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Chinese History in Fiction?

Historical Fiction

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Apr 20, 2012, 12:26pm Top

The Russia thread popped up again today and made me think how very much fiction there actually is about Russian history, thanks both to Russians themselves and to non-Russians intrigued by the Russian greats.
But what about China? Is there any great Chinese fiction that evokes a sense of eras and events past? Especially the pre-20th-century past?

Apr 20, 2012, 12:44pm Top

Here's the tagmash: http://www.librarything.com/tag/China,+historical+fiction

The one that sprang to my mind was Flashman and the dragon (Taiping rebellion), but that's probably not a great place to start for an authentic view of Chinese history.

Apr 20, 2012, 3:37pm Top

There's The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of China's four great classical novels.

Apr 20, 2012, 6:04pm Top

Not necessarily Chinese authors, but there's a couple of novels set in history China that I can think of:

Imperial Woman. 19th century
Tun-huang: 11th century
Green Dragon, White Tiger: out of print but easily available on Amazon. 7th century

Apr 20, 2012, 6:47pm Top

Ryotaro Shiba and Masamitsu Miyagitani have a good selection of historical fiction in China. Too bad not all of them are translated to English yet, but worth a try reading one of them.

Edited: Apr 24, 2012, 7:46am Top

I strongly recommend The Court of the Lion about the T'ang Dynasty - or you could read a fantasy-fictional account of the same story (names changed, a dusting of magic added) in the more recent Under Heaven. If you can handle more fantasy, there's also Bridge of Birds.

I also enjoyed Jenning's The Journeyer, a fictional account of what else happened to Marco Polo during his journey to Kublai Khan's China that he 'failed to mention'!

Apr 24, 2012, 9:40am Top

Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries take place in the Tang and are much more interesting for their historical depictions than for the mysteries.

Apr 24, 2012, 12:21pm Top

Noted scholar of Chinese history Jonathan Spence has written several fictional works as well as non-fiction--Emperor of China and The Death of Woman Wang are two.

May 1, 2012, 5:16pm Top

Conn Iggulden's 'Wolf of the Plains' paints an evocative and dramatic picture of the Chinese Empire around the time of Genghis Khan.

Jun 8, 2012, 10:45pm Top

Check out the Stop You're Killing Me web site. One of the many things they do is collect information on mysteries and where they take place as well as when. It is certainly worth looking at.


Jun 9, 2012, 12:10pm Top

Ties That Bind, Ties That Break by Lensey Namioka is a good MG/YA read; I believe it's set around 1900.
Adeline Yen Mah also has a couple of historical reads, and her memoir Chinese Cinderella, like Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang (Cultural Revolution), read almost like novels.

Mar 30, 2013, 11:38am Top

Hangman's Point by Dean Barrett is set in Hong Kong and southern China in 1857.

Apr 1, 2013, 4:30pm Top

It's just one chapter but Under the Black Flag has some very interesting information about Chinese pirates.

Apr 5, 2013, 8:28pm Top

I second The Examination by Malcolm Bosse! It's a really great book that I have very fond memories of.

Jul 11, 2014, 1:34pm Top

If you read Chinese (and perhaps it also exists in French translation), Li Zicheng - the story of the rebel who overthrew the Ming dynasty - will be a "quick read" at only 3,000,000 characters. Such books in Chinese are rare, as far as I know; this is surely the longest and perhaps the only one. I would love to hear of other examples. I am posting occasional excerpts http://wmills.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/420/.

Nov 15, 2014, 4:49pm Top

Regarding Chinese historical fiction, Pearl Buck pops up as a classic. She won a Nobel Prize for her body of work in 1938, but many of her readers have probably given her their own five star awards.

I am rereading her Pavilion of Women now, partly because I wanted background for a book I am writing.

Her writing covers diverse issues and peoples in China. One book, title forgotten, focuses on a family who is Jewish. I mention this because I saw an entry in this groups' scroll asking for suggestions on, I believe, Jewish historical fiction.

Nov 20, 2014, 5:26am Top

I really enjoyed this unusual take on Chinese history, in which a soldier from the Roman empire makes his way to China: http://www.librarything.com/work/921320

Empire of Dragons by Massimo Manfredi

Jan 25, 2015, 8:00pm Top

One of my favorite books is A Cup of Light. While not based in a historical environment, it contains considerable information about the history of fine Chinese porcelain. The novel is written very well. When evaluating a piece of porcelain for a collection she is cataloging, the main character imagines what was going on at the time the porcelain was made.

Mar 31, 2015, 6:57pm Top

1421 - While not fiction as such, it is very readable and gives insight into how "advanced" China may well have been in the Ming dynasty era. Menses' theory is very questionable though and the books that debunk his ideas are equally interesting to scan. AND then there are the books by Amy Tan ...lots of inside stories about life in pre WW II China as she retells stories that she heard as a first generation Chinese/American child growing up in San Francisco... totally charming.

Apr 1, 2015, 1:57am Top

1421 I really enjoyed that one, too.

Apr 6, 2015, 10:45am Top

Some of my favorites are: The Ming Storytellers, The Good Earth, The Three Daughters of Madame Liang

Edited: Apr 26, 2015, 6:52pm Top

Try Silk Road by Colin Falconer about Tartars and Chinese empires at the time when Jesuits were making their first incursions. Lots of history, cultural insights, red meat adventure, and even a little romance.

The Corpse Reader by Antonio Garrido, (in English translation) is based on real life historical figure of 13th C. Tsong Dynasty known as the "Father of Forensic Medicine" that provides insights into Chinese medicine and law of the time.

One of my favorite novels is The Secrets of Jin-shei, set in not-quite-China, featuring the bonds among several Chinese "sisters" who have bound themselves to each other with vows of loyalty.

As it happens, I'm currently reading Jade Dragon Mountain about 18th C. exiled Imperial Librarian who gets swept up in a murder mystery in the remote outpost of Dayan near the Tibetan border. It's by Elsa Hart. Good because it's set in the period of turmoil between the Ming and Manchu eras.

Think these should keep you busy and give you a highly varied experience of Chinese historical fiction but not by Chinese authors.

Edited: Oct 2, 2015, 9:20pm Top

Anything by Amy Tan or Lisa See.
The Ibis trilogy by Amitav Ghosh: Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke, Flood of Fire on the Opium War.

Oct 5, 2015, 7:35am Top

I was intrigued by David Rotenberg's Shanghai but then was dissuaded by the reviews.

Oct 16, 2015, 9:38am Top

Pearl Buck, an American raised in China by her missionary parents writes novels about a pre-modern China. I've devoured her books more than once.

Mar 24, 2016, 8:49pm Top

Recently read Pavilion of Women by Pearl Buck.

Mar 27, 2016, 8:42pm Top

> 26 Well mine was one of the 2 reviews you read and as you can see I had a problem with the beginning and end of the book but what I did like was the description of the opium trade which was foisted on the Chinese.

Prior to reading this book, I naively assumed that the Chinese introduced opium use to the world. Now I know it was introduced by the British so that they could breakdown Chinese society and grab control of the silk and tea trade... they had mountains of opium from India and Afghanistan and no market for it... so they created the market in China.

It is a decent book... I did give it 4 stars afterall... it is just in spots it is a hard slog IMHO...

Mar 27, 2016, 8:49pm Top

My contribution to this discussion is The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. It is a historical novel about the Boxer Rebellion in China in the late 1890's.... a very good read

Edited: Apr 8, 2016, 6:13pm Top

I really enjoyed reading Silk Road and The Bronze Mirror by Jeanne Larsen about 20 years ago. They are well written, with some fantasy elements, and I remember them being set in the T'ang dynasty. I have never understood why this writer isn't better known.

Apr 9, 2016, 2:50am Top

>31 wjburton: Your touchstones are not set up properly ... they should be Silk Road and Bronze Mirror... you are accepting the default touchstone when you should click on "others" and select your proper author... also you added a "The" to the title "Bronze Mirror".

BTW The books look interesting. Thanks.

Apr 23, 2016, 7:18am Top

I really liked The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme. This is a very dark novel about the Ming Dynasty. It's a long book (over 600 pages) but is well worth the read.

May 22, 2017, 12:23pm Top

I am a new member of LibraryThing and Pearl Buck is a big favourite of mine. I can see that you original entry is dated 2014 and you have probably "found" the missing title to which you referred, but just in case, it is "Peony" and tells the story of a Jewish-Chinese family in 19th century China.
Although Pearl Buck was quite prolific and her work popular in the mid-20th century, most of her novels except for " The Good Earth" are currently out of print. Over the years I have managed to acquire most of her titles at second hand bookstores and look forward to including them when I catalogue my collection.
I am very pleased that some of Buck's titles are being made available as ebooks and hope that she will be discovered and loved by a new generation of readers.

Nov 26, 2017, 9:02am Top

I just finished Shanghai Girls. This is a book that follows 2 women (sisters) from 1937 to 1957. They started as "beautiful girls" in Shanghai and by their standards living a good life with servants and adoring public. It changes with the advent of WWII and the Japanese invasion combined with their father going bankrupt due to gambling debts. I won't spoil the story but to escape the Japanese they travel to Hong Kong and board a ship bound for the USA. The story charts their life in the USA which has its own set of problems and racism.

It is not an enjoyable read. There are good times but many bad times, and it gives one insight into the plight of refugees of the times. Probably still relevant today in many respects for other cultures.

Group: Historical Fiction

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