Emily recommends The Visiting Suit and The Cave Man by Xiaoda Xiao.
But we decided to bring out the big guns on this one as well. We have consulted with resident expert/manager emeritus Stephanie on this one, and here’s what she says:
I’d recommend Journey to the West
by Wu Chengen as a great starting point for understanding Chinese mythology and culture. It is one of the great Chinese classics and it is an amazing story involving several elements of Chinese mythology, Buddhism, and Taoism. It’s a long story, and has been adapted for TV and movies several times, so that may be an easier place to start. Although it’s hundreds of years old, it’s still staged and read all over the country frequently. If you’re not feeling up to the whole thing, recent National Book Award-winner American Born Chinese
uses the story as a framing device (quite well) and will give you the gist of it.
For a slightly more modern classic, I’d recommend The True Story of Ah Q by Lu Xun
. It was one of the first important novels (technically a novella) published in the modern era. It has little in the way of mythology, but is important for understanding Chinese society pre-Revolution.
For very modern works, Greywolf Press recently published a collection of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo’s work called June Fourth Elegies
. I highly recommend it to anybody, but especially if you are considering a move to China. It’s good to have an understanding of the current regime’s uneasy relationship with artists and writers—something many Americans overlook in light of our improved economic relationship with the country. In general, China has an incredible history of poetry which is a great way to learn more about the history of Chinese writing. You can find many of these poems online because they are long in the public domain. In Chinese class, many students (myself included) learn Li Bai’s poem “Drinking Alone by Moonlight,” because it is tradition in China for students to memorize many classic poems. Here’s a cool project from LibriVox where many people recorded themselves reading it
! Another basic one to learn is “Quiet Night Thought.”
One of my favorite contemporary Chinese novelists is Xiaolu Guo. She is an incredible writer! I would especially recommend A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
and Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth
. Some of her work has been translated into English by Howard Goldblatt, who is a very active translator of Chinese fiction into English. (He has also translated Mo Yan
, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and who would also be a great recommendation for you.) I really like his translations and would say you can’t go wrong looking at a list of them to find a novel that speaks to you.
Hm, that’s nice and all that you’re looking to “immerse” yourself in “chinese mythology and culture.” But be warned: Ancient China is NOT Modern China. So if you actually want to prepare for contemporary life in places like Shanghai or Beijing, I would suggest the following reading list:
Candy by Mian Mian
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin
Beijing Blur by James West
Postcards from Tomorrow Square by James Fallows
I’ve also heard good things about Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China by Yua Hua, which is currently on my to-read list.
More great books! I second the recommendation for Candy by Mian Mian, and Foreign Babes in Beijing is also a great read. Also, this reminded me that this morning in the shower I realized I forgot to recommend Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui.