8 Must-read novels by Chinese authors around the world
Huat to read
With the latest wave of lockdowns currently underway, it looks as if this Chinese New Year will be celebrated very differently than in years past, and mostly indoors. If you’re like us, then that probably means you’ll be finding a quiet spot at home and unwinding with a few choice reads. In the spirit of the festive season, we’ve passionately pieced together a list of eight must-read novels—including the classic and the contemporary—written by Chinese authors from around the world.
The Noodle Maker by Ma Jian
From the acclaimed Chinese dissident, Mi Jian, The Noodle Maker offers a satirical approach to life in a post-Tiananmen China. In a collection of short stories told over the course of an evening, the reader follows along the narrations of several extraordinary characters—like a young man who opens a private crematorium, or a heartbroken actress as she faces an all-too-public fate—as they face life through politics and destiny.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
The ultimate classic of Chinese literature, this ancient military treatise dates back to 5th century B.C. Comprised of 13 chapters, with each devoted to an aspect of warfare, this masterpiece applies to military strategy and tactics as much as it does to business and life. This one may be a slow read for you, but it’s certainly the most influential book on this list.
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
A memoir set during the Chinese revolution of the 1940s, The Woman Warrior blends folklore with the unique insight into the life of an immigrant in America. This complex and beautiful journey travel lyrically through the author’s childhood, a changing America, and a life surrounded by myth and memory.
Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang
One of the greatest writers of twentieth-century China, Eileen Chang’s Love in a Fallen City is a dazzling introduction to the author’s contemporary works on love, longing and life. This 1943 novel shines a light on a story about a love that triumphed in wartime Hong Kong. Her lyrical writing is said to echo the classics of Chinese literature, and one read through will have you in full agreement.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
This is a Hugo Award-winning masterpiece by China's most beloved science fiction author, Liu Cixin. Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, The Three-Body Problem follows the actions of a secret military group as they send signals into space in order to establish contact with aliens—and what happens after they receive. Though controversy has followed this writer in recent years, his work is a science fiction marvel with impressive scope and vision.
Severance by Ling Ma
Our second science fiction novel on this list, Severance follows Candace Chen as she survives a pandemic in the United States. While that alone might strike too close for comfort during current times, this story offers a takedown of the “rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life,” in this quirky coming-of-adulthood tale.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
In this tender exploration of the relationship between mothers, friends and their daughters, Amy Tan examines what children unknowingly inherit from their parents while facing lives and situations completely unalike, but similar. The Joy Luck Club tells the story of four mothers, recent immigrants to San Francisco, and the club they’ve formed around weekly mahjong sessions, and all the stories of what they left behind. This tale is beautifully told, painful, witty and immersive.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong
We wanted to end this list with another legendary classic, but it was an incredibly hard choice between Water Margin by Shi Nai’an, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms (two of the 'Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese Literature'). Ultimately, the latter won. As the first great example of historical fiction, this epic saga stays true to the classic themes of literature—brotherhood, rivalry, loyalty, treachery, death and so on—as it depicts the end of the Han dynasty’s 400-year rule and the three kingdoms that fight for the control of China. A true “epic saga” if there ever were one, Romance of the Three Kingdoms continues to be a fascinating read in yesterday, today and tomorrow.