Best Books about China: Experience the Middle Kingdom Before You Even Land

WildChina > Editor's Pick > Best Books about China: Experience the Middle Kingdom Before You Even Land

Reading about China before you arrive is a great way to add an extra layer of depth to your trip and whet your appetite for the upcoming adventure. Here are five of the best books that will help prepare you for a journey to the Middle Kingdom.


With a population of well over one billion people, five thousand years of history and seismic changes seemingly every other day, how do you even begin to get your head around modern China? Picking up a book is a good place to start.

These books will give you historical context to the beautiful places you’re sure to visit. They will help you get a feel for how China works today and will help you prepare yourself for the incredible adventure that you’re about to embark on.

The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom by John Pomfret

women-missionaries-in-chinaWomen Missionaries in China

John Pomfret traveled to China in the 1980s to study at the University of Nanjing, making him one of the first foreigners allowed to study in the country. Since that time, Pomfret has spent his career working in China-related journalism and is a award-winning, long-time writer for the Washington Post. In his newest book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, Pomfret covers the illustrious relationship between China and America. For example, women missionaries in the early 1900’s helped to end the practice of foot binding. Who knew?

2. Travels through Dali: with a Leg of Ham by Mei Zhang


WildChina founder and travel expert extraordinaire, Mei Zhang returns to her hometown of Dali in her Penguin published book, Travels through Dali: with a leg of ham. In China’s southwestern Yunnan province, Mei rediscovers the exotic flavors and aromas of her childhood and goes in search of her favorite dish – a plate of sizzling salt-cured ham.

Part recipe book, part travelogue Travels through Dali will help you discover the destinations and meet the local characters that you will also encounter in our tour by the same name: Travels through Dali: with a Leg of Ham.

Travels through Dali: with a leg of ham is now available for purchase across China and Australia, and will be in bookstores in the United States from May 2017. For now, you can order your signed copy online.

3. Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop


With an open mind and a healthy appetite, Fuchsia Dunlop set out to eat her way into the heart of Sichuanese culture. With vivid descriptions of China’s spiciest cuisine on every page,  you’ll find yourself craving the spicy aromas of Sichuanese food as you indulge in a book that is part autobiography, part travelogue, and part feast. You can join Fuchsia Dunlop and taste her favorite Chinese dishes yourself on our Gastronomic Tour of China.

4. The Great Wall in 50 Objects by William Lindesay


William Lindesay has spent his life researching the Great Wall and building a relationship with this feat of architecture. In his most recent book The Great Wall in 50 Objects, Lindesay tells the story of the Great Wall from the second century BC to the late-twentieth century through the lens of fifty artifacts. He traces the stories of their discovery and those of their modern-day keepers. The book is both a personal and historical exploration of China’s very own world wonder. Lindesay is also our Great Wall expert, and we can help you design an unparalleled tour with him.

5. Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clarke


Penned by investment advisor and 20-year UK expatriate Duncan Clark, Alibaba: The House that Jack Ma Built, gives a behind the scenes account of the rise of Alibaba, a powerhouse force behind China’s global economic influence. Through his exclusive interviews and accounts as an early advisor to Alibaba, Clark tells the story of how a humble English teacher built one of the world’s largest companies to become a “Rockefeller of his age”.

Now that you’ve added these books to your reading list, take your curiosity one step further and venture to China on one of our tours. If your tastes are a little more classic and you want to get to know the broad strokes of Chinese history like John Pomfret’s The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom, customize our Chinese Treasures tour. Intrigued by the history and legacy of the Great Wall like William Lindesay? Check out our Great Wall Day Tour.