Jonathan Spence

Jonathan Spence (1936-2021) was a British-born historian of China who spent most of his working life teaching history at Yale University. His The Search for Modern China (1990) is the classic textbook of Chinese history, from the Ming dynasty onwards, though it’s his shorter books that have been most frequently recommended on Five Books:

Books by Jonathan Spence

The Death of Woman Wang is a book which I frequently teach, and it was one of the first books I read as a student when it first came out in the late 1970s. It’s one of the books that inspired me to become a Chinese historian, and it’s a lovely work. Spence takes a woman who only shows up in the record through one incident – a crime – so he has to take much greater liberties than Susan Mann, who’s dealing with women who left more traces of themselves to be used as building blocks. But there’s definitely a kinship between the books.

Chinese Life Stories recommended by Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Interviews where books by Jonathan Spence were recommended

The best books on China, recommended by Evan Osnos

Travelling to China? What are the best books to read to get a more in-depth understanding of this complex country? Longtime Beijing resident and New Yorker writer Evan Osnos picks some of his favourites.

© Five Books 2022