If you want to expand your literary horizons, you might be interested in exploring some Asian literature. Take a look at some of the best Chinese authors.
China is one of the oldest countries in the world. It dates back several millennia and has gone through numerous changes since that time. As a result, Chinese authors have had a tremendous impact on centuries of writers, including American writers, English writers, and other Asian writers. Writers from Beijing to Shanghai and Hong Kong to Wuhan have produced countless works that blend multiple cultures, backdrops, and generational themes.
Works a Chinese fiction, science fiction, nonfiction, and short stories have wound up on the New York Times Bestseller list, and some have even won a Nobel prize.
Please take a look at some of the top Chinese authors below, and consider adding a few of their stories to your must-read list.
1. Eileen Chang, 1920 – 1995
Eileen Chang, who also goes by the name Zhang Ailing, is widely considered to be one of the greatest Chinese writers of all time. She was a student when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong during World War II, where she lived, but she would ultimately return home to Shanghai. She made a living by writing novels and short stories that reflected her experiences.
Even though her works cover a wide variety of genres, many explore the difficulties women face in certain romantic relationships. She was also an ardent anti-communist during a time when it was difficult, as Mao Zedong was in charge.
In particular, a novel titled Rice Sprout Song, was published in 1952. She ultimately moved to the United States, expanding into screenplay writing. She is still considered one of the most influential writers of all time, and her work is widely revered around the world. You might be interested in exploring other cultures, such as these incredible Korean novels in English.
2. Wu Cheng’en, 1500 – 1582
Wu Cheng’en is one of the most well-known Chinese writers from the Middle Ages. He is considered the author of the third of four great classical Chinese novels, including Journey to the West. The story is based on the supposed journey of a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang and his experiences along the way. Essentially, he leads a group of pilgrims from China to India and back again.
Even though not much is known about the author’s life, the book remains incredibly popular to this day. It contains a lot of poems, humorous dialogue, and religion. The book is also seen as a commentary on what it was like to live in China under the Ming Dynasty.
3. Mo Yan, Born 1955
Mo Yan is one of the most famous writers of the modern era. Time Magazine once famously referred to him as one of the most influential, pirated, and banned Chinese writers of all time. He publishes influential novels filled with social critiques that grip readers from page to page. He also won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work, Red Sorghum.
One of his contemporaries, Amy Tan (a Chinese-American author), famously said that he deserves a place in world literature. His work, Red Sorghum, certainly secured that for him.
This book is one of the most famous Chinese novels ever translated. The novel covers three generations, starting with the Japanese invasion of China during the 1930s. It also covers the infamous Rape of Nanjing, perpetrated by the Chinese army during this time.
4. Yu Hua, Born 1960
Yu Hua is considered one of the most daring Chinese authors still writing to this day. He is from Beijing and crafts all his work using a lens that combines critical commentary and satire. Therefore, he is a defiant author, and his passion is reflected in his writing.
One of his most famous stories is titled Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. This is a devastating, emotional, and heart-wrenching tale of someone trying to survive during the era of Mao Zedong. His cultural revolution led to the deaths of millions of people, as countless farmers died of starvation. Given the nature of the work, it is easy to see why many people in power in China might have a problem with it. That makes the book all the more interesting.
The book discusses someone selling his blood trying to raise money to support his family. It discusses adventure, danger, and family strife and is a very moving story.
5. Lu Guanzhong, 1330 – 1400
Lu Guanzhong was a prolific writer from the Middle Ages of Chinese history who has had many works attributed to his name. He is credited as the writer of the second of the four famed classical novels of Chinese literature, titled Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The book is long, containing over 750,000 Chinese characters.
It is a story that discusses three separate kingdoms evolving over the course of a century. Many people believe it is a historical account because it contains a lot of historical figures, but there are also a lot of folk stories woven within its pages. Therefore, it is an exciting read. In addition, many of its subplots have inspired numerous short stories throughout Chinese culture.
6. Lu Xun, 1881 – 1936
Lu Xun started his career studying medicine in Japan but decided that he was a better writer than a doctor. Therefore, he switched careers but got a relatively late start publishing his work. Finally, in 1918, he published his first short story close to the end of World War I. It was titled A Madman’s Diary, and it is widely considered one of the first colloquial stories in all of Chinese literature.
Many of his works took a look at the evolution of Chinese culture following the century of humiliation as the country progressed into the twentieth century. Even after the end of the Chinese Civil War, his work was still revered, with Mao Zedong calling him the standard-bearer of a new Chinese culture rising out of the May Fourth Movement.
7. Ma Jian, Born 1953
Ma Jian is one of the most prolific Chinese writers, but he is also a writer in exile. He writes about the importance of rights that were not afforded to him in China, which put him on the bad list of the Chinese government. He has written a wide variety of books over the years, including Red Dust, which talks about his journey from Beijing into rural China during the 1980s. Even though Red Dust is a great read, his most famous book, China Dream, was published in 2018. It is a scathing critique of the Chinese government that wreaks sheer anger.
Unfortunately, it is also a realistic book that paints a nightmarish dystopia that people should read all over the world. It offers some powerful insights into life under the current Chinese government and the Communist Party.
8. Cao Xueqin, 1715-1763
One of the most popular and influential Chinese writers dates back to the 18th century. Unfortunately, he lived a relatively short life, but he certainly left a mark with his book titled Dream of the Red Chamber. This book is considered one of the four great classical novels and all of Chinese literature, and it is still popular to this day.
The book was published in two separate editions. The first was an edition with 80 chapters and told the story of Cao’s life. The second version was enhanced by a scholar to 120 chapters and has become so important that there is an entire field of study dedicated to it. It is called Hongxue, or Redology, developed in the 1920s.
9. Yan Lianke, Born 1958
One of the greatest contemporary writers from China is Yan Lianke. He is from Henan but has relocated to Beijing. Many people consider him a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. One of his most famous works is The Day the Sun Died, a direct critique of the oppressor Chinese government. The story talks about residents in a small village who essentially sleepwalk through their lives. It reads like something of a horror story, but it does have a lot of relevance to what is going on in China today.
10. Gao Xingjian, Born 1940
Gao Xingjian is another one of the most popular modern Chinese writers. Even though he wrote a wide variety of works during his career, one of his most famous works, Soul Mountain, is also one of his most different. It is not an adventurous novel, and it does not contain a lot of Science Fiction; however, it is considered a life-affirming story.
During his life, Gao was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. However, it turned out that this was a false alarm, and he felt like he was given a second chance. Therefore, he decided to travel across as much of China as he possibly could, which was the impetus for the writing of Soul Mountain.
11. Liu Cixin, Born 1963
Works of Chinese science fiction are incredibly popular today, and one of the best examples of this is The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. Chinese writers tend to look at science fiction as a work of speculation, creating a revolution in the genre. The Three-Body Problem is the first book in a Trilogy.
The other two books are The Dark Forest and Death’s End. The trilogy has become one of the best-selling Chinese novels ever translated after Barack Obama promoted it. The story tells an alternative history that starts in 1967, and the story only goes from there. Looking for more authors from around the globe? Check out our round-up of the best Filipino authors!
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