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Best Books About Modern China-Window To The East

The evolution of modern China is a fascinating and complex topic with a significant impact on the world.

From its political and economic rise to its social and cultural changes, there’s a lot to learn about this dynamic country.

With our curated list of the best books on modern China, you’ll be able to dive into the rich history and gain a deeper understanding of its present and future.

So, if you’re ready to broaden your knowledge, join us on this journey through the pages of these insightful books.

1. The Search for Modern China (My top pick)


  • “The Search for Modern China” by Jonathan D. Spence provides a deep understanding of the social forces driving contemporary politics and establishing linkages between China and its geopolitical neighbors.
  • This personal collection of history serves as a great companion to the main text, offering a more oral history perspective.
  • With its excellent introduction to one of the world’s oldest nations, “The Search for Modern China” paints a robust picture of the country and is a must-read for anyone interested in fostering a deeper knowledge of Modern China.

Why do I pick this one?

  • First-Rate Historical Data: With its high-quality content and historical data, “The Search for Modern China” by Jonathan D. Spence is a first-rate resource for those looking to deepen their knowledge of Modern China.
  • Valuable Research Tool: The book has been used many times as a research tool for course material, making it a valuable resource for students and scholars alike.
  • Sterling Professor of History: Written by Jonathan D. Spence (1936-2021), Sterling Professor of History at Yale University, where he taught for over 40 years.

  • “Fascinating aspects of Chiang’s life revealed” – Jay Taylor sheds light on the previously unknown aspects of Chiang Kai-shek’s life.
  • “Penetrating insight into the dynamics of the past” – Taylor’s in-depth analysis offers a unique perspective on the events and factors that shaped mainland China and Taiwan’s relationship.

Why do I pick this one?

• Chiang Kai-shek is a prominent figure in the history of modern China, rivaling Mao Zedong.

• Taylor does not hide Chiang’s brutality and diplomatic failures, but he makes a compelling argument that Chiang governed an almost ungovernable country skillfully and understood his enemies better than American advisers.

  • China’s rise can be attributed to the changes in economic policy brought about by Deng Xiaoping, but its long history of adaptation is equally important.
  • In the 18th century, the Qing Empire had a large population, yet this was threatened by the Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion.
  • After Mao, China’s economy and society experienced a major transformation. This book recounts China’s journey of crisis, recovery, failure and success, and examines how its versatility and resourcefulness have been integral in ensuring its survival and further growth.

Why do I pick this one?

  • Making China Modern is an impressive work that finally treats China as a major and influential player in the world.
  • It takes a holistic approach, connecting domestic politics with international dynamics, and seeks to understand China on its own terms.
  • It is a significant departure from the scholarship of previous generations, which often relegated China to a mere postscript.

  • Provides an authoritative overview of Chinese history from 1644 until present day.
  • Combines a broad survey with a careful examination of important primary sources.
  • Known for their general historical sweep and special knowledge as careful military historians.

Why do I pick this one?

  • The authors have crafted a well-written and nicely-paced narrative that focuses on the relevance of warfare to Chinese history – a topic often neglected.
  • With a global outlook, the authors provide readers with a sense of the how the twentieth century fits into a broader context of dynastic power and imperial growth.

  • “A Must-Read for China Enthusiasts” – Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs “Never Turn Back” offers a vivid and accessible account of the period from Mao’s death to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square incident.
  • This book is a valuable addition to the existing literature on China and is enhanced by the author’s access to internal Chinese documents and interviews with former officials and intellectuals.
  • The result is a richly researched account of China’s political landscape during a critical time in its history.

Why do I pick this one?

  • The book offers a fascinating and authoritative account of the paths for China’s future explored during a decade that has been buried by official, state-sponsored history. Whether you are a student of politics, history, or simply seeking to expand your knowledge, this book is a must-read.
  • The author expertly examines the potential alternate paths China’s rise could have taken and delves into the inner workings of strongman rule under President Xi Jinping.

  • The Hundred-Year Marathon is a book about China’s secret strategy to replace the United States as the world’s leading superpower by 2049.
  • The author, Michael Pillsbury, is a leading China expert and has served in senior national security positions in the U.S. government.
  • The book also highlights how the U.S. government has helped, knowingly or unknowingly, to make the “China Dream” come true.

Why do I pick this one?

  1. The book is based on extensive research and analysis, including the author’s own experience working for the Pentagon and the CIA.
  2. It provides insight into the hidden agenda of China’s long-term goals and ambitions to become the world’s dominant power.
  3. It offers a sobering perspective on the future of Sino-American relations and challenges commonly held assumptions in Washington.

  • The book highlights the efforts of bold innovators who reinvented the Chinese language, including an exiled reformer, a Chinese-Muslim poet, and a computer engineer.
  • The book sheds light on the role of language as a tool for power and influence and how it played a crucial role in China’s journey towards modernization.

Why do I pick this one?

  1. Provides insightful perspectives on the intersection of China’s information technology systems and its language revolution.
  2. Features larger-than-life characters and a compelling narrative that makes a complex subject accessible to a wide audience.
  3. Detailed and meticulously researched, providing an engaging and informative look at the evolution of the Chinese language and its impact on modern China.

  • The book provides a detailed examination of the history of two rival dynasties who played a major role in Chinese business and politics for over 175 years.
  • The author explores how these dynasties impacted the economic boom in China, and the challenges they faced during political turmoil and the rise of the Communist party.
  • The book is written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and tells a multigenerational story of family rivalry, political intrigue, and survival, stretching from Baghdad to Hong Kong to Shanghai to London.

Why do I pick this one?

  1. Discover a new chapter in Chinese and Jewish history: “The Last Kings of Shanghai” uncovers the story of two significant Jewish families who made a lasting impact on modern China.
  2. A unique perspective on capitalism and colonialism: The book sheds light on the role of business and commerce in shaping modern China and provides a new perspective on colonialism.
  3. A multigenerational saga: From one generation to the next, the Sassoon and Kadoorie dynasties faced a variety of challenges and overcame them, making “The Last Kings of Shanghai” an engrossing, multi-generational story of perseverance and success.

  • The author covers Xi’s top priorities, including fighting corruption, managing the Internet, state-owned enterprise reform, innovation, air quality and China’s global presence.
  • The book analyzes the tensions, successes, and shortcomings of these reforms and their impact on the rest of the world.
  • Additionally, the author provides recommendations for how other nations, especially the United States, can navigate their relationship with China in the future.

Why do I pick this one?

  1. Offers a nuanced assessment of Xi Jinping’s leadership and its impact on China’s domestic and global affairs.
  2. Written by Elizabeth Economy, a leading China expert, offering thorough research and insightful analysis.
  3. Essential reading for understanding China’s future and the US-China relationship.

Final Words:

After getting to know modern China more, you may feel like visiting China soon.

Here are 6 must read books about the Great Wall, the must-see place in China.


What is considered modern China?

Modern China refers to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) established in 1949 following the Chinese Civil War.

What is modern China known for?

Modern China is known for its rapidly growing economy, large population, and its status as a leading global power.

It is also known for its unique blend of communist ideology and capitalist economic development, as well as its highly centralized political system.

Who is the founder of modern China?

The founder of modern China is Mao Zedong, who was the chairman of the Communist Party of China and led the country through the Chinese Civil War and into the establishment of the PRC.

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