With its huge land mass and population China is a country with millions of stories to be told. Luckily for us, some of those stories have been captured in novels. From its colonial past and its decades of communism to the economic power-house it is today, China's many faces are reflected in the pages of hundreds, if not thousands of novels available for us to read. Here are five much-loved titles which will give you an insight into a country which was for so long closed to those from the outside. Before setting off to explore this fascinating country, discover some of what makes it tick with this selection.
'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan' by Lisa See
This is a fast-paced tale of adventure and mystery in 1920's Shanghai as Spanish painter Elvira De Poulain tries to sort out her murdered husband's messy affairs. To survive and pay off her husband's massive debts, she and her teenage niece Fernanda need to decipher the clues in an antique chest to find some lost treasure - before the killers get their hands on it! An entertaining and action-packed way to delve into Chinese culture.
'The Painter from Shanghai' by Jennifer Cody Epstein
Staying with Shanghai, this novel is based on the true life-story of painter Pan Yuliang, the first Chinese woman to paint in the Western style. Born in 1895 and orphaned as a teenager, Yuliang follows her passion to become a renowned and controversial painter. The novel follows Yuliang's life and career as China goes through enormous political upheaval, world wars and invasion by Japan. It is the story of a passionate and determined woman battling to create rebellious art in a country in which it is not accepted.
'Brothers' by Yu Hua
Bring China's social revolution to life with this funny and touching novel of two step-brothers from a small town. Spanning the years from the Cultural Revolution to the country's capitalist reform, it is a cynical look at modern China. As the years progress one brother finds himself lost in the new world, while the other embraces its entrepreneurial spirit, reflecting some of the breadth of response to the country's changes. But while this novel does attempt to tell the story of modern China, it is its memorable, much-loved characters and sharply observed humor that really delights its readers.
'The Vagrants' by Yiyun Li
A brutal and melancholy story which explores the impact of a 1979 execution on the residents of the fictional provincial town of Muddy River. Young female counter-revolutionary Gu Shan's horrific death comes after the end of the Cultural Revolution, and while there is a local protest to clear her name, the government clamps down on this expression of liberalisation. The after effects of the execution travel far and wide on an ensemble cast of characters, and is a reminder of the shadow the Cultural Revolution casts over the country. This is a bleak but powerful read that will remain with you for a long time to come.
'The Concubine's Daughter' by Pai Kit Fai
Spanning three generations and forty years, this novel reveals the stories of an educated woman turned concubine, her daughter and grand-daughter. The book explores the status and role of women in China in the first half of the 20th century, as the characters eventually challenge their fate and seek to forge their own destinies.
It would be a lifelong task to read all of the many novels set in China which are in print today, but hopefully this selection has given you a taste for the rich and rewarding stories that are available for you to explore. Why not allow fiction to carry you further through this wonderful country and its people, even as you explore it in person - from Beijing to Hong Kong, from Shanghai to areas deep in the countryside, from the past into the exciting world of the present.
Field of Science:Architecture
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