What to read before coming to China!


Something I wish I had looked into before leaving Denmark, is how to ideally prepare yourself for living in China. For short or long term, as a student or otherwise. Thus I have compiled this list of the books and articles that I have found particularly helpful or that I wish I had read beforehand.

  • The Geography of Thought
    – Richard E. Nisbett
    In this book, Nisbett thoroughly examines some of the apparent cognitive differences between easterners and westerners. As it turns out, there are very sensible – tangible even- reasons for the differences that we face on a daily basis when trying to communicate across cultures.
  • Outliers
    – Malcolm Gladwell
    Gladwell makes a thorough and humorous analysis of what makes people think differently and how it affects communication, efficiency and a lot of other factors in life and business. This book is not particularly China focused or even Asia focused, but definitely helped me develop my own understanding for the communicative challenges that might occur between people of different cultures.
  • Quotations by Chairman Mao
    – _
    OK, this one needs a little preface. You should only throw yourself into reading this one if you are sincerely curious about the background of the China you will meet today AND you are confident that you can remain just somewhat unbiased when reading it.
    However, what motivated me to acquire this little, infamous book, was a wish of understanding the way of thought that was prevalent among the generation that is just about to retire now. Many of my classmates parents have been religiously reading this book during their youth – China indeed has its’ very own “lost generation” and this book was incredibly incredibly widespread.
  • Journey to the west OR A dream of red mansions
    – Chinese literary classics
    Now, I’m not saying to read the whole thing of either of these stories, and definitely not in Chinese, either. BUT there is no denying the benefits of reading a summary/introduction and a few chapters, translated to English. I have had great use of knowing just the basics of some of the country’s favorite classics.
  • Jeg har set verden begynde
    – Carsten Jensen
    This one is in Danish, and probably discontinued from print. BUT it is by far one of the best travel diaries I have had the privilege of reading! It details a journalists experience as a solo traveler in China in the mid eighties, before it became crowded with foreign exchange students and backpackers. Again, one of those reads that will provide you just some perspective on the tumultuous modern history of China.

This one about freedom in China

I hope this post has provided you with some inspiration as to where to begin your immersion in Chinese culture whether you are just passing through as a traveler, staying for a semester, a whole year or moving here permanently! Please let me know your favorite books and articles on China and Chinese culture!

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