inspired reading

I’ve been meaning to make a post – or series of posts – showcasing good books – or my choice of good reads – about China.

Then this weeks wordpress photo challenge came along.  What is inspiring to you, Krista asked? Sometimes, its a beautiful flower

Roses – the City Flower of Tianjin

or something beautiful in nature

Hangzhou Sunset from Leifeng Pagoda

Sometimes its amazing architecture

Roof of Museum of Bronze work, Hangzhou

But often as not, its simply a good book. Singapore Airport, lost in transit, is a great place to find great books with an Asian link. Like this one

IMG_2978The cover blurb says its a 10 million dollar best seller. That should account for something, surely? I can’t say really, I haven’t read it yet. The author, Yu Dan, made an award winning documentary shown in China,  with the aim of returning the great sage’s thoughts to the people – where they were originally intended to be. She says

it seems to me that the sages  never used obscure classical quotations to intimidate people, nor did they load their writing with fancy phrases and difficult words to shut them out. Confucius said “I am thinking of giving up speech”. Zigong said hastily,”if you did not speak, what would there be for us, your disciples, to transmit?” Confucius said, calmly and matter of factly, “What does heaven ever say? Yet there are four seasons going round and there are the hundred things coming into being. What does Heaven ever say?”                                             The easy truths of this world can enter into people’s hearts because they have never been about indoctrination, but rather an inner call to wake up every heart and soul. ( Yu Dan, Confucious from the Heart, page 2)

Or for something more light hearted, this onIMG_2979which if it is anything like this one
IMG_2980 its gonna be hilarious. Highly recommended if you want a few good belly laughs at the expense of the very rich. For something more serious, and genuinely inspiring,  try

IMG_2984an inspiring story of a woman who set out to improve the conditions for thousands of orphans in China.

The bookshop near Hong Kong star ferry is another favourite. Dymocks used to be right opposite the ferry terminal on Hong Kong Island, but now its moved up to the fancy new mall overlooking the harbour. Its where I found this one

IMG_2983An intriguing story which traces history through archeology. Another fascinating read from John Man, which asks a radical question – was Qin Shi Huang, China’s “first emperor” really the tyrannt history has made him out to be? Or was his book-burning reign an invention of Sima Qian, the Grand Historian, using pseudo-historical facts to cast aspersions upon  his own current leader ( the Han emperor).

Read the book and make your own opinion. Riveting reading.

Classic Song Dynasty Literature

For an insight into the life and times of Song dynasty literary culture, you cant go past this wonderfully melancholic, hopelessly romantic account of the love between Shen Fu and his wife – relatively poor scholars who emulated the poetry writing, wine drinking , examination taking, would be scholars of classical China.  Six Records of a Life Adrift is sometimes translated as Six Records of a Floating Life, and became a classic in China and has remained so since the Song. Required reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in Chinese culture.


After you’ve shed a few tears with Shun Fu, you might need some mindless demon-fighting and gong fu action. Go no further than Brisbane author Kylie Chan, whose fast-paced gong-fu series, set in Hong Kong and the heavens and based on Daoist mythology, are a great way to while away a lazy afternoon. Demon Child is the latest in the series, if you havent read any, start from the beginning. Be warned – they are addictive.

Then there’s this:

IMG_2986The classical gardens of Suzhou are an inspiration – whether by reading about them, or visiting them in Suzhou’s historic old town. Peaceful and beautiful, the gardens are designed around showcasing nature and culture.

I would be remiss, however, if I didnt mention everybody’s favourite poet, Li Bai – everyone in China, that is. His poems, his incredible way with words, his life story, the mystery and romance surrounding him, are an inspiration. As is his most famous poem, 床前明月光…

chuan qian ming yue guang … before my bed the bright moon shines…..

it’s impossible to do translation justice to the succint rhymes and tonal comparisons in the original Chinese, but East Asia student does a good try of it  here.

Seeing his friend off at Yellow Crane Tower, prompted Li Bai to write this, my favourite


The copy of the poem is taken from here, and here’s the word for word translation

Old friend west take leave Yellow Crane Tower
Mist flowers three month down Yangzhou
Lone sail far shadow blue empty to limit
Only see Yangtze River horizon flow

Here’s  Alex and Maria Sun‘s translation, ( along with beautiful calligraphy in seal script)

My old friend departs the west at Yellow Crane Tower,
On a journey to Yangzhou among March blossom flowers.
His lonely sail receding against the distant blue sky,
All I see but the endless Yangtze River rolling by.

As far as inspiration goes, its a bit heard to beat the great poet himself.

Statue of Li Bai at his mausoleum
In memorium, Li Bai.