Chinese culture to read & watch this summer

Books and films to enjoy

Hello fellow China Watchers

As we enter the summer proper, so ends Series 1 of What China Wants, so this will be the last history and culture post for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed the last nine months of articles.

I’ll kick off Series 2 of my culture and history posts at the end of the summer by examining the end of the Song Dynasty and the rise of the Mongols. I’ll also come up with more ideas for insights into Chinese culture. 

To keep us all busy on the cultural front for now, I thought I’d share the Chinese books and films I’m planning to get through during the summer. If any of you have other ideas for books or films to enjoy, then please do list them in the comments.

Many thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on Tuesday for the last post of Series 1, wrapping up our analysis of China’s aims for South East Asia.


What I will be reading this summer

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan

This has been on my “I can’t believe I’ve not read this yet” list for some years now. The book was apparently a major reason that Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in 2012, and it comes highly recommended by friends and critics alike. Beginning in 1923 and ending in 1976, it follows the fortunes of three generations, as the Chinese fight both the Japanese invaders, and each other. 

The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin

If you liked the Three Body Problemby Liu Cixin, then you should read the sequels too. The first of these is The Dark Forest, set in the aftermath of the revelation that aliens are going to invade - four centuries in the future. Although the aliens' human collaborators have been defeated, the rest of mankind has to prepare its defences for the forthcoming invasion.  

Broken Wings by Jia Pingwa

None of the books I’ve mentioned are particularly light, but Broken Wings stands out not only for the brutality of its theme, but also the fact that it reflects what is happening in parts of China today. In short, there are tens of millions of extra men due to female infanticide during the One Child One Family years, and so an entire illegal woman-trafficking industry has evolved to take care of their needs. This is the story of one of these women, called Butterfly, who is kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery in a remote mountain village. Written in the first person, the novel begins on the 178th day of Butterfly’s captivity. 

What I will be watching this summer

The Eight Hundred, directed by Hu Guan

With Washington-Beijing tensions rising and the threat of conflict over Taiwan becoming more real, it’s no surprise that China is increasingly looking to its martial past for popular inspiration. The Eight Hundred deals with a heroic incident in the fight against Japan in 1937, when eight hundred Chinese soldiers were besieged by the Japanese army in a Shanghai warehouse.

The Wandering Earth, directed by Frant Gwo

The Wandering Earth is a 2019 science fiction film loosely based on the novella of the same name by the Three Body Problem’s Liu Cixin. Set sometime in the future, it follows a group of astronauts guiding the Earth away from an expanding Sun, while attempting to prevent a collision with Jupiter.

White Snake, directed by Amp Wong and Ji Zhao

Sadly for fans of the David Coverdale hard rock band, this isn’t a music documentary, but rather an animated action-adventure tale based on a famous Chinese folk story, the Legend of the White Snake. A white snake-demon loses her memory while being disguised as a human woman and falls in love with a (fairly useless) snake hunter. This brings her into conflict with her angry sister, the green snake-demon. This is one I’ll be watching with the kids.