Books We Can’t Wait to Read in 2023
Guardian by Priest
Internet literature has become one of the most empowering environments for female writers in recent Chinese literary history, allowing fresh talent like Priest to emerge. With the hugely popular TV adaptation of her wuxia novel Word of Honour winning the hearts of millions around the world, fans have been overjoyed to learn that her danmei works have been picked up by an English publisher. This Boy Love reflects the challenges to conventional gender roles and sexuality that have recently surfaced in China, but also makes for some amazing stories. Guardian stands out as one of the fewer fantasy novels taking place in a modern setting.
A secret group of unique individuals protect Dragon City from strange happenings, led by the Guardian, Zhao Yunlan. While investigating a death at a university, Zhao meets Shen Wei, a professor as intriguing as the case itself. Their lives begin to intertwine—as if by fate.
Published 30th May 2023, by Seven Seas Entertainment.
Shanghai Immortal by A. Y. Chao
Over the last decade, I have been delighted to witness the phenomenal growth of diaspora Asian SFF, mythological reinterpretations, and the exploration of China’s Republican Era as a melting pot of ideas, styles, and infinite possibilities. The debut novel by Chinese Canadian writer A. Y. Chao hits all three of these targets dead centre.
Traded by her mother to the King of Hell as a child, Lady Jing is a vampiric fox-spirit who has spent decades running errands and dodging taunts. When she overhears a plot to steal a priceless dragon pearl, she seizes the opportunity to expose it. With the help of a gentle mortal tasked with setting up the Central Bank of Hell, the hot-tempered heroine embarks on a wild chase of intrigue in a richly told adult fantasy teeming with adventure, romance, Chinese deities, and demons, all set against the backdrop of jazz-age Shanghai.
Published 1st June 2023, by Hodder and Stoughton.
Dinner for Six by Lu Min, translated by Helen Wang and Nicky Harman
China’s rapid development means it is having to learn to fly when it has only just got to grips with walking; yet today, fear of its rise and an encroaching cold war mentality has meant that the focus is always on geopolitical tensions and white middle-class outrage. We hear very little about what the ordinary person thinks or feels. How do new social issues like divorce, social media, and obesity change family values and impact their lives?
In this novel, two single parents and their four teenage children gather for Saturday dinners. Can widowed accountant Su Qin ever publicly acknowledge her socially-mismatched relationship with Ding Bogang, a laid-off manual worker? Can her overweight son create the perfect family he craves? Will Ding Bogang’s married daughter ever get pregnant? This is a story about two generations of lonely individuals slowly coming together.
Published 26th November 2022, by Balstier Press.
Song of Silver, Flame Like Night by Amélie Wen Zhao
While Xianxia such as Chinese Paladin and The Untamed have popularised the genre both in China and across the world, works from outside the Sinophone sphere, such as Song of Silver and Flame Like Night, are still relatively rare, and rarer still are ones which stand out to amaze.
Lan spends her nights as a song girl in Haak’gong, and her days scavenging for remnants of the past for anything that might help her understand the strange mark burnt into her arm by her dying mother, which no one else can see. An encounter with Zen, a dark magician, leads her deep into the pine forests and misty mountains of the Last Kingdom, where an order of practising masters are planning to overthrow their coloniser’s regime.
Published 3rd January 2023, by Delacorte Press.
The Book of Beijing by Assorted authors
As the capital of China, Beijing is its political, economic, and cultural centre. On the surface it is a heritage gem and metropolis with increasingly gentrified areas. But if you dive into the hutongs and explore the heart of the old town, other faces reveal themselves: local stories, alternative art scenes, and subculture hubs.
This latest in the 'Reading the City' series features a cross-section of Beijing’s burgeoning writing community, showing the city from the quieter, personal perspectives of its many residents. Two former school friends bump into each other fleetingly in Beijing’s busiest subway station; a journalist investigating a flood of fake IDs begins to struggle with his own identity; the appearance of Maradona at a tournament sparks hysteria among the city's football fans…
Artful Subversion: Empress Dowager Cixi’s Image Making by Ying-chen Peng
Notwithstanding strong patriarchies, literature and research have shown that throughout history, China’s female intellectuals, warriors, pirates, and courtiers have trod indirect paths to shape their own destinies. Empress Dowager Cixi, who ruled from 1861 to 1908, has been presented as a woman of notorious repute, though recent re-evaluations have acknowledged the misogyny present in this vilification and revealed an extremely capable stateswoman, as well as a political manipulator and earnest patron of the arts.
Her commissions were innovative in the way they unified two distant conceptions of gender, demonstrating her strength and wisdom as a monarch while highlighting her identity as a woman and mother. The author Ying-Chen Peng examines works commissioned, as well as created by, The Dowager Empress, in a compelling study of how it simultaneously subverted and upheld the Qing Empire and its hierarchy.
Published 14th February 2023, by Yale University Press.
Rats, Cats, Rogues, and Heroes: Glimpses of China’s Hidden Past by Robert J. Anthony
As a vast patchwork of distinct cultures at varying stages of representation, understanding China requires several kinds of lenses, zooming in on authorised texts and artefacts while also seeking out voices that may fall outside a central uniform view. In this book of hidden histories, the result of decades of field research across southern China, Anthony focuses on marginalised individuals and communities, examining historical consciousness as revealed in the everyday lives and oral histories of these unconventional sources. These offer nuggets of new information and insights into a more rounded, diverse China not found in libraries and archives.
Published 15th of January 2023, by Rowman & Littlefield.
Chinese Myths by Xueting C. Ni
Chinese mythology has been passed down in written and oral form over many
millennia, at times merging history and folklore. Such myths are rich in symbolism and teach us about the complexities of an ancient culture stretching back over 4000 years.
This book offers an opportunity to learn about China’s wondrous array of Gods and heroes, fantastical creatures, frightful monsters, dazzling treasures, and mystical objects.
With over 100 photographs of objects and artworks, it is an accessible,
entertaining, and highly informative exploration of the fascinating mythologies
underlying one of the world’s oldest and most influential cultures. Whether you are buying this book as a gift or as an abundant resource to furnish your own creative works, this is a great entry point to the subject.
Published 14th of May 2023, by Amber Books.
The King’s Road: Diplomacy and the Remaking of the Silk Road, by Xin Wen
Whilst everyone is familiar with the term ‘The Silk Road’, it usually conjures up a single path, with all the implied hegemony that comes with a tightly controlled trade route. Coined by a 19th century German cartographer, can this simple term accurately represent such an important part of Eurasian history? Or convey its true impact?
Using documents unearthed from the Dunhuang ‘library cave’, Xin Wen’s new examination emphasises the diplomatic importance of these routes, tracing the arduous journeys of envoys and negotiators, and presenting a rich social history of long-distance travel and details of the everyday lives of those navigating the complex web of geographic, cultural, and linguistic boundaries. Wen reveals the inner workings of a breath-taking interstate network.
Author: Xueting Christine Ni
Xueting (or Christine) Ni is a writer, translator and speaker on Chinese traditional and pop culture. Her translation work has ranged from comics, poetry, essays, film, fantasy and science fiction.
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