Holiday gifts

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If shopping for holiday gifts has you stymied, China Beat is here to help. We’ve put together a list of China-related books that will make great gifts — and all of them are appropriate for the general-interest reader.

For: The Nostalgic Reader
Earnshaw Books has been reprinting a number of older books, including many expat memoirs from early 20th century China. We’ve previously reviewed Shanghai: High Lights, Low Lights, Tael Lights, an entertaining glimpse into 1930s Shanghai penned by Maurine Karns and Pat Patterson. The press is also releasing a three-volume set of drawings by White Russian cartoon artist Sapajou, which Paul French writes about here.

For: The Budding Entrepreneur
400MillionAnother old title now available again is Carl Crow’s 400 Million Customers, which is a sharp-tongued set of observant essays about the ins and outs of doing business in China. Much of what Crow has to say about China in the 1930s is still true today, and his book serves as both a how-to guide and a cautionary tale for those who dream of cracking the China market.

For a more current look at Chinese business culture, check out the documentary Win in China (see here for a China Beat interview with director Ole Schell).

For: The Visual Learner
The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China assembles the late-19th century photographs of Scottish explorer John Thomson. An excerpt from Michael Meyer’s introduction to the book can be read at Danwei.

If there are fans of propaganda art on your shopping list, they might be interested in Postcards from Utopia, a collection of Socialist Realist and Fascist artwork from a variety of countries.

cover_finalMathieu Borysevicz has put together an impressive photographic collection in Learning from Hangzhou (which has previously been featured on the Wall Street Journal’s China blog).

For: The Frequent Flyer
Last Days of Old BeijingLooking for a paperback that will fit nicely into a carry-on bag? Consider China Underground, Zachary Mexico’s volume of tales about the lives of Chinese artists, rock musicians, and writers. Postcards from Tomorrow Square brings together James Fallows’s China columns from The Atlantic; read a review by Jonathan Spence at the New York Times website.  Several of the general-interest China books that we recommended in last year’s gift guide are now available in paperback, such as Lijia Zhang’s Socialism is Great!”, Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing, and Leslie T. Chang’s Factory Girls.

For: The History Buff
Readers who enjoy sinking their teeth into a good history book might like to receive William Rowe’s China’s Last Empire, which looks to be a very accessible overview of the Qing Dynasty by a highly regarded historian. There’s also a new biography of Hergé, creator of the Tintin comics, who set some of his adventures in China and had a decades-long interest in the country. Pierre Assouline’s Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin tells this story, and you could gift that together with the Tintin-in-Shanghai comic The Blue Lotus or Tintin in Tibet.

For: The Less-than-Organized Shopper
If you don’t expect to finish your 2009 shopping until well into 2010, we have good news — several highly anticipated China books are coming out in the coming months, so slip an IOU into an envelope and don’t forget to pick up these titles when they’re released.

Lovell Lu Xun coverThe Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China, a new translation of Lu Xun’s fiction writings by Julia Lovell, has been published in the U.K., and the American edition will be out on January 26. Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is already available to German readers (it’s titled Über-land in Deutschland), and is scheduled for its English-language release on February 9, 2010. China Beat readers in Southern California can come to UC Irvine on February 16 to hear Hessler speak in a conversation with UCI History professor Ken Pomeranz. Finally, Jeff Wasserstrom’s China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know will be available in April, and would make a great gift for travelers embarking on their first trip to China.

Many of our regular contributors have recent books out on China as well. We highly recommend the following as gifts for those many China non-experts in your life.

1. Factory Girls, Leslie T. Chang
For: The Worldly Progressive

Chang’s book, published this year to positive reviews (including this one at the New York Times by Howard French, where Factory Girls was also recently named one of the Times‘ 100 notable books for 2008), follows the lives of young factory workers in Dongguang. Read an excerpt, published earlier at China Beat, here.


2. Socialism is Great!, Lijia Zhang
For: The Memoir Maven

In this autobiography, Zhang tells of her young life working in a Nanjing munitions factory and how she eventually ended up leading worker demonstrations in 1989.

3. China’s Brave New World, Jeffrey Wasserstrom
For: The World Traveler

In short vignettes, Wasserstrom delves into the quirks and contradictions of modern China, drawing out what “global China” means on the ground. To read more about the book, see Wasserstrom’s piece about it last spring in China Economic Review.

4. Forbidden City, Geremie Barmé
For: The Beijing Bound

Travelers (of the armchair variety or otherwise) will find Barmé’s volume full of insights into the history of Beijing’s most famous site. China Beat ran a review of the book last June. For a book on Beijing outside the Forbidden City’s walls, Mike Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing is also enormously entertaining (listen to a China Beat interview with Meyer here).

5. Beijing’s Games, Susan Brownell
For: The Sports Fan

Brownell explores why this year’s Games were so important to China, and you could even print out a few of Brownell’s “as it happened” columns from China Beat to tuck in with it, like this one or this one.

When we made up this list of books by China Beat contributors, for some reason we stayed in the realm of non-fiction books, but we’d be remiss not to mention two intriguing fictional works that China Beat contributors have published recently. Xujun Eberlein’s collection of tales set in the 1970s and early 1980s, Apologies Forthcoming, may be just the right thing for the Short-Story Fan on your list (see review here), while former China correspondent-turned-crime fiction writer Catherine Sampson’s The Slaughter Pavilion (her second mystery featuring Chinese private eye Song) could be a perfect gift for someone you know who is addicted to Whodunits (for review see here; currently only available in the UK).

So you’ve put off holiday shopping until now. If you’d like to share your love of China this year, here are a few recommendations for old classics and more recent releases for the recipients on your list. All these books are widely available and relatively affordable.

1. Fortress Besieged, by Qian Zhongshu

For: The Literature Lover
We’ve written about this 1947 novel at China Beat before. It is a classic of Chinese literature, but not particularly well known in the West, making it the perfect gift for a well-read friend or relative.

2. The Question of Hu, Jonathan Spence
For: The Europhile

In John Hu, a Chinese convert brought to Paris by a French Jesuit in 1722, Spence found a lively and affecting example of the confusion of cross-cultural interactions.

3. The Story of the Stone (Hongloumeng), by Cao Xueqin (trans. by David Hawkes)
For: Jane Austen Fans
“Dream of the Red Mansion,” in this version translated as “Story of the Stone,” is the most important of Chinese novels, telling the story of the inner life of two elite Manchu families. David Hawkes’s translation puts the Qing novel into the language of the English aristocracy (in five volumes; we’ve linked to Volume 1 above).

Liu Dapeng’s life straddled China’s wrenching transition to modernity. In this book, Harrison tells that story through one man’s life in rural Shanxi.


5. China: Fragile Superpower, Susan Shirk
For: The Policy Wonk

Of the many books available on “understanding” China and its political relationships to the US, this is one of the best and most readable. Read an earlier China Beat review of it here.