Every so often, one of our China lawyers will get an email asking for a recommendation of THE book to read to “better understand China” or “to get a better handle on China.” These requests often come 2-3 weeks before the person is heading off to China for the first time and they oftentimes mention wanting something that will give them a quick overview.
Amazingly enough, there are a plenty of really good, really short books that qualify, including the following three:
1. Modern China: A Very Short Introduction, By Rana Mitter. 168 pages. 2016. Oxford Univeristy Press. This book provides an excellent and short history on China. It does a great job conveying an overall sense of China in an amazingly short time.
2. The One Hour China Book: Two Peking University Professors Explain All of China Business in Six Short Stories. By Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel. 152 pages. 2014. This book truly does take about an hour and in that time you will gain a pretty respectable sense of what is going on business-wise in China.
3. China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know. By Jeffrey Wasserstrom and Maura Cunningham. 192 pages. 2017. This book is meant to be basic and it is, but it is a good a first book as can be found and it is not in any way simplistic.
Any (and all) of these three books would make for excellent reading on an airplane flight for those heading to China for the first time. The One Hour China Book is best if you are going to China for business, but it would be good to supplement that book with one or both of the other two. If you are going to China as a tourist or to teach English or to study, I recommend reading both Modern China and China in the 21st Century.