The Greatest Chinese "Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. 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.

  2. 2. 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.

  3. 3. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

    The book is a science fiction novel that intertwines the cultural revolution of China with a complex narrative involving astrophysics, virtual reality, and alien contact. It follows a disillusioned scientist who, after suffering personal tragedy during the Cultural Revolution, sends a message into space, only to receive a response from an alien civilization on the brink of destruction. As the aliens plan their migration to Earth, a secret organization works to facilitate the invasion, while a disparate group of scientists and military personnel attempt to understand and prevent the impending extraterrestrial crisis. The novel grapples with themes of human nature, technological advancement, and the vast, often incomprehensible universe.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. 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.

  7. 7. Love Must Not Be Forgotten by Zhang Jie

    The narrative explores the complexities of love and memory through the lens of a woman who discovers her deceased mother's diary, which reveals a poignant and secret love affair. As the daughter delves into the pages, she confronts her own romantic dilemmas and the societal pressures of 1980s China. The story weaves together themes of personal freedom, the weight of traditional expectations, and the enduring impact of love across generations, prompting the protagonist to reflect on her life choices and the possibility of happiness in her future relationships.

  8. 8. Spring Moon by Betty Bao Lord

    Set against the backdrop of a changing China from the late Qing Dynasty through the Cultural Revolution, the novel follows the life of Spring Moon, a young noblewoman of the Soong family. As she navigates the complexities of tradition and modernity, Spring Moon experiences personal tragedies and triumphs while witnessing the seismic shifts in Chinese society. Her story is one of love, loss, and resilience, reflecting the broader historical forces at play that reshape her country and her family's destiny. Through her eyes, readers experience the clash of old values with new ways, and the struggle to find harmony amidst chaos.

  9. 9. The Garlic Ballads: A Novel by Yan Mo

    The novel is a harsh critique of the Chinese government's agricultural policy. Set in 1980s China, it tells the story of the farmers of Paradise County, who are encouraged by the government to plant garlic, only to find that the government can't or won't buy their crops, leading to violent protests. The narrative is centered around three characters - Gao Yang, who has been arrested for leading the protests; his blind father, Gao Ma, who continues to struggle with the garlic harvest; and Jinju, the woman both men love. The book is a powerful exploration of corruption, love, the human spirit, and the struggle for justice in an oppressive regime.

  10. 10. Soul Mountain by Xingjian Gao

    The novel follows a protagonist who embarks on a journey to the remote mountains of Southwest China after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer. Along the way, he encounters a variety of characters and experiences that lead him to self-discovery and a reconnection with nature. The narrative is filled with philosophical reflections, folklore, and tales of rural China, presenting a complex exploration of the human condition and the struggle for personal freedom.

  11. 11. 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.

  12. 12. War Trash by Ha Jin

    The novel is a fictional memoir of a Chinese soldier who is captured during the Korean War and spends several years in American POW camps. He struggles to survive in the brutal conditions and navigate the political rivalries among the prisoners, while holding onto the hope of repatriation and the fear of being labeled a traitor by his own country. The narrative explores themes of loyalty, survival, and the human cost of war.

  13. 13. 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.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, Janet Song

    "Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" is a children's fantasy novel about a young girl named Minli who lives in a poor village at the base of a mountain. She sets out on a journey to find the Old Man of the Moon, hoping he can answer her family's prayers for a better life. Along the way, she meets a talking goldfish, a dragon who cannot fly, and other magical creatures. Through her adventures, Minli learns valuable lessons about gratitude, kindness, and the power of storytelling.

  16. 16. Death's End by Cixin Liu

    In this science fiction epic, humanity confronts an uncertain future as the universe teeters on the brink of destruction. The narrative weaves through time and space, following a complex tapestry of characters and civilizations as they grapple with advanced alien technologies, cosmic dilemmas, and philosophical quandaries. The story explores the depths of human ingenuity and the vastness of the cosmos, culminating in a profound examination of survival, sacrifice, and the indomitable spirit of life in the face of an unfathomable cosmos. With a blend of hard science fiction and imaginative speculation, the novel pushes the boundaries of human understanding and presents a grand vision of the ultimate fate of the universe.

  17. 17. The Girl Who Played Go by Shan Sa

    Set in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the novel intertwines the lives of a young Chinese girl, a master of the ancient board game Go, and a Japanese soldier. As the girl seeks refuge from the turmoil of war in the strategy and beauty of Go, she encounters the soldier in the public square where they silently engage in a series of games. The board becomes a silent battleground reflecting their personal and political struggles. Their growing connection and the insights they gain into each other's cultures and vulnerabilities lead to a poignant and tragic conclusion, underscoring the senselessness of war and the transcendent power of human connection and empathy.

  18. 18. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

    In the second installment of a renowned science fiction trilogy, humanity is faced with an impending alien invasion, set to occur in four centuries. The world turns to the Wallfacer Project, a strategic initiative that appoints four individuals with the power to execute plans to combat the extraterrestrial threat, their strategies hidden even from humanity to prevent the aliens from gaining foreknowledge. One of these Wallfacers, a disillusioned astronomer, devises a complex plan involving astrophysics, sociology, and game theory, all while grappling with the philosophical implications of a universe where survival is predicated on a dark forest theory, where civilizations are hunters lying in wait, ready to strike out of fear and self-preservation.

  19. 19. The Other Shore by Xingjian Gao

    "The Other Shore" is a play that explores themes of identity, freedom, and human nature through a series of allegorical and surreal scenes. The narrative follows a group of characters who attempt to cross a river, symbolizing the transition from the oppressive constraints of their old lives to a new, unknown existence. As they confront various existential challenges and philosophical dilemmas, the characters grapple with their desires, fears, and the very essence of their beings, ultimately questioning the nature of reality and the possibility of true liberation. The play delves into the conflicts between individuality and collective identity, and the struggle for personal authenticity in the face of societal norms.

  20. 20. Stay True by Hua Hsu

    "Stay True" by Hua Hsu is a collection of essays that explore the intersections of race, culture, and identity in America. Through personal anecdotes and cultural analysis, Hsu examines the ways in which popular culture and media shape our understanding of race and identity, and how individuals navigate these complex and often contradictory narratives. From the rise of Asian American representation in Hollywood to the legacy of Michael Jackson, "Stay True" offers a nuanced and thought-provoking exploration of the cultural landscape of America.

Reading Statistics

Click the button below to see how many of these books you've read!


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.