China Beach Reads

I’m headed for the beach this weekend! Dalian beaches are beautiful, and they’ll give me another chance to get tan. 

I can’t say I know for sure what is behind the preference for white skin here (I suspect it’s old and arbitrary) but I understood it slightly more the first time I walked by the place where the local construction crew ate lunch. The construction workers all had beautiful coffee-coloured tans from being in the sun all day, every day – completely different from my snow-white office-dwelling colleagues. They smiled at me with interest, I smiled back, and I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed this obvious and, since construction workers are everywhere in the city, ever-present, connection between tanned skin and social class.   

Anyway, in honour of FiveBooks, I present my list of Modern China Beach Reads, or Tabloid Chinese History.

1. Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel DeWoskin

DeWoskin’s book is probably my favourite ever on China. As a memoir of DeWoskin’s five years in Beijing, centered around her appearance in a late-night soap opera, it qualifies for beach reading. But DeWoskin’s father is a respected Sinologist and she herself is a published poet and it shows. 

2. Decadence Mandchoue by Edward Backhouse

A tabloid portrayal of the Qing court. The author apparently engaged in orgies in the Forbidden City and had an affair with the Dowager Empress.

3. Mao: The Untold Story

This is the book you read to discover all the dirt on Mao’s life, especially the particularly nasty parts about how he treated his wives. The authors’ lack of balance (although, to be fair, it’s not as if Mao deserves a lot of sympathy) make this an excellent tabloid read.

4. 1421 by Gavin Menzies


5.  Madame Mao: The White-Boned Demon by Ross Terrill

Here we find out about the notorious Madame Mao and her lurid love life before she became the world’s worst patron of the arts. I think that Jiang Qing gets a bad rap a LOT of the time because she gets all the blame for shit that Mao was primarily responsible for. Anyway, here’s the place to go to find out that one of Jiang’s exes attacked Mao with a dagger and for more ex-boyfriends’ descriptions of their sex life. Yikes.

Happy summer…


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