Travel Through Translation: Eight Chinese Books You Should Read

Travel Through Translation: Eight Chinese Books You Should Read

How many of the books that you read last year were published in your native tongue and in your native country? We bet a lot. Break out of your normal reading routine and explore another culture with these eight books from Chinese authors.

This Generation

Han Han is heralded by some in China as the voice of his generation, and might just be the most famous person you’ve never heard of. Let’s change that. This young writer and former racecar driver made a name for himself as the buzziest blogger in China with a readership of a half-billion people. This collection contains some of the writings that propelled Han Han to fame, dating back to the mid-aughts. If you’re curious about Han Han’s career and modern Chinese culture, this collection translated by Allan H. Barr is the perfect starting point.


Love in a Fallen City

Eileen Chang’s short stories and novellas in this collection take on themes of gender and political change in 20th century China. Translated by Karen S. Kingsburg and Chang herself, these stories will take readers into Chinese culture in the years following the second World War. The New York Times wrote of Love in a Fallen CIty, “Chang establishes many oppositions–East vs. West, tradition vs. modernization, spiritual love vs. physical love–and then artfully undermines them to reveal subtler tensions.” For anyone with an interest in 20th-century Chinese culture, these stories will prove illuminating and deeply insightful.

The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu is China’s most popular science fiction author, and English readers can jump on the bandwagon thanks to translator Ken Liu. This book is the first in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy. Set during China’s Cultural Revolution, the story kicks off with a secret government message being sent into orbit with the hope of establishing contact with any extraterrestrials that might receive it. Unfortunately, the message is received by an alien race in need of a new home, and the aliens begin to make their way towards Earth with the intention of invasion. We suggest you start reading now, especially since there’s a movie in the works.



Can Xue’s novel (translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping) explores the dreamlike village of Pebble Town through multiple points of view. It begins with Liujin, a young girl who awakens one morning to the sound of voices coming from the leaves outside of her window. The happenings in town only becomes more strange, with snow leopards descending from the mountain and taking up residence in the lobby of a popular hotel. The story finds common ground between dreams and reality, the East and the West, and existence and death. Frontier hits shelves March 2017.


Meet stepbrothers Baldy Li and Song Gang in this beloved doorstop of a novel from Yu Hua. While their paths diverge after childhood (Baldy Li is interested in business, whereas Song Gang is more of a bookworm) the two brothers each have their eye on Lin Hong, who is the most beautiful woman in town. Watch Baldy Li and Song Gang compete for her attention and work to find their places in the world in this famous work of Chinese literature translated by Eileen Cheng-yin Chow and Carlos Rojas. Kirkus raves that Brothers is, “A deeply flawed great novel, akin to the best work of Zola, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and, arguably, Rabelais.”

 Invisible Planets

Sci-fi readers, if you aren’t already paying attention to Ken Liu, you should be. This author is responsible for translating some of China’s best science fiction into English. You may already know (if only from this article) that he’s translated Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy into English, but this anthology includes a new mix of award-winning fiction and Ken Liu’s personal favorite short stories. Ken Liu collected the works of 13 incredible authors, including Hao Jingfang (“Folding Beijing”), Xia Jia (“A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight”), and Tang Fei (“Call Girl”). If you’re interested in the future of science fiction, this is a must-read.

Lenin’s Kisses

Author Yan Lianke is known for writing works that challenge China’s censorship system, and this novel (translated by Carlos Rojas) is no different. After a fierce snowstorm in the Balou mountains destroys a season’s worth of crops, the people of Liven are forced to think of alternate methods for survival. When a government official arrives and convinces them to form a traveling performance group, they’re wary at best. Still, they decide to take their show on the road, not realizing that the official hopes to use the profits not to help Liven but to purchase the embalmed corpse of Vladimir Lenin. In a starred review Publishers Weekly said, “Both a blistering satire and a bruising saga, this epic novel by Yan examines the grinding forces of communism and capitalism, and the volatile zones where the two intersect.”


Daughter of the River

This memoir by Hong Ying and translated by Howard Goldblatt takes on the author’s childhood in Chongqing beginning in the early 1960s. Hong Ying’s early life was marked by hunger and poverty, in addition to an awareness of the fact that her family was keeping certain secrets from her. These are tense circumstances for growing from a child into an adolescent, and then into an adult, and Hong Ying illustrates her own changes alongside changing conditions in her country. This is a fascinating look at late 20th-century Chinese history through the eyes of a perceptive and fascinating narrator.


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