Best Chinese Pop-Up Books

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Beautiful Chinese Pop-Up Books

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Introduction

Despite China’s role in inventing paper, and its long history of incredible paper cutting artworks, pop-up books were only a very small niche market in China up until very recently. In 2016, three pop-up books adapting the Chinese novel Journey to the West were published, taking the market by storm and opening up a whole new audience and era of incredible Chinese paper engineering.

Journey to the West tells of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Sanzang (Xuanzang), who traveled to the “Western Regions” (Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist sacred texts (sūtras). It’s also known in the English speaking world as the tale of the Monkey King (yes, we are talking about the basis of the 1978 classic fantasy TV show Monkey!). 

chinese paper cutting
You can buy beautiful Chinese paper-cut artwork on Etsy
monkey tv show poster
Who else remembers the classic TV show Monkey?

The success of these books brought new excitement, new investors, and new support for the designers of books in the pop-up book genre. Beautiful movable books on traditional culture and architecture followed, along with renewed interest in creating more pop-up myths & legends, and interesting classic literature adaptations as well.

In 2021, the world’s attention was drawn to this explosion of exciting new pop-up offerings from China when paper engineer Wang Wei won the Meggendorfer Prize, the world’s most acclaimed paper engineering award, for his title Opening the Forbidden City. This is an architectural pop-up book that unfolds into a 3 metre-long look at the Forbidden City that was crowdfunded via Chinese Kickstarter platform Modian. 

Chinese pop-ups continue to go from strength to strength. To help you build a collection of the very best available on the market – whether it be to have more fun while you are learning the language, or just to admire the beautiful artwork – I’ve made a list here of some of the very best Chinese pop-up books currently available, including a sneak peek inside each of them and some notes on where you can find them. I hope you enjoy it!

Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. I very deeply appreciate your support of my site hosting costs if you use them, but warmly encourage you to buy from your local Indie bookshop if you have the opportunity.

Best of Chinese Pop-Up Books

Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Chinese: 三國演義)

Romance of the Three Kingdoms is acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature – it’s a 14th-century historical novel attributed to Luo Guanzhong. This pop-up adaptation includes six scenes across the era, along with a 70-minute recording of the story being read aloud and other audio accompaniments accessible via QR code. [Detailed review pending.]

Paper Engineer: Zhou Meiqiang, based on the story by Luo Guanzhong
Publisher: Heliu Cultural Creation, 9786267160787
Publication Date: 2023

➤ Find it at AliExpress

Approaching Sanxingdui (Chinese: 走近三星堆)

Named on China’s list of “Good Books for Children” in 2022, and a finalist in the 2023 Meggendorfer Prize for Movable Books, this book explores the 4000-year old historical relics and archaeological excavations of the Bronze Age Sanxingdui site in modern Guanghan, Sichuan, China. The book can be disassembled and rebuilt into a large flat-lay. [Detailed review pending.]

Paper Engineer: Wang Wei
Publisher: Beijing Times Christian Press
Publication Date: 2023

➤ Find it at AliExpress

The Old Man and the Sea (Chinese: 老人与海)

Based on Hemingway’s famous novella, twenty poignantly illustrated pop-up scenes accompany a Chinese translation that follows the struggles of fisherman Santiago, who catches a giant marlin after a lengthy struggle, only to lose his bounty to sharks. 

Paper Engineer: Wang Wei, story by Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House, 9787559466525
Publication Date: May 2022

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress

Opening the Forbidden City (Chinese: 打开故宫)

Designed by Chinese paper designer Wang Wei, this pop-up guide to China’s Forbidden City contains 7 pages which show all the buildings on the central axis of the Forbidden City, and extends to over 3 metres long when fully unfolded. It was crowdfunded via Chinese Kickstarter platform Modian, with an initial print run of 15,000 copies.

Paper Engineer: Wang Wei
Publisher: Publishing House of Electronics Industry
Publication Date: May 2020

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Abes | eBay

ISBN: 9787121383021

One Thousand and One Nights: Saving the Golden City (Chinese: 一千零一夜 • 拯救黄金城)

A stunning journey through the tales of the Arabian Nights with 6 large scenes that unfold into a 1.5m display like a Persian carpet. As well as another 20 mini-pops, the book also includes lots of additional features like a slipcase cover, QR audiobook code, a board game, a compass, and more.

Paper Engineer: Wei Wang, designed by Yueran Paper, illustrated by Gourd Brother, edited by Heshan Culture
Publisher: Fujian Children’s Publishing House9787539570914
Publication Date: 2020

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Abes | eBay

A Journey to the West (Chinese: 西游记)

A 2 volume pop-up adaptation of the classic tale of Journey to the West, telling the story of the legendary pilgrimage of Buddhist monk Zuanzang as he travels with his animal god apprentices. Spreads include a heavenly palace that floats in the air, and fluorescent ink that makes a spiderweb glow in the dark.

Paper Engineer: Zhou Meiqiang, based on the story by Wu Cheng-en
Publisher: Zhejiang Children’s Publishing House, 9787559720313
Publication Date: 2020

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Abes | eBay

Mulan: Brave Female Warrior (Chinese: 花木兰)

Tells the story of Mulan across seven pop-up spreads – the ancient Chinese heroine with such loyal and filial piety she served on behalf of her father in the army to defeat the invading nations.

Paper Engineer: Chen Qibao and Shi Zili, illustrated by Kuri, story by Fang Suzhen
Publisher: Shanxi Future Publishing House
Publication Date: c2020

Find it at AliExpress | Etsy

Chinese Zodiac: Ancestor Wisdom (Chinese: 十二生肖)

This pop-up volume gives vivid three-dimensional life to the legends behind the animals of the Chinese zodiac, situating each character in its own magical fairytale world.

Find it at Amazon | Book Depository | AliExpress

Paper Engineer: Qi Sewangguo and Seven Colour Kingdom
Publisher: Anhui Children’s Publishing House, 9787570702770
Publication Date: 2018

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Blackwells | Abes | eBay

Havok in Heaven (Chinese: 大闹天宫世)

This ‘Monkey Magic’ pop-up story is taken from Journey to the West, and it focuses on Sun Wukong, aka the Monkey King, as he rebels against the Jade Emperor of heaven.

This title is based on the classic animated film by Shanghai Fine Arts Film Studio, and includes 6 3D spreads.

Also known as Monkey King Makes an Uproar in the Heavenly Palace.

Paper Engineer: Yan Hongbing, illustrated by Sun Baby, story by Yuan Qiuxang
Publisher: Future Publishing House9787541759611
Publication Date: 2016

➤ Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Blackwells | Abes | eBay

Journey to the West (Chinese: 西游记)

A pop-up adaptation of the classic tale of Journey to the West, telling the story of the legendary pilgrimage of Buddhist monk Zuanzang as he travels with his animal god apprentices.

Beautiful spreads include a heavenly palace that floats in the air, and fluorescent ink that makes a spiderweb glow in the dark.

Paper Engineer: Zhou Meiqiang
Publisher: Anhui Children’s Publishing House, 9787539792835
Publication Date: 2016

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Abes | eBay

Books In Translation

Happy Chinese New Year: The Irised Kingdom

Happy Chinese New Year: The Irised Kingdom

This mostly English title explores the Chinese New Year traditions, including fluorescent ink to bring a glowing, dancing dragon to life. Also includes ephemera, stickers, and paper gifts to make. An excellent way to engage children as they learn about Chinese culture.

Paper Engineer: Xiaohua Zhao and and Seven Colour Kingdom
Publisher: Shanxi Future Publishing House, 9787508542829
Publication Date: 2019

Find it at Amazon | AliExpress | Abes | eBay

Beautiful Books