Books to Read Before Coming to China

Books to Read Before Coming to China

For me, reading novels is not only reading a nice story, but in the best case I will also learn something about culture, history, politics… Especially Chinese novels can teach you a lot of things about China. So I looked at my bookshelf, and picked some of my favorite books for introducing them to you. They are all available in English and German translation, so no worries about not knowing enough Chinese.

The style is generally very different from what we are used to read. Chinese stories often don’t have a happy ending or sometimes the whole book can be just one big depression after the other, but it still might be worth reading. It can also be that you cannot identify with the main character of the story (which, of course, can also happen in western novels). Quite often authors use their stories to write down their experiences, political views. This can either be humoristic or really depressing. This is one of my most favorite novels ever: “Brothers (2005)” by Yu Hua (余华)! The story is about two brothers, who live through the Cultural Revolution together, lose their parents and couldn’t be more different. A lot of funny stuff happens while they grow up, but be careful, sometimes is really violent and sad! I recommend this book because you can learn a lot about Chinese history while being entertained by a good story.

I made the experience that quite often in Chinese novels a lot of stuff is NOT happening and what is happening happens so slowly, that you don’t really notice. Ba Jin’s (巴金) novel “Cold Nights (1947)” (he’s a very famous Chinese writer) is the perfect example and still really worth reading. As a foreigner, you might not be able to understand why the protagonist is acting like he is acting, but this book is a great opportunity to learn about the feelings people had and the life they were leading before the founding of the People’s Republic.

As a third recommendation I have a novel from this year’s Nobel price winner Mo Yan (莫言) for you. I know “Red Sorghum (1987)” is his most famous book in the Western World (mainly because Zhang Yimou adapted it for a movie), but I prefer “The Garlic Ballads (1988)“. Chinese authors might have a different way of writing, but they definitely have great abilities in evoking a lot of images, smells and feelings in the readers mind and for me the Garlic Ballads are the perfect example for this kind of ability.

For those of you, who can also speak (and read) German or Chinese, I can also recommend Han Han’s (韩寒) books (Chinese), especially “1988: 我想和这个世界谈谈 (2010)” and Wang Shuo’s books (王朔, some available in English or German, all of them in Chinese and all are worth reading!).

Are you interested in learning Chinese to be able to read Chinese literature? Apply for an Internship in a Chinese company or for a home-stay and language classes: or