Here’s what every Chinese book recently translated for the US is about

Image: Reuters//Ognen Teofilovski
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If you want to understand China, you might want to turn to its literature.

While many American readers have discovered the works of Liu Cixin, the author of the The Three-Body Problem, the first translated novel to win science-fiction’s coveted Hugo Award, and Yan Lianke, a satirist of the Communist Party’s brutalities and perhaps China’s most controversial novelist, there are many more books available for American readers trying to get into the Chinese psyche (or perhaps just enjoy some interesting writing).

According to Publishers Weekly’s Translation Database, 59 books originally published in China were published in translation in the US from January 2017 to March 2019—accounting for about 3% of all translations published in the US over that period. They are made up of 29 books of fiction, 18 children’s books, and 12 books of poetry.

Out of the 59 books, four are sci-fi and several have focused on moments of upheaval or national transition, such as the Cultural Revolution period in the 1960s and 1970s when Mao Zedong was in power, and Japan’s invasions during the 1930s and 1940s.

Here’s a list of the books, along with a short explanation of their content. (Books are listed in the order in which they were published.)



Chan Ho-Kei, translation by Jeremy Tiang
A book that pairs a detective’s career with the history of Hong Kong, including how the city’s became a police state under the Communist Party’s rule.


Can Xue, translation by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping
A surreal novel about a woman who makes a life in an imagined frontier city.

Tree Grows in Daicheng

Lu Nei, translation by Poppy Toland
A novel about a place untouched by Cultural Revolution but where people are struggling to adapt to a constantly changing world.

Valley of Terror

Zhou Haohui, translation by Bonnie Huie
A novel about the investigation of a plague spreading across a Chinese city.

Dr. Bethune’s Children

Xue Yiwei, translation by Darryl Sterk
A book banned in China and published in Taiwan, it tells the story of a generation of children influenced by the Canadian remembered as a hero in Mao’s era.

Happy Dreams

Jia Pingwa, translation by Nicky Harman
A novel about life in an industrializing China.

Death in the House of Rain

Lin Szu-Yen, translation by Lin Szu-Yen (Self-translated)
A novel about a family murdered in a manor, then mysterious deaths haunt people staying in the same manor.

Years, Months, Days

Yan Lianke, translation by Carlos Rojas
A novel by one of China’s most banned authors, the story tells the extreme methods a mother takes to cure her children of a disease.

Pidgin Warrior

Tianyi Zhang, translation by David Hull
The story of how a man tries to save China by resorting to martial arts. It’s set in the 1930s.

Little Reunions

Eileen Chang, translation by Pan Weizhen (Jane)
Set in Japanese-occupied China, the novel depicts that chaotic period through the eyes of a romantic couple.

Golden Hairpin

Qinghan Cece, translation by Alex Woodend
A novel set in ancient China, in which a female detective has to clear her name of accusations she killed her family to avoid an arranged marriage.

Someone to Talk To

Liu Zhenyun, translation by Howard Goldblatt
A novel about the pre- and post-Mao eras, during which people struggle to make a living.

Invisible Valley

Su Wei, translation by Austin Woerner
A novel about young man’s life in a Mao’s work camp and love stories, coupled with the supernatural.

Record of Regret

Dong Xi, translation by Dylan Levi King
The novel tells the story of one man’s miserable life during the Cultural Revolution.

Chilli Bean Paste Clan

Yen Ge, translation by Nicky Harman
A book about family secrets spilled at a grandmother’s birthday celebration.

Death Notice

Zhou Haohui, translation by Zac Haluza
A novel about the police hunting down a vigilante who is publicly executing criminals the law cannot reach.

History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera

Dung Kai-Cheung, translation by Yau Wai-ping
The novel chronicles life in Hong Kong during the final decades of British colonial rule.

Ma Bole’s Second Life

Xiao Hong, translation by Howard Goldblatt
A novel about China in a chaotic period during Japan’s invasion and occupation in the 1930s to 1940s.

Ball Lightning

Liu Cixin, translation by Joel Martinsen
A novel about how the quest for a natural phenomenon leads to scientific discoveries.

Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First Century Science

Various, translation by Various
A collection of sci-fi stories from Greater China.


Pema Tseden (Tibetan), translation by Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani
A book about how sex changes the life of a couple.

Love in the New Millennium

Can Xue, translation by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
A novel about a group of women who inhabit a world of constant surveillance. Conspiracies abound in a community that normalizes suspicion and paranoia.

April 3rd Incident

Yu Hua, translation by Allan Barr
A collection of short stories from one of China’s best-known contemporary writers.

Day the Sun Died

Yan Lianke, translation by Carlos Rojas
A novel about the “walking dead” in a village.

Handsome Monk and Other Stories

Tsering Dondrup, translation by Christopher Peacock
A collection of stories about Tibetan’s life.

Broken Stars

Various, translation by Various
A collection of works from China’s most famous modern sci-fi writers including Liu Cixin.


Yao Lu, translation by Chloe Estep
A man’s struggles in 1980s Chinas. He was forced to quit his rural teaching job because of corrupt local politics.

Waste Tide

Chen Qiufan, translation by Ken Liu
A book about a woman’s struggle in China’s silicon isle, where people couldn’t escape a heavily polluted place.

Redemption of Time

Baoshu, translation by Ken Liu
A novel envisioning a man’s life in the aftermath of the conflicts between humanity and extraterrestrial life.


Who Wants Candied Hawberries

Bao Dongni, translation by Adam Lanphier
Introduction of Beijing Hutong culture through stories of the interactions between humans and animal.

Father and Son Go Fishing

Chen Xiaoting, translation by Duncan Poupard
A story about son and father who go fishing. It is also an introduction to pinyin, the romanized Mandarin spelling system.

Express Delivery from Dinosaur World

Dong Yanan, translation by Helen Wang
A book about dinosaurs.

Buddy Is So Annoying

Fu Wenzheng, translation by Adam Lanphier
The story of a childhood friendship.

Little Rabbit’s Questions

Gan Dayong, translation by Helen Wang
An illustrated book that tells the story of how parents are patient with children.

Borrowing a Tail

Lin Songying, translation by Duncan Poupard
A story of a gecko losing its tail and then regrowing one.

An’s Seed

Wang Zaozao, translation by Helen Wang
A story that encourages children to explore nature.

Rory the Rabbit

Wang Yimei, translation by Adam Lanphier
A story about being oneself.

Peanut Fart

Wang Xiaoming, translation by Adam Lanphier
The adventures of a snail.


Wang Chao, translation by Duncan Poupard
A story about how a person can be whatever they want to be.

Who Ate My Chestnut?

Xia Lei, translation by Duncan Poupard
A story about a squirrel looking for his missing chestnut.


Mao Xiao, translation by Helen Wang
A story about how children play and eat in China.

Frog and the Boy

Xiao Mao, translation by Helen Wang
A story about a boy who people think is a frog.

Picking Turnips

Zhou Xu, translation by Adam Lanphier
A children’s book about a mouse wandering in a sea of books.


Zhu Chengliang, translation by Helen Wang
A fox’s journey to rescue her baby. It explores the relationship between human and wildlife.


Cao Wenxuan, translation by Chloe Garcia Roberts
The journey of a feather finding its home.

Tiger Prince

Chen Jianghong, translation by Alyson Waters
A story about a human prince who goes to live with tigers so the war between humans and wildlife can end.


Roots of Wisdom

Zang Di, translation by Eleanor Goodman
Poems about nature.

Iron Moon

Various, translation by Eleanor Goodman
Working-class poetry collection.

Last Lyric

Yu Xinqiao, translation by Yunte Huang
A collection by a poet jailed by the Chinese government for eight years.

Narrative Poem

Yang Lian, translation by Brian Holton
An exiled writer wrote himself into the history of China from the 1950s to 1970s.

Two Halves of the World Apple

Yang Ke, translation by Denis Mair
Poems from a poet in the 1980s who writes about China in the era of globalization.

Reciprocal Translation Project

Various, translation by Various
This book showcases the work of 12 leading innovators in poetry, six writing in English and six in Chinese.

First Mountain

Zhang Er, translation by Joseph Donahue
The author’s journey from her home in the US to bury her parental grandparents back in China.

Floral Mutter

Ya Shi, translation by Nick Admussen
A book of Chinese poetry, much of which is about the author’s love of nature.

Wild Great Wall

Zhu Zhu, translation by Dong Li
A collection of 38 poems that depict sexual arousal and Mao’s death, among other topics.

October Dedications

Mang Ke, translation by Lucas Klein
Written by the underground poet against the Cultural Revolution. Poems from the 1970s to 1980s.

The poems of Shangyin Li

Li Shangyin, translation by Chloe Garcia Roberts
A collection of poems from a poet who had a bad civil service career in China’s late Tang dynasty, a time full of chaos.

Magpie at Night

Li Qingzhao, translation by Wendy Chen
A poem about appreciating the spring which is about to pass. It’s compulsory in Chinese education.

Corrections, July 30: The piece earlier misspelled Duncan Poupard, Joel Martinsen, and Jeremy Tiang’s names. Descriptions of the October Dedications and Ma Bole’s Second Life have also been updated.