Ian Johnson reports from Beijing and Berlin. His next book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, will be published in April. (October 2016)


The New Face of Olympic Doping

A building housing a laboratory accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, Moscow, November 11, 2015

Every Olympics seems to bring with it a doping scandal, and the Rio games are no different. The games have long been a proxy for national glory. Over the past decades, countries from Australia to united Germany have poured money into sports to improve their rankings on medal tables. But what we are seeing now is rules-twisting by national governments that mirrors a broader turn toward flouting international law.


China: The Virtues of the Awful Convulsion

Li Fanwu, the governor of China’s Heilongjiang province, being denounced and tortured at a rally in Red Guard Square, Harbin, August 1966. One of his alleged crimes was political ambition, evidence for which was found—according to the photographer Li Zhensheng’s book Red-Color News Soldier (2003)—‘in his hairstyle, which gave him an ill-fated resemblance to Mao and so was said to symbolize his lust for power.’ Two Red Guards chopped and tore out his hair, after which he was made to bow for hours. The banner behind him reads, ‘Bombard the Headquarters! Expose and denounce the provincial Party committee.’

The Red Guard Generation and Political Activism in China

by Guobin Yang

The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962–1976

by Frank Dikötter
Of all the books on the Cultural Revolution that have appeared during this anniversary year, I was most intrigued by those that told detailed local stories to illustrate the larger history.

‘The Songs of Birds’

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in an undated photograph taken before he was sent to prison for ‘subversion of state power’ after he helped to write Charter 08, a petition that called for ‘freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom’ in China. She remains under house arrest at their apartment in Beijing.

Empty Chairs: Selected Poems

by Liu Xia, translated from the Chinese by Ming Di and Jennifer Stern, with a foreword by Herta Müller and an introduction by Liao Yiwu

Steel Gate to Freedom: The Life of Liu Xiaobo

by Yu Jie, translated from the Chinese by H.C. Hsu
Day and night, I copy the Diamond Sutra of Prajnaparamita. My writing looks more and more square. It proves that I have not gone entirely insane, but the tree I drew hasn’t grown a leaf. —from “I Copy the Scriptures,” in Empty Chairs …

A Revolutionary Discovery in China

Buried Ideas: Legends of Abdication and Ideal Government in Early Chinese Bamboo-Slip Manuscripts

by Sarah Allan
For over two millennia all our knowledge of China’s great philosophical schools was limited to texts revised after the Qin unification. Earlier versions and competing ideas were lost—until now.

An American Hero in China

Peter Hessler with the Huangs, a local fishing family described in his 2003 New Yorker essay ‘Underwater,’ on the rising waters of the Yangtze River shortly after the gates of the Three Gorges Dam were closed, Wushan, China, June 2003

Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West

by Peter Hessler

Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China

by Peter Hessler
One night in September, three hundred people crowded into the basement auditorium of an office tower in Beijing to hear a discussion between two of China’s most popular writers. One was Liu Yu, a thirty-eight-year-old political scientist and blogger who has written a best seller explaining how American democracy works.


The People in Retreat: An Interview with Ai Xiaoming

Ai Xiaoming, 2016

Ai Xiaoming: I believed in the goodness of human nature. I believe this is naïve. Actually, human nature in this totalitarian society has become very vile. This power has changed Chinese people’s psychological makeup. Most people, very many people, are really terrible; they’re afraid of losing things.

Berlin: The End of a Museum Idyll

The Dahlem museums, Berlin, March 11, 2014

The transition of western Berlin’s Dahlem collections to the approximately $630 million Humboldt Forum near Museum Island is not driven by the needs of the collection. One gets an uneasy feeling that they are viewed as much as a way to bolster tourism than as works of complex beauty and history requiring diligent care, scholarship, and attention. Defenders of the plan have asserted that their current home in Dahlem is too far out of town, but in reality, the collections have simply been neglected.

‘My Personal Vendetta’: An Interview with Hong Kong Publisher Bao Pu

Bao Pu: I am interested in telling stories about human nature. The Communists are so against human nature….I’m going to demythify Chinese culture. My example is Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta. Our next book will be like that—a graphic non-fiction book on the Lin Biao incident [the probable attempted coup and flight by Mao’s most trusted aide in 1971, ending in his death in a plane crash].


A Worldwide Reading for Li Bifeng

The exiled Chinese author Liao Yiwu, the International Literaturfestival Berlin, and a group of prominent international authors are jointly appealing for an international reading in support of the imprisoned Chinese author Li Bifeng.