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8 books to celebrate Chinese New Year with

Chinese New Year, or Lunar New Year, or the Spring Festival, is happening in 8 days. Families all over Singapore, due to Covid restrictions, will welcome a maximum of 8 visitors to their homes – a lucky number, at least!

With less socializing and more time, here are 8 lucky books on all things Chinese, from light reading to serious scholarly works.

  1. Some Chinese Ghosts – Lafcadio Hearn

There’s no better time of the year to spend with Some Chinese Ghosts, except possibly the 7th month/Hungry Ghost Festival. This is a collection of made-up tales by Lafcadio Hearn, better known for his books on Japan, and were written before he ever went to East Asia.

2. Chinese Nights Entertainments – Brian Brown

A collection of old Chinese folktales, Chinese Nights Entertainments contains some obscure stories ranging from Taoist cosmology to historical episodes. And of course, given the importance of the Spring Festival, there’s a whole section dedicated to stories told on the Spring Lantern Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year.

3. An Introduction to the Chinese Theatre – A. C. Scott

Scott’s thin Introduction to the Chinese Theatre is a fairly extensive and detailed explanation of Chinese opera, known in Singapore as wayang, borrowed from the Malay word. Apart from descriptions of the singers, actors, sets, and so on, there’s a fun collection of stories common to the wayang repertoire.

4 Chinese Civilization – Marcel Granet

Chinese Civilization is a very broad, concise introduction to Chinese history, helpfully divided into two sections – Political History, and Chinese Society. From life in the fields to legendary emperors, this overview of China contains some interesting tidbits of information such as Chinese symbolism, various rituals, and even how the Emperor tried to prevent private monopolies.

5. China –  John D. Long, Edward S Ellis

This 3-volume set is part of a series titled The New America & The Far East, and therefore also has half a volume on Cuba, for some reason. The 2.5 volumes on China provide interesting statistics, some black and white plates, and truly lovely tissue-guarded colour illustrations.

6. Moment in Peking – Lin Yutang

Moment in Peking is an historical novel written by one of the leading Chinese authors/intellectuals of the early 20th century. Written originally in English, the novel deals with events in China from the Boxer Rebellion (1900) to the Sino-Japanese War that began in 1937. In the tradition of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, Lin Yutang sought to provide his readers with an accurate depiction of life and customs in China.

7. Emigrant Communities in South China – Ta Chen

A scarce, obscure book, Emigrant Communities in South China provides valuable insight into the Chinese communities in Singapore, Malaysia and the rest of the region. It traces the origins of these communities in China, comparing emigrants from Amoy (Hokkien), Chaozhou (Teochew), and so on, along with their traditional occupations, methods of remitting money, etc.

8. History of China – Demetrius Charles Boulger

Boulger’s collectable two-volume History of China is for serious readers who want a comprehensive overview of China’s political and military history from prehistory to just before the Boxer Rebellion. At the end of the set are included a chronological table and the various treaties China signed with foreign powers. For a shorter, more readable version of this hefty work, see China by Boulger.