Culture Writer Angel Damonsing recommends the best books to read about Chinese mythology, from fantasy fiction to non-fiction

Written by Angel Damonsing
Images by Hodder & Stoughton , HarperVoyager , Hodderscape , Thames and Hudson Ltd

Many of us are well-acquainted with the myths of ancient Greece and Rome, but there is a whole world of imagination to be found within the realm of Chinese mythology. These ancient Chinese legends are still celebrated today in Chinese festivals, through practices such as eating mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival. 

Here are some recommendations for anyone interested in delving into this exciting genre.


Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

This enchanting tale weaves Eastern and Western folklore together, taking inspiration from the European fairytale that inspired The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen, and placing it into an East-Asian-inspired fantasy setting. 

In a realm of demons and dragons, the Emperor of Kiata has outlawed magic within his kingdom, while his daughter, Princess Shiori, has been secretly harbouring mystical powers of her own. Her evil stepmother places a curse on Shiori, exiling her, and transforming her brothers into cranes. For every word that Shiori utters, one of her six brothers will die – it is up to Shiori to save them all. Featuring a love triangle, a magical animal companion, and a dragon, this story is full of heart and will have you desperate to read the book in one sitting.


Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Tan’s alluring debut novel reimagines the legend of the Mid-Autumn Festival, extending the tale of Chang’e the Moon Goddess by giving her a daughter, named Xingyin. After living a quiet and rather isolated childhood, Xingyin is thrown into peril as she is forced to flee the only place she has ever known, embarking on an arduous quest to save her mother.

This book is action-packed and fast-paced, but also features mesmerising detail that captures all the senses. Descriptions of the ethereal palaces and elaborate clothing of the immortals, along with the fragrant scents of blossom trees and cinnamon-wood furniture, will immerse you in the Celestial Kingdom.


Blood of Stars Duology by Elizabeth Lim

Spin the Dawn and Unravel the Dusk comprise Lim’s debut duology, which takes place in the same world as that of Six Crimson Cranes

The story is reminiscent of the tale of Mulan, as the protagonist Maia disguises herself as her brother and enters a competition to become the new Imperial Tailor. She is bestowed with the near-impossible task of creating three magical dresses: one made from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon, and the third from the blood of the stars. Maia encounters demons and makes risky deals with immortals, placing herself in danger to protect those she loves most. 

There is a whole world of imagination to be found within Chinese mythology

The two books complement each other well: Spin the Dawn focuses on Maia’s quest to craft the three mystical dresses, while Unravel the Dusk centres on the consequences of magical intervention. The first book is fast-paced and optimistic as Maia grows in strength, while the second takes on a slower pace and a darker tone. While a war around her escalates, Maia embodies a more melancholy voice as she slowly ‘unravels.’ 


The Chinese Myths by Tao Tao Liu 

For a more comprehensive guide to Chinese mythology, this final recommendation is non-fiction. Liu’s book details not only the many stories within the Chinese myths, but also the interwoven relationship between China’s history and its mythology. 

While the Greek myth of the Trojan War may have been based upon a real war that was transformed into a legend, Chinese myths have been found to do the opposite – writers of the time tried to embed the stories into their own historical accounts. 

The Chinese Myths covers a multitude of Chinese mythology, as well as the historical and cultural relevance of these stories. It spans from the peculiar creation myth to the stories behind the Chinese festivals still celebrated today, and all this information is arranged in a way that is easy to follow and pleasant to read. 

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