What kind of Chinese chapter books are you expecting to read?

Posted by Grace Feng on June 28, 2012

My dear readers, Chinese learners, and friends, I’ve always wondered how a Chinese book can help a Chinese learner to learn Chinese effectively. As a matter of fact, for very advanced Chinese learners, reading a few novels in Chinese without too many lookups, but with good comprehension might not be a difficult task. However, for most not so advanced Chinese learners, I have heard a lot about their frustrations in reading a Chinese novel.

The main complaints that they have are: reading too slow, too many unknown words, puzzling sentence patterns, too many idioms and expressions they’ve never seen, culture barrier etc. etc.

I strongly believe that one can not make real breakthroughs in his/her language study without going through engaging and pleasant reading experience in the new language. I strongly recommend to start reading chapter books in Chinese once you can recognize basic sentence patterns and have accumulated basic Chinese vocabulary (around 1000 characters and the words built from them at least ).

However, I understand it’s not an easy task to find proper books to read despite the huge volumes of Chinese books available out there. Why?

Most chapter books are targeted for adult Chinese that are already on a very advanced language level and with good understanding of Chinese history and culture. The history and society background when the story happened could be drastically different even within the late 50 years. Not to mention the thousands years of ancient history that China has. If you know little about Chinese history, then most of the Chinese books on the markets will be hard for you to understand.

I’ve seen some people suggest to find colloquial Chinese novels with simple concept and simple background. It is easy to find books like this in children’s books. But not within adult catalog…

So today I’d like to collect your expectations on a Chinese chapter book that can help you learn Chinese effectively and at the same time to make you feel fulfilled after reading the book. Any thoughts are appreciated!


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8 Responses to “What kind of Chinese chapter books are you expecting to read?”

  1. nothing


    06-29-2012 3:14 am


    Colloquial stories are definitely easier.

    With 1000 characters, do you think it’s enough to read a Chinese novel?



    • nothing


      06-29-2012 2:08 pm


      Depends on how well you’re with sentence patterns and what kind of stories you’re reading. Stories about very general topics should not be that hard for 1000 base readers, but lookups are necessary for sure. You need patience for sure. It will get better soon once you started…



  2. nothing


    07-03-2012 12:41 pm

    Hi Grace,
    I like the Abridged Chinese Classic Series [中国名著简读系列]published by Sinolingua [话语教学出版社],particulary the 3 simplified versions of Ba Jin’s ‘Torrents’ trilogy: “家”,”春” and “秋” (‘Family’, ‘Spring’ and ‘Autumn’). They are aimed at students with a vocab of 2000 words, but as they also include the pinyin above the Hanzi, it is easy to see how to pronounce the words you do not know (though you may still have to look them up for their meaning).

    Beyond that level I am currently (slowly!) making my way through “Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories – reflections on humanity”, published by University of Washington Press. The stories are not too long (about 10 pages on average)are much more concerned with modern social phenomena in China and feature quite extensive vocabularly lists to help with reading.

    Hope that helps others. 白睿


    • nothing


      07-04-2012 4:29 am

      “家”,”春” and “秋” is one of my parents’ favorite books. They are really good ones. “秋海棠” by 张恨水 is also a classic one that being a teenager many many years ago I was deeply touched by the story. However, without being simplified, books written in those generations are difficult for reading.

      Thanks for sharing, 白睿! You do have good taste …



  3. nothing


    07-13-2013 12:47 pm

    I feel a bit silly recommending this book since I haven’t read all of it since I got sidetracked by schoolwork etc., but I’d like to recommend 女生日记, especially for younger readers (I think it’s aimed at pre-teens, but it’s a good book that touches on lots of societal issues nevertheless).


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      07-14-2013 11:08 pm

      Hi KC, do you mean the “女生日记” by 杨红樱? I had a quick check online and it looks like an interesting book for young readers. There’s a movie adaption too. Thanks for your recommendation! :-)


  4. nothing


    05-06-2016 7:25 pm


    I saw the last post was made in 2013, so I don’t know if you are still collecting the info or not. I was only wondering at what level (how many characters) you may start to attempt reading sth at basic level (things even children can read till middle schoolers). Also I don’t know if you are familiar with XianXia and other kinds of webnovels (Qidan and 17k.). If so, what level is required to be able to read those (atleast 90% of it then)?

    I hope to hear from you. I have started learning a few months back. Eventhough I know some characters…reading becomes a different ball game. I was not expecting to learn it in a day so to speak, but without good reading material, progress is very hard. Thank you very much for your work.

    With kind regards,

    Jainash (Suriname-Paramaribo)


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      05-11-2016 4:38 am

      Hi Jainash,

      Thank you for dropping by and yes, I’m still collecting. All the posts with open questions welcome feedback any time. It not only helps me, but also helps other learner to see things from different perspective and experience.

      I haven’t read XianXia or Qidan type of novels yet. But I would say, it’s actually harder for learners to read fantacy novels then non-fantacy novels. I’d recommend to start reading stories that based on modern life. To understand 90% of a common novel (modern life, simple concept), you should be able to recognize at least 2000 characters and as many words as possible. It’s very hard to quantify the amount of vocabulary needed to read a novel. To be honest, you should be at advanced level to understand 90% of the XianXia type of novel. However, I always recommend to start reading as early as possible. You can start with simple ones and then gradually move your level up.

      Sorry for my late reply. Haven’t got a chance to attend the site for days.

      By the way, I’ll post a simple beginner level story soon. Stay tuned.



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