1) The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed
The award-winning account of Beijing's ancient hutong neighborhoods. Michael Meyer, who lived in Beijing for many years, chronicles the stories and lives of residents of the capital's traditional lanes and courtyard homes.
(Available on Amazon in English and Chinese editions)
2) Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China
Philip Pan, now the Asia editor for The New York Times, was previously based in China as well. Though the text was published some years back, the struggles highlighted in this book are ongoing even today. We must take a hard look at history to get a handle on the present and the future.
4) Shanghai Gone: Domicide and Defiance in a Chinese Megacity
A detailed and heart-wrenching account of what happened to everyday people living in Shanghai as the city built up its famous skyline, filling it with skyscrapers, shopping malls, and commercial buildings. Shanghai was one of the first cities in China to go through this transition, but it will not be the last. The author, Qin Shao, is quite fantastic and a very passionate public speaker as well.
Strongly recommended for students traveling to Shanghai before the Beijing studio.