Although it is fiction, “Dream of the Red Chamber” by Cao Xueqin is not only probably the greatest novel in the history of Chinese literature, but also an excellent look at 18th century Qing Dynasty China. It is amazingly descriptive, describing everything from furniture, clothing, food, Chinese medicine, etc. down to the tiniest detail, discusses the corruption and hypocricsy of the upper strata of society and the Qing government, and is a harsh criticism (often very satirical) of Confucianism (especially Neo-Confucianism). So while it’s not historical, it does present a very, very accurate view of the times. The best English translation is by David Hawkes, and you can find it at Eslite Bookstore across from Taida.
“Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is supposed to be a historical novel, but in reality it isn’t. Most of the stories don’t conform to historical fact. It’s still a fun read though, and is probably more suitable to the time period you’re looking for.
The books Doug McKenzie recommended are all good, but they can be quite dry … so if you’re looking for a fun read, you might want to skip those and stick with the Ming-Qing Dynasty novels. For a good short story collection, you might want to try Fengmeng Long’s “Stories Old & New” (I believe Burton Watson did a translation of these), which is from the Ming Dynasty. “The Peony Pavilion” (Mudan ting) is also a good short novel.
One guy mentioned “Record of the Peach Blossom Spring” by Tao Yuanming … but that’s just a short prose piece, and wouldn’t last you more than an hour.