5 Classic Books that Will Enrich any Trip to China

The following books would make great companions for any trip to China. They are also appealing for those who are still dreaming of their escape to the Middle Kingdom but have not yet had the opportunity to make the trip.

This collection of classic texts will give any traveler a deeper sense of Chinese culture. Each of these books addresses at least one aspect that make up China’s rich history and philosophical traditions.

#1 The Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching is usually translated into English as “The Way of Energy.” Generally referred to as the Tao, this book is attributed to Lao Tzu who was a wandering philosopher said to have lived in 6th century BCE (although the exact dates of his life are a subject of heated political debate and some question if he even existed at all).

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The text is a brilliant compilation of pithy sayings that form the foundation of Taoism, a philosophy that has had a profound influence on Chinese culture. The book can be read fairly quickly, which caused one scholar to wryly comment that the Tao “could be read in forty-five minutes or forty-five years.”

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#2 The Art of War

Legendary general Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War in the 5th Century BCE. Each of the book’s thirteen chapters focuses on a single aspect of war. The tactics and strategies in this book have influenced scores of notable generals, athletes, coaches, and CEOs. Many consider the book to be the seminal work on strategic warfare, a timeless volume that may never fall out of favor. The book is not only informative and thought-provoking, but it can offer deep insights into the brutal world of military conquest that has helped shape modern China.

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#3 The Analects

The Analects is the definitive work of Confucius, who is considered by many to be the father of Chinese philosophy. The incisive insights that the sage shares in these pages are a treasure trove that can benefit any reader. Confucius’s ideas have shaped the values of many East Asian cultures and understanding his most important work is perhaps the fastest way to gain a deeper understanding of the values that govern interpersonal relationships in China. Confucius has simple answers to some of life’s most important aspects. Consider his take on government to get a taste of Confucianism: “Good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son.” If you are trying to understand some of the guiding principles that make China so unique, reading The Analects is as good of a starting place as any.

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#4 The Eight Immortals of Taoism

From the wellspring of the Tao Te Ching came many iterations of Taoism over the course of China’s history, the most notable being The Eight Immortals of Taoism. Perhaps the most colorful was a movement of magical Taoism that began in the second century CE. As Taoism progressed, with the progression came a pantheon of gods that were worshiped by certain portions of Taoists. Eventually, the most important deities in Taoism, which stood the test of time, were the Eight Immortals.  The Eight Immortals are key figures in China’s collective consciousness, forming a basis for folklore that allows deep insights into Chinese mortality, history, psychology, and sociology.

eight immortals

#5 Journey to the West (also referred to in English as Monkey)

This list would not be complete without a novel. Journey to the West is arguably the most important novel in Chinese history. It was published in the 16th century by Wu Cheng’en, a renowned poet and novelist, who is credited for the legendary novel (although the authorship of the book is still a topic of heated debate among scholars).

The central plot is the journey undertaken by the main character Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk who makes his way west to India in search of enlightenment during the Tang Dynasty.  Many of the legends that are artfully woven together in this book are derived from important Chinese folktales. The author also adds interesting dimensions of Buddhism and Taoism, along with Chinese mythology to give the book ethereal spiritual dimensions. If you enjoy literature and desire to take your mind on a deep spiritual journey to accompany your sojourn to China, Journey to the West is the perfect companion.

journey to the west

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Loren Mayshark
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Loren Mayshark

Loren Mayshark is an American published author and travel writer who has traveled extensively in S.E. Asia and studied Chinese art, religion, philosophy, and history while earning a BA in World History from Manhattanville College.

He has written for The Permaculture Research Institute and Uisio among other prominent outlets.

He is the author of Death: An Exploration (2016). For more visit his official website: www.lorenmayshark.com
Loren Mayshark
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