5 China Beach Reads to Burn Through this Summer

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9:32 PM HKT, Wed June 27, 2018 3 mins read

We’re not sure what your summer routine is, but if it at any point involves tuning out and kicking back with a good page-turner, here are some hot ticket China reads to propel you through the summer:

The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang

This is one of the hottest summer reads, period, for fans of fantasy and speculative fiction. It’s the debut novel by young author Rebecca F. Kuang, who emigrated to the United States from Guangzhou in 2000 and just received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University.

Kuang describes The Poppy War as the first in a trilogy that “grapples with drugs, shamanism, and China’s bloody twentieth century.” It’s received stellar reviews since its May 1 release, with Publishers Weekly calling it “a strong and dramatic launch to Kuang’s career.” Here’s the back-of-cover plot description:

When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

The Hardware Hacker by Bunnie Huang

For the non-fiction gear nerd, Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s Hardware Hacker is a recent classic. Originally published last March, it’s already become somewhat of a Bible for all those looking to understand and/or crack the intensely innovative hardware manufacturing metropolis of Shenzhen. The book cover includes a glowing review from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden — a dubious reference to some perhaps, but one with unquestionable hacker bona fides. If you need another co-sign, take world-renowned Shenzhen Maker Naomi Wu’s word for it:

If you want to know about hardware, manufacturing, or China tech in general, it’s absolutely required reading. He knows Shenzhen tech better than anyone I’ve ever met, local or otherwise.

The Phoenix Years by Madeleine O’Dea

If you want an illuminating recent history of China without either the fraught political hand-wringing or the uncritically optimistic praise of China’s economic rise that usually accompanies such tomes, we recommend this recent entry from Madeleine O’Dea.

An Australian writer and journalist, O’Dea has been reporting from Beijing since 1986, and kept her reportorial eye on China’s art and cultural scene as a producer for ABC television through the ’90s. Her book follows nine contemporary Chinese artists from 1986 to the tragic events of 1989, and through the ensuing decades of increasing economic opportunity, the internationalization of the art market and the “ongoing struggle for free expression.”

Insignificance by Xu Xi

Insignificance is a compact collection of short stories from Hong Kong author Xu Xi, whom we last caught up with following the publication of her latest novel, That Man in Our Lives. At the time, she told RADII about her home city:

I think Hong Kong has a very bright future, economically at least, especially if the local government can manage social issues, like taking care of the less fortunate, solving housing inequality, and giving more opportunities to local Hong Kong kids. Hong Kong students should embrace learning Mandarin and be clearer about the economic possibilities in China because, to tell you the truth, I think China’s future is brighter than America’s at the moment. Sure, China has pollution problems but the government wants to clean those up; China has corruption problems, but the government wants to clean those up.

Insignificance, however, casts a critical glance back at Hong Kong’s recent past, especially the tensions that have come with its re-entrance into the sphere of Chinese government influence. From the Amazon description:

Does Hong Kong’s future look like its past, or is nostalgia a dangerous indulgence? Who will shed tears for the city it could or should become? These stories are among Xu Xi’s most pointed, powerful work, as characters try to find their way forward in a familiar city they no longer recognize.

Invisible Planets, edited/translated by Ken Liu

This anthology of Chinese sci-fi was released in November 2016 to widespread critical acclaim, announcing the arrival of a fully-formed, brilliantly diverse crop of Chinese fantasy and science fiction writers on the international scene.

The volume was translated and edited by Ken Liu, an award-winning Chinese-American “silkpunk” novelist who has been instrumental in translating and introducing the work of Liu Cixin outside of China. (Liu is a winner of the prestigious Hugo Award and author of The Three-Body Problem, which is reportedly being developed into an Amazon series.)

Invisible Planets includes a representative short story of Liu’s, as well as Folding Beijing, another Hugo-winning from Beijing writer Hao Jingfang — check out RADII’s interview with her here.

Cover photo: “World’s loneliest library” on a beach in Qinhuangdao, China (Daily Mail)

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