China baffles many newcomers with the complexities of its history, language, and culture. Many aspects of daily life in China leave foreigners scratching their heads.
A success-driven expat must place their nose in a book and seek to understand the intricacies of Chinese culture.
The books below should be on every expat’s bookshelf.
On China by Henry Kissinger
Curious about what it’s actually like to negotiate and work with China? Take it from a guy who lived it. Henry Kissinger is one of the most influential architects of modern US-China relations, and in On China he goes under the hood of our countries’ diplomatic ties to reveal how China thinks and how we’ve worked together in the past (from the Sino-Soviet days to Nixon’s famed trip), and he offers a prognosis on how our two nations will interact in years to come.
Henry Kissinger dines with Zhou Enlai
China in Ten Words by Yu Hua
Organized into essays built around ten common Chinese phrases, award-winning writer Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words addresses a variety of topics that are front of mind for most contemporary Chinese. His writing is fearless and thoughtful and humorous, all at once.
China Witness by Xinran
In her book China Witness, journalist and charity founder Xinran sets out to present a full understanding of the nation of China through the stories of its elders. While traveling throughout the country, she met with the men and women who witnessed firsthand all that modernity has brought to this part of Asia.
Country Driving by Peter Hessler
You might as well pick up all three of Hessler’s books on China, which are elegantly written, hilariously funny, and deeply insightful. The third, Country Driving, provides an on-the-ground account of the rapid industrialization in China that foreigners often read about but rarely see. (A bra-parts factory producing thin-steel rings for straps—and only those rings—is one of the memorable businesses.) As the title suggests, the book is partly a study of China’s new driving culture—it might be worth the Amazon price alone for an extended version of Hessler’s story about earning his Chinese driver’s license—but it also illustrates how industries across the country, far away from the glitzy skylines of Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, continue transforming China with consequences both positive (new-found wealth) and negative (a carelessness about pollution).
Image: China Daily
The Party, Richard McGregor
The Communist Party is ubiquitous in China, but it’s often hard to see from the West behind the veneer of publicly listed companies, Shanghai skyscrapers, and record-setting IPOs. In amazing detail McGregor pulls back the curtain on the CCP to describe the party’s influence on all levels of Chinese life. Nothing better has been written about inner workings of the CCP: You can’t talk about China without the party, and McGregor’s reporting reveals just how powerful it
Sources: Signature Reads and Fortune