6 Best Books on Chinese History (2024 Review)

Given that China has been civilized for nearly 5,000 years, the Asian giant has one of the richest culture, traditions, and histories in the world. The history of China can be broadly divided into three – from the dynasties of Xia, Shang, and Zhou before 221 BC through the Qin and Qing dynasties of Imperial China to the modern communist China established by Mao Zedong in 1911.

best books on chinese history

Best Books on Chinese History: Our Top Picks

If you would like to understand how the ancient civilization of China originated in Hwang Ho and the Yangtze River basins, you must study some of the best books on Chinese history.

These 6 carefully selected books will reveal how ancient farmers’ settlements developed into the first Chinese towns, and the rise of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his Terracotta Army which is famously protecting his shrine for more than 2,000 years. 

These best books on Chinese history also examine the Mongolian dynasty of Yuan, the victory of the Manchus over the Ming dynasty in 1644, the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, and the 1949 rise of the Communist Party of China which evolved into the People’s Republic of China today. These Chinese history textbooks were handpicked by our internal team of editors and carefully reviewed for your academic and career success.

1. China: A History (Volume 1): From Neolithic Cultures through the Great Qing Empire, (10,000 BCE – 1799 CE)


This detailed work on Chinese history comes in two volumes. Volume 1 examines the Neolithic cultures through the Qing dynasty which lasted from 10,000 BCE to 1799, and Volume 2 covers the Qing Empire from 1644 to 2009 of modern communist China. The first volume introduces the reader to the ancient civilization of China to the present-day socio-cultural and political nationalism of the country.

These volumes feature numerous illustrations, colorful images, wide-ranging geographical maps, a chronological table, extensive notes, recommendations for further reading, and an index. These books are recommended to everyone interested in the history of China and even its neighboring countries.

  • Author(s): Harold M. Tanner  
  • Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.  
  • Current Edition: Paperback (March, 2010) 
  • Pages: 416

2. China: A History


The past, present, and future of China can be gleaned by immersing oneself in China: A History. This engaging book covers the 5,000 years of Chinese civilization through the Three Dynasties to the present government of the communist nation. The book is rich in cultural and political history and it reveals the dominance of China in the ancient world through the present times.

According to our editors, “taking into account the country’s unrivaled, voluminous traditional of history writing, John Keay has composed a vital and illuminating overview of the nation’s complex and vivid past.”

  • Author(s): John Keay  
  • Publisher: Basic Books  
  • Current Edition: Paperback, Illustrated Edition (December, 2011) 
  • Pages: 608

3. The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han (History of Imperial China)


The Early Chinese Empires: Qin and Han reveals the milestone events in China’s centurial history of imperialism. Written in six volumes, these books cover China’s civilization from 221 BC to its present political and cultural dominance in the world today. The books reveal how the first Emperor Qin enlarged his dominance by conquering lands and then running a court and political system that embodies him as the representation of the state.

This Chinese history book reveals how the emperors propagated Confucian beliefs and enforced it on the people. It also reveals how the society functioned on the strength and wealth of individuals who held vast lands to raise their prominence in the burgeoning society. This book is recommended for everyone that is fascinated with Chinese history. 

  • Author(s): Mark Edward Lewis and Timothy Brook  
  • Publisher: Belknap Press  
  • Current Edition: Paperback, Illustrated Edition (October, 2010) 
  • Pages: 336

4. The Shortest History of China: From the Ancient Dynasties to a Modern Superpower―A Retelling for Our Times (Shortest History Series)


The Shortest History of China details the “larger-than-life characters, philosophical arguments and political intrigues, military conflicts and social upheavals, artistic invention and technological innovation” that have made China what it is today. This book of Chinese history reveals the tribal origins of ancient China and how it has evolved, through several millenia, to the present-day communist nation that still dominates world politics, technology, wealth, and innovations today.

To sweeten this book, the author reflects on the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping, the powerful women controlling the nation from behind the scenes, the massive corruption and decay in the country which are little known to outsiders, and ghosts of the ancient past that still haunts the country today.

  • Author(s): Linda Jaivin  
  • Publisher: The Experiment  
  • Current Edition: Paperback (September, 2021) 
  • Pages: 288

5. History of China: A Captivating Guide to Chinese History, Including Events Such as the First Emperor of China, the Mongol Conquests of Genghis Khan, … and the Cultural Revolution (Asian Countries)


According to this book, a lot of things we take for granted actually originated in China. For instance, rice cultivation, stir-frying food, brocade and silk fabrics, iridescent porcelain dishes, blast furnaces, fireworks and gunpowder among many other things were originated in China before spreading to other countries of the world. 

This book covers the rise and fall of various political empires in ancient China, the various dynasties, the revolutionary madness, imperialism, the Confucius belief system, and ethnic peoples of the country. This book is highly recommended for anyone willing to study the past and present times of communist China.

  • Author(s): Captivating History  
  • Publisher: Captivating History  
  • Current Edition: Paperback (August, 2020) 
  • Pages: 116

6. 1368: China and the Making of the Modern World


This book covers the rise of ancient China from the Ming dynasty in 1368 to present-day China under President Xi Jinping. The book examines how ancient China opened up to the world through export of various products and how world navigators charted various sea and land routes to reach the country. 

This book on Chinese history covers the Opium Wars, Beijing’s Forbidden City, the trade in porcelain and gold, the age of exploration, the lucrative tea routes, industrial revolutions and political reforms in China. This book is recommended for anyone who wishes to know how China became a dominant world power through relations with the West and other Asian countries.

  • Author(s): Ali Humayun Akhtar  
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press  
  • Current Edition: Hardcover, 1st Edition (July, 2022) 
  • Pages: 256