The Greatest Chinese Books of All Time

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books in literature. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 215 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed literary works. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details about the selection process can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. The Art of War by Sun Zi

    This ancient Chinese military treatise, written by a renowned general and military strategist, is a comprehensive guide on military strategy and tactics. It covers various aspects of warfare, from planning and preparation to execution and aftermath. The work emphasizes the importance of understanding one's enemy, using deception, and adapting to changing circumstances. It also stresses the importance of terrain, morale, and leadership. Despite its military focus, its principles have been applied to business, politics, and other fields, making it a timeless classic on strategy.

  2. 2. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang

    This book is a biographical account of three generations of women in China, spanning the years 1909 to 1991. The narrative follows the lives of the author's grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her mother, a high-ranking official in the Communist Party; and the author herself, who grew up during the Cultural Revolution before moving to the West. The book presents a vivid portrayal of the political and social changes in China during the 20th century, as seen through the eyes of these three women.

  3. 3. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin

    "Dream of the Red Chamber" is a classic Chinese novel that provides a detailed, episodic record of life in the aristocratic Jia family. The story revolves around the love triangle between the family's heir, his sickly cousin, and his other cousin who is raised to be his wife. It is also a critique of the family's decline and a reflection on the societal norms of the time. The novel is famous for its vivid characterization and psychological depth, and its unique portrayal of Chinese society during the Qing dynasty.

  4. 4. Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en

    "Journey to the West" is a classic Chinese novel that follows the adventures of a Buddhist monk and his three disciples, a monkey, a pig, and a river monster, as they travel from China to India in search of sacred Buddhist scriptures. Along the way, they face a series of challenges and obstacles, including battling demons and overcoming their own personal weaknesses. This epic tale is a blend of mythology, folklore, and fantasy, and is also a commentary on the practice and principles of Buddhism.

  5. 5. Quotations from Chairman Mao by Mao

    This book is a collection of speeches and writings by the former leader of the People's Republic of China. It covers a wide range of topics including communism, revolution, class struggle, and the correct handling of contradictions among the people. The book was published with the intention of promoting the leader's ideology and was widely distributed during the Cultural Revolution. It was considered an essential guide to life and politics in China during this period.

  6. 6. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu

    This ancient text is a fundamental guide to the philosophy of Taoism, offering wisdom on how to live a balanced, virtuous life in harmony with the natural world and the Tao, the source of all existence. The book explores themes such as simplicity, humility, and non-aggression, emphasizing the importance of understanding and aligning oneself with the Tao. It provides guidance on leadership, personal growth, and spiritual enlightenment, advocating for a life of peace, contemplation, and connection with the universe.

  7. 7. Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Guanzhong Luo

    "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is a historical novel set in the turbulent years towards the end of the Han dynasty and the Three Kingdoms period in Chinese history, starting in 169 AD and ending with the reunification of the land in 280. The story, part historical, part legend, and part mythical, romanticizes and dramatizes the lives of feudal lords and their retainers, who tried to replace the dwindling Han dynasty or restore it. The novel deals with the plots, personal and military battles, intrigues, and struggles of these states to achieve dominance for almost 100 years.

  8. 8. Analects by Confucius

    The Analects is a collection of sayings and teachings attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius and his disciples. The book emphasizes the importance of personal and societal morality, filial piety, and the cultivation of knowledge and virtue. Confucius stresses the importance of leading by example and treating others with respect and kindness. The Analects has had a profound impact on Chinese culture and philosophy, and its teachings continue to be studied and applied today.

  9. 9. The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Naian

    "The Water Margin: Outlaws of the Marsh" is a classic Chinese novel set during the Song dynasty, revolving around 108 outlaws who gather at Mount Liang to form a sizable army. The narrative explores themes of rebellion, loyalty, and justice, as these bandits challenge the corrupt and oppressive government. Despite their status as outlaws, they follow a strict code of honor and righteousness, often assisting the poor and the weak. The book is a blend of history, folklore, and mythology, offering a vivid portrayal of the political and social dynamics of the era.

  10. 10. Waiting by Ha Jin

    "Waiting" is a story set in China during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, revolving around the life of Lin Kong, a military doctor who is torn between his love for two women. He is stuck in an arranged marriage with his traditional wife in the countryside, while he falls in love with a modern, city nurse. The novel explores his 18-year struggle to divorce his wife and marry his lover, depicting the clash between traditional and modern Chinese culture, personal desires, and societal expectations.

  11. 11. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

    This novel tells the story of two teenage boys sent to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's Cultural Revolution. There, they meet a local tailor's daughter, who becomes their friend and the object of their shared affection. The boys discover a hidden suitcase filled with forbidden Western classics in Chinese translation, and their lives are forever changed. The books not only awaken their passion for literature, but also allow them to educate the Seamstress, ultimately leading to a heartbreaking love triangle and a tale of personal freedom against the odds.

  12. 12. Death Of A Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

    "Death Of A Red Heroine" is a crime novel set in 1990s Shanghai, China. The story follows Inspector Chen Cao as he investigates the murder of a young woman, whose body is found in a canal. As Chen delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of corruption, political intrigue, and personal secrets that challenge his loyalty to the Communist Party and force him to confront the complexities of modern Chinese society. Through vivid descriptions of Shanghai's changing landscape and insightful commentary on social issues, the novel offers a captivating portrayal of a country in transition.

  13. 13. Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Xun Lu

    "Diary of a Madman and Other Stories" is a collection of short stories that explore the social issues and struggles of early 20th century China. The stories revolve around themes of poverty, mental illness, and societal pressures. The title story, written in the first-person perspective, is a harrowing tale of a man descending into madness, believing that everyone around him is part of a cannibalistic conspiracy. These stories provide a vivid depiction of the human condition and the harsh realities of life during this period in Chinese history.

  14. 14. Selected Stories of Lu Hsun by Xun Lu

    "Selected Stories of Lu Hsun" is a collection of short stories that provides a critical look at traditional Chinese society and culture. The author uses satire and irony to highlight the struggles and injustices faced by the common people, often focusing on themes such as education, poverty, and the oppressive nature of the ruling class. The stories are also notable for their exploration of the human condition and the complexities of individual morality.

  15. 15. Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang

    This novel provides a deeply personal account of the author's experiences during China's Cultural Revolution and his subsequent imprisonment in a labor camp. The protagonist struggles with the harsh realities of his imprisonment, including starvation and physical abuse, while also grappling with his own identity and the societal expectations of masculinity. His release and subsequent marriage only further complicate his quest for self-understanding, as he navigates the challenges of reintegrating into society and maintaining a relationship with a woman who has her own traumatic past.

  16. 16. Rickshaw Boy by Lao She

    "Rickshaw Boy" is a novel about a young man living in Beijing in the 1920s who struggles to escape poverty and achieve personal independence. Despite his hard work and determination, he is continuously set back by societal and personal misfortunes, including failed business ventures, a disastrous marriage, and the loss of his rickshaw. The book serves as a critique of traditional Chinese society, illustrating the harsh realities of life for the working class during this time period.

  17. 17. Heavy Wings by Zhang Jie

    "Heavy Wings" is a novel that explores the societal changes in China during the late 20th century. It follows the story of a group of innovative engineers striving to design and build China's first large-scale commercial aircraft. Despite facing numerous challenges such as lack of resources, political interference, and personal struggles, they remain committed to their mission, symbolizing the spirit of perseverance and innovation. The story is a reflection of China's journey towards modernization and technological advancement.

  18. 18. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

    Set in 19th century China, the novel centers around the lifelong friendship of Lily and Snow Flower. Despite their different social classes, the two communicate through a secret language known as "nu shu" written on a fan. The story explores the rigid societal norms of the time, particularly the practice of foot binding and arranged marriages. As they navigate through the hardships of their lives, their friendship is tested, leading to a devastating betrayal that impacts their relationship.

  19. 19. Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang

    "Red Scarf Girl" is a memoir of the author's childhood during the Cultural Revolution in China. The story follows a 12-year-old girl from a previously respected family who is labeled a class enemy and forced to turn against her own parents. The book provides a deeply personal account of the extreme political and social upheaval during this period in China's history, highlighting the fear, confusion, and courage of a young girl struggling to reconcile her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to her country.

  20. 20. Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah

    "Falling Leaves" is a heartbreaking autobiography that recounts the life of a young girl who grows up in a wealthy but abusive family in 20th century China. Despite being the daughter of a prosperous businessman, she is treated as an outcast and blamed for her mother's death, who died shortly after her birth. The story portrays her struggle for acceptance and love within her family, her journey through the cultural revolution in China, and her eventual success as a physician in the U.S. It's a poignant exploration of the themes of familial bonds, resilience, and the human spirit's ability to overcome adversity.

  21. 21. Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

    This book is a memoir of a young girl growing up in China during the 1940s and 1950s. The protagonist is considered unlucky by her family after her mother dies giving birth to her. She is mistreated by her stepmother and largely ignored by her father, leading to a lonely and challenging childhood. Despite these difficulties, she finds solace in her academic achievements and her Aunt Baba's support. The story is a testament to the power of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity.

  22. 22. The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

    The book is a fantasy novel set in a world inspired by China's 20th century history. The protagonist, a war orphan, defies societal expectations by acing the empire-wide examination and earning a place at the prestigious military academy. However, her triumph is short-lived as she becomes embroiled in a violent conflict, which forces her to delve into the depths of her own magical abilities, inspired by shamanism. The story intertwines the brutal realities of war, mythology, and the exploration of power in a deeply divided society.

  23. 23. Jade City by Fonda Lee

    In a bustling city ruled by powerful crime families, the Kauls, who possess the rare ability to harness the magical powers of jade, struggle to maintain their control amidst rising tensions and rivalries. As the city teeters on the brink of chaos, the Kaul siblings find themselves caught in a dangerous web of betrayal, loyalty, and ambition, where the fate of their family and their city hangs in the balance. With vivid world-building and intricate character dynamics, "Jade City" is a gripping tale of power, honor, and the price of maintaining control.

  24. 24. I Ching by China

    This ancient Chinese text is a divination system and book of wisdom. It provides guidance for moral and ethical decisions through 64 hexagrams, which are six-line figures made up of broken and unbroken lines. Each hexagram represents a specific situation or state of affairs, and the text provides interpretations and advice for each. The book has been used for centuries as a tool for decision-making, prediction, and gaining deeper understanding of situations and relationships.

  25. 25. Cold Nights by Ba Jin

    "Cold Nights" is a poignant love story set in the backdrop of China's turbulent political climate during the 1940s. The narrative follows the protagonist, Wan Da, as he navigates through the hardships of life, love, illness, and death. As his wife, Zhenzhen, falls ill with tuberculosis, Wan Da's struggle to secure medical help for her amidst the chaos of war paints a vivid picture of human endurance and the power of love. The book also explores themes of existentialism and the human condition, offering a profound look at life's hardships and the strength of the human spirit.

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

Download