Five Books to Pick Up If You're Headed to China

Evan Osnos at Asia Society New York. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

Planning a trip to China? New Yorker correspondent and Asia Society award winner Evan Osnos recommends the best five books for the discerning traveler—from our friends at The Browser (click to read the full interview) ...

1. To Change China by Jonathan Spence

"At its core this book is about humility and understanding what is possible in China as a foreigner. I don't really know why, but going back to the very origins of foreigners coming to China, there's something about setting foot on Chinese soil that stirs all of our most extravagant ambitions for changing the world. I think that's partly because of the size of the place, and because it really does capture our imaginations."

2. Tide Players by Jianying Zha

"What's interesting about this book is that Jianying Zha is both an insider and an outsider. She's of Chinese descent, she was raised in China, and then moved to the US around college. So she’s gone back and forth ever since and has real relationships with a lot of the people who are making big changes in China—culturally or financially. She's able to write with real intimacy and understanding about why people made the kind choices they made. But she is ultimately also morally candid."

3. Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French

"In some ways reading this book is a bit like travelling through a Tibetan area with a particularly long-winded and knowledgeable and acerbic friend. In Tibet literature, it's rare that you run into a voice like that: it tends to be people are either hugely and entirely admiring or they are really critical and angry. It’s rare that you get a voice that depicts both, so I found it to be among the most interesting books written on Tibet."

4. The Search for a Vanishing Beijing by M.A. Aldrich

"This is a quirky book that I don't think many people have heard of. It's actually been quite useful to me in terms of decoding the area where I live. It's organized as a series of walks. So you’ll start at the Drum Tower, for instance, and walk south from there, and you’ll pass by the old homes of China's greatest writers and you'll pass by the little one-story house in which Mao Zedong lived when he was a young library assistant in Beijing, etc. etc."

5. Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics by Yasheng Huang

"What Huang Yasheng is arguing throughout his book is that China's great strength has been its own entrepreneurial culture, and that the country has been at its best when it has allowed that entrepreneurial culture to thrive. And that it has actually stumbled when it tries to move in and the state tries to regulate the economy inappropriately or tries to promote state interests. What he's doing is arguing against the image of 'market authoritarianism' or 'state capitalism' which is in fashion these days."

How many of these books have you read? Got your own favorites? Let us know in the space below ...