Interesting books by Chinese authors

Up to now, I’ve never managed reading something for pleasure in Chinese. I just couldn’t find anything that I liked. Okay, might be partly due to the fact that my German university is very PRC-oriented and I only studied Simplified characters. I read stuff in German or English by Su Tong, Lu Wenfu, Ha Jin etc., some nice stuff, but a lot of similarities in my opinion. I liked the German translation of Yu Hua’s books but am not sure that the Chinese would be as interesting. I hate Wang Shuo and the likes that consider it “cool” to use as many “fcks", "sx” and “sh*ts” as possible in one sentence.

At one point, I thought about getting Chinese translations of Western books I had read, but they were so boring (e.g. “Bridget Jones’s Diary”). I read “Balzac and the little Seamstress” (in English) last year, one of the funniest and most interesting novels by a Chinese author that I had ever read and started looking for it in Chinese only to figure out that the author lives in France. Needless to say, I skipped the Chinese TRANSLATION and got the FRENCH original.

My neighbour just read the latest book by Mo Yan in Chinese and was thrilled (Btw, Mo Yan is in Taipei for one year, and my neighbour ran into him in his favorite pub, Lane 86, the other day). I started Mo Yan’s “Red Sorghum” years ago and gave up after a couple of pages, way too bloddy. But my neighbour keeps telling me that the new book is excellent, excellent usage of Chinese. I guess this is what would put me off, the level might be too high for me. Besides, I’ll struggle awfully with reading Traditional Chinese. However, I believe reading Chinese would be great for my language abilities.

Have any of you guys read books (fiction) by Chinese authors lately? In Chinese? Which ones did you like? Which ones were not worth it? Anything you could recommend that isn’t too hard and too long?


Iris, know what you mean. I too find much of themodern stuff just plain boring - eg, Lee (?) Ying Tai - she writes for one of the major dailiy newspapers and has written a few books. Lu Xun on the other hand…


I love the book Fortress Beseiged (Wei Cheng), by mainland author Qian Zhongshu. Very funny.

But I read it in English, not the Chinese original.

A strong second on Cranky’s recommendation. Qian Zhongshu is one of the few modern Chinese writers who mastered a modern, almost Nabokovian irony. I actually read this twice–once after having studied about three years of Chinese and then again last year. When I read it a second time, I realized how much I had missed the first time. I think my Chinese was simply not up to it and I just plain didn’t get it. I think Zhang Ailing and Shen Congwen also stand on their own. I also recently read a collection of autobiographical essays by Ping Lu that enjoyed. I much prefer Zhou Zuoren to Lu Xun.

Huang: I think you mean Lung Ying-tai


yes of course you are right.

Still boring though…isn’t she?


I’m half way through Wei Jingsheng’s The Courage to Stand Alone, a collection of letters he wrote to family and leading govt officials (translated) in his almost two decades in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, for advocating democracy. His steadfast refusal to kowtow to the authorities, writing these forceful letters year after year, obviously infuriating the govt, is amazing. But it makes me question whether Wei is more heroic or foolish. He is unwaveringly blunt in letters to top officials and to family (sternly correctting siblings on grammar and other matters, and directing them to run countless errands, despite the fact that they suffer due to his actions), and it is clear that while the govt locked him up, Wei spent two decades in prison by choice. Had he just shut up the govt could have saved face and released him much earlier. While Wei’s speaking out is admirable, it’s interesting to note that it results from his perhaps unpleasant character traits, his stubborn, often abrasive openness. Is he a hero or a fool?

I loved reading Wei Jingsheng’s book, too. He can see straight through the facade of the Chinese Communist Party. Perhaps other Chinese can too, but none of them are as outspoken or forthright as Wei.

His letter to Deng Xiaoping about Tibet is brilliant. I have quoted the first paragraph below. Read the complete letter here

[quote=“Wei Jingsheng”]Mr. Deng Xiaoping:

The propaganda campaign you have launched shows that you are not only dissatisfied with your hand-picked successor, but also concerned about the affairs of Tibet which is under your personal care. Therefore, your people have hastily worked out a White Paper called “Tibet-Its Ownership and Human Rights” to cover up their incompetence and ignorance which is also your incompetence and ignorance. They are continuing to use old lies and distortions to deceive you and many other Chinese people in order to maintain their position and power. The result will be that at the time when the majority wake up from their dreams, Tibet will no longer be part of China. The domino phenomenon will go far beyond the 1.2 million square kilometers of Tibet and you will be laughed and condemned by history. In order to improve the situation and solve the Tibet question, the first thing to do is to understand what the problems are. Only to listen to the soothing lies will not help you to understand the reality and find out the problem, and certainly will not solve the problem. I personally know only a little about Tibetan history. However, I believe that I am more clear-minded than you and your people. Therefore, I venture to write this letter to you and hope that you would create an academic atmosphere of free expression, so that people of knowledge could put forward more insight with regard to this issue and find out the problem. Only by doing so, could we avoid losing the last opportunity of settling the issue and avoid repeating the situation of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

I’m reading (in English) the book 1587: A Year of No Significance, by Ray Huang. It’s about politics in the Ming Dynasty, and is fairly interesting, although I’m only 50 pages into it. It’s published by the Yale University Press.

I was trying to read

I was reading ‘Dan bai zhi nu hai’ (The Protein Girl) by Wang Hua Wen (?). That was the first Chinese book I ever actually finished.

Then I went out and got the sequel (The Protein Girl II), which I am half way through now.

This stuff is trash really, just silly humorous stuff about guys and girls dating each other. But it is kind of funny (starting to wear thin after finishing book one though). Also, the fact that it is set in contemporary Taipei is fun.

The real attraction for me though is just that it is easy to understand. There is lots of dialogue, which is good for someone like me who has OK spoken Chinese, but rotten reading skills! The chapters are nice and short too, so you can easily finish a couple of chapters in one go.

OK, it isn’t great literature, but it is a more enjoyable way of practicing reading than working through a textbook or the newspaper.

Maybe this is not germane to the topic at hand, i.e., Chinese authors, but since the thread starter also mentioned Chinese translations of foreign books, Haruki Murakami (