Ida Pruitt, Ning Lao T’ai-tai
Birdseye view of life as a simple Chinese peasant woman from 1867-1945 as told to Ms. Pruitt. Ning Lao T’ai-tai was born poor, lived poor, but always respected herself and doing what was right. She paid no attention to politics or world events and didn’t care.
Rebels & Bureaucrats: China’s December 9ers (1976) John Israel, Donald W. Klein
Many college kids joined the communists for good reason and contributed for years but were later screwed over by Mao who always, always thought about his own power and gain first. I recommend reading in conjunction with Mao Tse-Tung and I were beggars. The book reads very “dry” but insight is to be had. ISBN13: 9780520028616
Model Rebels: The Rise and Fall of China’s Richest Village (2001) Bruce Gilley
Read this book to understand how Deng Xiaoping’s Economic Reforms got rolling, driven by the determination of poor peasants given the chance to succeed in the face of leftist reaction but also a tale of tragic downfall. Even under communism, China was never as monolithic as sometimes perceived.