Ian Johnson reports from Beijing and Berlin. His new book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, was published in April. He received the 2016 Shorenstein Journalism Award.
 (June 2017)


Novels from China’s Moral Abyss

Zhang Hongtu: Chairmen Mao, 1989; from ‘Zhang Hongtu: Expanding Visions of a Shrinking World,’ a recent exhibition at the Queens Museum. The catalog is edited by Luchia Meihua Lee and Jerome Silbergeld and copublished by Duke University Press.

The Four Books

by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas

The Explosion Chronicles

by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas
Modern China was built on the nearly thirty ruthless years of Mao’s rule. The country’s elite—the “literati” of educated small landowners who held the empire together at the local level—was brutally eliminated. Almost everyone’s personal life was destroyed: homes searched for incriminating books, thoughts remolded by struggle sessions, and streets …

Recreating China’s Imagined Empire

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at a welcoming ceremony before talks in Beijing, during which they agreed to reopen direct discussions on disputes in the South China Sea, October 2016

Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power

by Howard W. French
China’s influence in the world has become a persistent theme of these early days of the Donald Trump era. During his campaign, Trump portrayed China (not entirely incorrectly) as the leading malefactor in the politics of international trade—holding its currency down in order to pump out exports, while making it …

When the Chinese Were Unspeakable

Tan Hecheng at a tombstone put up by Zhou Qun for her husband and three children, who were among the thousands of people killed during the Cultural Revolution in Dao County, southern China, November 2016; photograph by Sim Chi Yin

The Killing Wind: A Chinese County’s Descent into Madness During the Cultural Revolution

by Tan Hecheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
In August and September 1967, more than nine thousand people were murdered in and around China’s Dao County. Some were clubbed to death and thrown into limestone pits, others tossed into cellars full of sweet potatoes where they suffocated. But most victims were simply bludgeoned to death with agricultural tools—hoes, carrying poles, and rakes—and then tossed into the waterways that flow into the Xiao River.

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.


Liberating China’s Past: An Interview with Ke Yunlu

Ke Yunlu, 1987

Ke Yunlu was one of the most popular authors in China in the 1980s and 1990s. Though none of his books have been translated, he is well-known in China for his politically prescient novels, including one that is widely seen as having predicted Xi Jinping’s rise. He is a sharp critic of the Mao period, and believes that China’s traumas can only be resolved through spiritualism.

Xi Jinping: The Illusion of Greatness

A building covered in posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Shanghai, China, March 26, 2016

Xi Jinping came to power offering a similarly broad range of reforms and pledging to “rejuvenate” China. But his measures have been limited to the classic nationalist-authoritarian-traditionalist playbook. After five years of Xi, his main accomplishments seem to have been to consolidate his power while satisfying people’s desire for social change through crackdowns and promoting traditionalism. The problem is that these efforts come at the expense of actual reforms.


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.