Real Social History
January 24, 2010 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I love Jung Chang's "Three Wild Swans", what else would I like?

I read it when I was around 18 and since then I have held a facination with modern China that I think I have devoured every biography of Mao ever written.

I think what I enjoyed most is that it was social history, specifically women's social history. I also really liked Geisha of Gion but not Memoirs of a Geisha.

What other (real - not fictional) social history books might I like?
posted by Neonshock to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Life and Death in Shanghai: it's the autobiography of a woman who worked with a western oil company (I think Shell? It's been a few years since I read it), and how she lived as the PRC came into being, and as the great leap forward -> cultural revolution picked up.
posted by Seeba at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2010

The Russian Concubine
posted by Wilder at 1:31 PM on January 24, 2010

Hong Ying's Daughter of the River - very different social background to Jung Chang.
posted by Abiezer at 1:45 PM on January 24, 2010

nthing Life and Death in Shanghai, it's a powerful, powerful book.
posted by Billegible at 2:40 PM on January 24, 2010

I would imagine you'd probably like a good number of books by Amy Tan, though most of them deal with the immigrant experience. While mostly set in the modern day, the slow reveal of what the mother's life had been like is possibly what you're looking for. The Kitchen God's Wife, and possibly the Bonesetter's Daughter are pretty good in this respect.

Other fiction, though not specifically women's social history, but general history, check out Ha Jin, his book War Trash is pretty amazing. I think I'm a bit like you. I love Chinese history, especially 20th century. If you get a chance, check out the movie To Live, (Tu Dou, maybe Ju Dou?), a film covering the 20th century as experienced by a single family in China. One of the bleakest films I've ever seen, but absolutely fascinating.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:42 PM on January 24, 2010

Another one I haven't read but have met the author on a number of occasions: Zhang Lijia's Socialism is Great! about her youth as a factory worker with bigger dreams.
posted by Abiezer at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the reccomdendations so far.

Ghidorah - thanks for Amy Tan, but I have read a couple and not liked. Too lyrical.

And I dont mind from which period or region its from, any social history books I might enjoy would be great.

Thanks again!
posted by Neonshock at 4:57 PM on January 24, 2010

A couple come to mind for Iran, although maybe these are more memoirish than social history - Reading Lolita in Tehran, or the Persepolis books by Marjane Satrapi (those are graphic novels).

The Road from Coorain is a memoir by Jill Ker Conway, who grew up on a sheep farm in Australia and became president of Smith College.

Don't know if "any region" includes the US, but Gail Collins (they NYT op ed columnist) has two books out about the social history of women in the US: America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates and Heroines and When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.
posted by yarrow at 7:33 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: Yes! Loved Persopilis!
posted by Neonshock at 9:28 PM on January 24, 2010

Anchee Min's Red Azalea and Lisa See's On Gold Mountain
posted by brujita at 11:00 PM on January 24, 2010

A couple of favourites include What the Butler Saw: 250 Years of the Servant Problem and High Society in the Regency Period: 1788-1830.

I strongly recommend Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor. The epic four-volume edition is now out of print, but there a good abridged version. First-hand accounts of working class life in London in the mid-19th century, documenting the lives of all kind of people from street-sellers to prostitutes. Huge amounts of vivid detail.
posted by gonogo at 12:11 PM on January 26, 2010

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