My First Ten Chinese Books

Rating the first ten Chinese books I've read based on enjoyment and difficulty

📅 30 Dec 2022 | ~8 min read
Tags: #chinese

I have been studying Chinese for over 15 years now, but it was only in the last year that I started reading Chinese books. At first, I found it really difficult and I couldn’t read more than a few pages before my brain physically started hurting. Over time, I have managed to build up much more endurance and there are even times when I can read for a few hours straight if time allows.

I regret not starting to read books in my target language earlier as I have seen the impact that it’s had not just on my reading but all parts of my language (I tried speaking in an imitation of Gu Long whilst I was reading his novel).

Now that I have read ten books in Chinese, I thought that I would share some of my thoughts on the books that I read. I will be using a similar system to the one that Olle Linge used in this post, but I will be listing them in the order that I read them.

《家》 巴金 - The Family by Pa Chin

Looking back, this book was probably not an ideal first book. The language wasn’t particularly difficult, but a combination of its length, the length of its chapters and the fact that the author used a lot of dialect and some homonyms that are different from what is used today, make it a book that I would recommend to somebody a bit further into their reading journey.

When I was reading it, I remember thinking how amazing it must have felt to be reading it at the time it came out as it felt very revolutionary. The book was a great introspective into Chinese familial roles and it gave me a better understanding of the culture.

《凶画》 周浩晖 - Xiong Hua by Zhou Haohui

I saw this book recommended online and thought that I’d try it out as it was a short book, and I was interested in trying out some detective fiction. There were two POVs in the story and I found that one of them was much more interesting than the other. Also, I was not happy with how the book ended. The two detectives essentially dumped all the answers on the reader in the final chapter through lots of exposition.

In terms of language, the only thing that confused me was all the terminology related to monks and temples.

《鬼望坡》 周浩晖 - Gui Wang Po by Zhou Haohui

This was my first time listening to an audio book in Chinese and it was a good experience as far as that aspect went. Whilst being a sequel to 凶画, it could easily be treated as a standalone novel. This book only followed the story of 罗飞, who I found to be the less interesting of the two main characters in the previous instalment. Having said that, I had a much better time with this book.

It was an interesting story in which the detective helps a man suffering with amnesia solve the mysteries of his past which seem to be somehow related to several deaths on a small island.

《活着》 余华 - To Live by Yu Hua

After becoming a father, this was my first book back after a long time away from reading Chinese. This book had been recommended to me so many times and it is generally recommended as a good first novel to read in Chinese. The author, Yu Hua, is considered to be one of China’s greatest living authors and as most of the characters he writes about our poorly educated, he writes in a very simple and accessible style.

This book follows the life of Xu Fugui and we see him go from a young man obsessed with gambling and prositutes and we see how the Cultural Revolution affected him and the people around him. It definitely made me want to read more from the author, although I have heard some people saying that Yu Hua’s works can be too depressing for them.

《撒哈拉的故事》 三毛 - The Stories of the Sahara by Echo Chan

This is another book that had been recommended to me a lot and it was also my first time reading non-fiction in Chinese. In fact, I believe that I have never read any books from this genre in English either.

That is actually my biggest problem with this book. I wouldn’t have read it if it was in English. I felt the need to complete it as it was good reading practice and not because I genuinely enjoyed it. There were some chapters that I really enjoyed. The final chapter, 哭泣的骆驼 was a particular highlight, and there were also some chapters that I found dreadfully dull.

I can see the appeal of this book, but it just wasn’t for me.

《许三观卖血记》 余华 - Chronicle of a blood merchant by Yu Hua

This was my favourite book I read all year in either English or Chinese. I had not seen this book recommended anywhere near as much as To Live, which is by the same author. I simply picked it up because I thought it had an interesting title.

The book isn’t specifically about a man’s experiences selling blood, it is instead about the general experiences of a man who occasionally sells his blood to the local hospital to make ends meet. This book is set in a similar time frame to Yu Hua’s other book I have read. What really made this book shine for me was the characters and in particular the relationship between the main character Xu Sanguan and his wife and children.

This is a book that I will definitely read again in the future and it is a book that I have recommended to friends who have don’t even have an interest in China. It had that much of an impact on me and it has stuck with me ever since I read it.

《龙族》 1: 火之晨曦 江南 - Dragon Raja 1: The Blazing Dawnlight by Jiang Nan

Jiang Nan is considered one of the top fantasy writers in China and the Dragon Raja series is often considered the “Chinese Harry Potter”, or at least that is how it is marketed.

It wasn’t bad, but I just found the novel to be a bit juvenile and boring. I am no longer at the stage of my life where I would read Harry Potter for fun and I think it is the same for this series. I researched it a bit online before starting reading and most of the people talking about it were remeniscing about how they read it in junior high. This made it seem like a good choice for me as it wouldn’t be too difficult. It wasn’t difficult, but I also hadn’t taken into account that all of the characters would essentially act like thirteen year olds as that was the target audience.

I have heard that the series gets better, but it’s still a big time investment and considering that I didn’t particularly enjoy it, I can’t see myself continuing with the series anytime soon.

《流星- 蝴蝶- 剑》 古龙 - Meteor, Butterfly, Sword by Gu Long

I loved this book. It has been called a ripoff of The Godfather in a Wuxia setting, and that is completely true, but I still loved it. This book was my introduction to Wuxia and I am definitely going to read more books from this genre.

This was probably the first book that I read in Chinese that I could consider a real “page turner”. I would often read chapters at a time and just ignore the mental fatigue that comes from reading in a foreign language.

For a language learner, Gu Long’s writing style is great. He uses lots of short sentences, repetition and rhetorical questions. His writing style has also had a big impact on me and I keep wanting to go and read more of his books.

《紫川》 老猪 - Zichuan by Lao Zhu

This is the longest book that I have read in Chinese. In fact, as it was a long running web-novel, I am only about 20% through the novel, but as the printed version is published in ten volumes, I thought it was worth including on this list (and counting as two entries). When I finish it, it will probably be the longest book that I have read. Period.

The language was not overly difficult and the author tries to keep it light and use lots of humour, but after reading Gu Long, it took me a while to adjust to such long sentences and such a different style. The story was easy to follow and very enjoyable, but I had just watched the cartoon based on the novel before beginning.

I am definitely going to be aiming to finish this novel next year.


I am happy with the progress that I have been making recently. Particularly in the second half of 2022.

I spent the last month or so of the year finishing off a few English books that I had on the go, so that I am now able to give Chinese my full attention. I read just over one million characters last year, but I plan to do significantly more than that in 2023. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I publish about the next ten books that I read.

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