With fifteen days of celebrations about to begin for Chinese New Year on the 31st, we know that booksellers and book-buyers alike will have their interest piqued by an explosion of Chinese culture over the next few weeks. We’ve scoured our back catalogue for titles that would perfectly accompany a China promotion or a one-off purchase, and come up with a selection that we feel perfectly conveys the vast cultural and political heritage of this unique superpower.
Firstly, two very different books from our historical and political vaults: China’s Great Leap (Seven Stories, 2008, 9781583228432, £10.99) is an engrossing collection of essays written before, during and after the Olympic games in Beijing. It was a tournament that became remembered as much for its spectacular logistical and sporting endeavours as it was for the widely-reported exploitation that ensured its timely completion. China’s Great Leap does not shy away from these issues, but neither is it entirely negative; instead, it is genuinely interested in finding better ways for China to address these issues in the future.
Gordon Kerr’s A Short History of China, (Pocket Essentials, 2013, 9781842439685, £7.99) is a recent addition to the brief-but-brilliant Pocket Essentials series, and a perfect introduction to Chinese history for those discouraged by its enormity. From the ancient dynasties right up until the present day as an established economic superpower, this fact-packed volume is an affordable and informative addition.
Next up we have two books that focus on China as it is today. China Everyday (Southbank Publishing, 2007, 9781904915263, £19.99) is a beautifully illustrated book that – with the aid of some vibrant photography and distinctive design – tries to get to the heart of daily routines in different parts of China, the objects, rituals, places and people that form part of everyday life. It’s a fun and accessible guide to modern China, and won the Non-Fiction award at the Asian Publishing Awards in 2008.
In contrast, Dishu: Ground Calligraphy in China (Dokument, 2013, 9789185639595, £24.99) concentrates on one remarkable aspect of Chinese contemporary culture: the street calligraphers that perform their work on the pavements and parks of Chinese cities every day, typically using broom-length brushes and contorting their bodies to become one with the words they are writing. It is a fascinating look at a rapidly-disappearing discipline, and the narrative is told mainly through a series of extraordinary photographs that show these artists at work. A section towards the end that focuses on their improvised brushes is peculiarly affecting – everyday objects like brooms, sponges and plastic bottles transformed into graceful mediums for the creation of art. And if you’re interested in learning more about Chinese calligraphy, the ‘Discovering China’ series has a detailed history and tips on how to start your own brushed masterpieces (Chinese Calligraphy Reader’s Digest, 2010, 9781606521540, £9.99).
Finally, if you’re planning a Chinese feast, but don’t fancy filling up on deep-fried and batter-drenched meats, then Cooking Well: Healthy Chinese (Hatherleigh, 2013, 9781578264285, £8.99) has plenty of no-nonsense suggestions for delicious Chinese cuisine – without the grease. Fresh vegetables and tempting spices should have your guests salivating, and easily understandable instructions take away the stress of cooking for guests.
Hopefully these titles will help you welcome in the Year of the Horse with style – we have many more related titles that I couldn’t quite squeeze in here. So do get in touch if you’d like more inspiration!