All Characters In Snow Flower And The Secret Fan Books Set in China – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

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Books Set in China – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel

China is a country of vast land and population with millions of stories to tell. Fortunately for us, some of those stories have been captured in novels. From its colonial past and its decades of communism to today’s economic powerhouse, China’s many faces are reflected in hundreds of pages, if not thousands of novels available for us to read. Here are five much-loved titles that will give you an insight into a country that was closed to outsiders for so long. Before setting off to explore this fascinating country, find out what makes this choice tick.

‘Snow Flower and the Secret Fan’ by Lisa C.

This is a fast-paced story of adventure and mystery set in 1920s Shanghai as Spanish painter Elvira de Poulin tries to unravel the tangled affairs of her murdered husband. In order to survive and pay off her husband’s huge debt, she and her teenage niece Fernanda must unravel the clues in an ancient chest to find some lost treasure – before the killers fall for it! A fun and action-packed way to study Chinese culture.

Jennifer Cody Epstein’s ‘The Painter From Shanghai’

Set in Shanghai, the novel is based on the true life story of Pan Yuliang, the first Chinese woman painter to paint in the Western style. Born in 1895 and orphaned as a teenager, Yuliang is destined to become a famous and controversial painter. The novel follows Yuliang’s life and career as China goes through great political upheaval, world wars, and the invasion of Japan. This is the story of a passionate and determined woman who struggles to create rebellious art in a country where she is not accepted.

‘Brothers’ by Yu Hua

Bring China’s social revolution to life in this funny and touching novel about two half-brothers in a small town. It’s a cynical look at modern China, spanning several years from the Cultural Revolution to the country’s capitalist reforms. As the years progress one brother finds himself lost in the new world, while the other embraces his entrepreneurial spirit, reflecting the breadth of the country’s response to change. But while the novel attempts to tell the story of modern China, it is its memorable, likable characters and sharply observed humor that really delights readers.

‘The Vagrant’ by Yiyun Lee

A brutal and sad story that explores the impact of a 1979 execution on the residents of a fictional provincial town on the Muddy River. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, the young female counter-revolutionary Gu Shan dies gruesomely, and as local protests continue to clear her name, the government clamps down on this expression of liberalization. The aftermath of the execution travels far and wide on the assembled cast of characters and reminds us of the shadow cast by the Cultural Revolution on the country. This is an obscure yet powerful read that will stay with you for a long time to come.

Pai Kit Phi’s ‘The Concubine’s Daughter’

Spanning three generations and forty years, the novel unfolds the stories of an educated woman’s concubine, her daughter and grandchildren. The book explores the status and role of women in China in the early 20th century, as the characters ultimately challenge their fate and try to make their own.

Reading the many Chinese novels in print today would be the task of a lifetime, but hopefully this selection will give you a taste of the rich and rewarding stories available to explore. From Beijing to Hong Kong, from Shanghai to deep in the countryside, from the past to the exciting world of the present – why not allow the imagination to take you through this wonderful country and its people.

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