Jonathan Chatwin

Flag-waving appeals to historical greatness are countered in Western democracies by other voices, but what happens when the state’s fantasy version of history is ‘the only story you can tell’?

Vanessa Hua’s Forbidden City cleverly frames its subject matter in the form of a confessional by the fictional Mei Xiang, whisked off the dance floor at China’s Zhongnanhai leadership compound and into a notorious side room.

Putonghua - the common tongue of northern Chinese - established a ‘dictatorship’ in China under Communist rule, writes James Griffiths, threatening Cantonese with the same fate as other suppressed languages.

Writer set out to tell ‘the whole story of China in a super readable way for normal people’, and her 250-page book The Shortest History of China does so by focusing on individual stories.


Summoned from China, neglected, then put to work in a sweatshop at 15, Anna Qu had a traumatic childhood. Was it abuse, she wonders in a memoir that notably avoids passing judgment on her mother.

China in One Village, Liang Hong’s 2010 bestseller on rural Chinese life that pioneered a trend of non-fiction exploring identity and place in China, receives the translation it deserves.

Julia Lovell’s accessible new English translation of the Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West, brings its irrepressible hero, Monkey, vibrantly to life for 21st century readers. 

Telling the history of China in fewer than 600 pages inevitably involves compromises, but Michael Wood’s evocative and readable book swoops through the dynasties with both broad strokes and personal stories.

The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City by Juan Du details how the real story of Shenzhen is not simply one of reforms and policies, but a collection of stories of personal struggles and redemptions.