Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, especially #OwnVoices historical fiction. My cousin and I were recently chatting about some of our favourites, as well as the titles that we are anticipating the most. This gave me an idea to share with you the top five #OwnVoices Chinese historical fiction novels that I have read and enjoyed immensely!
A couple of the titles I’ll be listing are from popular and well-known authors, while the rest are from more obscure and lesser known individuals. All of them are rich with history, culture, and strong themes of various sorts; themes that will leave you in awe and contemplation. If you are someone who likes Asian literature, then I recommend that you give these a try.
05. Empress: A Novel by Shan Sa
Empress is the historical novel about China’s first female emperor, Empress Wu. Under her leadership the Tang Dynasty entered a golden age of success and fortune. The novel has exceptional writing with lush details, poetry, and epic storytelling. I recommend this for anyone who has an interest in philosophical political figures of Chinese history, especially female figures during an era where they were awarded very little to no respect.
04. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
Dragon Springs Road begins in 1908 with Jialing, a seven-year-old who is abandoned in the courtyard of a lavish estate near Shanghai. Jialing is Eurasian and faces a lifetime of contempt from people of both sides of her ethnicity. The estate’s owners, the Yang family, take her in and Jialing finds an ally in Anjuin, who is the eldest daughter of the Yang family. However, everyone’s life changes when Jialing befriends an English girl who suddenly vanishes. The novel is about the relationships between people and how class and ethnicity affects those relationships, while being a suspenseful and magnificently written thrill ride.
03. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Amy Tan is a brilliant Chinese-American author who tells stories about the bonds within families that have culturally clashing ideals better than many others. The Valley of Amazement is one such novel following Violet Minturn in 1912 Shanghai. She’s the daughter of the American madam of the city’s most exclusive courtesan house. When the last imperial dynasty in China falls, Violet is separated from her mother and forced to be a “virgin courtesan.” The book then follows three generations of women across two different continents. The narrative is about the complexities of the connections between mother and daughter and takes the reader through thoughtful moments in history, making it deeply evocative and powerful.
02. Brothers by Da Chen
Brothers is an intensely emotional story about two brothers: Tan and Shento. Tan was born to the general’s wife and a life of luxury, while Shento was born to the general’s mistress, who committed suicide. While growing up, they remained utterly ignorant of one another’s existence. Separated by distance and opportunity, Tan and Shento follow the paths that lie before them, while unknowingly falling in love with the same woman and moving toward the explosive moment when their fates finally merge. This novel is similar to my number one choice on the list but explores a wholly different sort of dynamic that makes is quite impassionate and unputdownable.
01. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
Shanghai Girls is one of the most profound books that I have ever read. The story is about two sisters who are residing in Shanghai when it’s bombed by Japan, changing their entire life and the lives of their family. We follow them as they try to navigate through a war-torn environment with some of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. I have never read about the bonds between people being tried and tested in such detail and in such a contemplative means than in this novel. Shanghai Girls really depicts what being a sister encapsulates, which includes the good, bad, ugly, and in-between. I laughed. I cried. My heart broke and it healed. I highly, highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone who enjoys a marvellously moving historical fiction tale.
Chinese historical fiction is a beautiful genre that I feel more people need to read! If you are a reader of this genre and if you have any recommendations to add, please share them in the comments below! I’m sure that other readers, including myself, would love to check out more titles.