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. (October 2017)

Follow Ian Johnson on Twitter: @iandenisjohnson.


Sexual Life in Modern China

Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, Chinese writers grappled with the traumas of the Mao period, seeking to make sense of their suffering. As in the imperial era, most had been servants of the state, loyalists who might criticize but never seek to overthrow the system. And yet …

When the Law Meets the Party

Protesters carrying placards featuring t

Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work

by Sida Liu and Terence C. Halliday

China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance

by Eva Pils
Like an army defeated but undestroyed, China’s decades-long human rights movement keeps reassembling its lines after each disastrous loss, miraculously fielding new forces in the battle against an illiberal state. Each time, foot soldiers and generals are lost, but new troops and leaders emerge to take up the fight. This …

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 …


Who Killed More: Hitler, Stalin, or Mao?

Chairman Mao attending a military review in Beijing, China, 1967

These months mark the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Mao’s most infamous experiment in social engineering, the Great Leap Forward. It was this campaign that caused the deaths of tens of millions and catapulted Mao Zedong into the big league of twentieth-century murders. But Mao’s mistakes are more than a chance to reflect on the past. They are also now part of a central debate in Xi Jinping’s China, where the Communist Party is renewing a long-standing battle to protect its legitimacy by limiting discussions of Mao.

‘The Biggest Taboo’: An Interview with Qiu Zhijie

Qiu Zhijie in his studio, 2018

You don’t feel that things are harsher or tighter now? Qiu Zhijie: It’s like this: because the anticorruption crackdown was so harsh, officials don’t dare act or do anything. Everyone speaks in formulaic language, and reads the Party’s documents. That kind of atmosphere isn’t good. Actual measures are few, but you do feel a kind of authoritarianism that’s worse than before.

Liu Xiaobo: The Man Who Stayed

Liu Xiaobo at a park in Beijing, July 24, 2008

Like late-nineteenth-century scholar Tan Sitong, Liu Xiaobo threw his weight behind a cause that in its immediate aftermath seemed hopeless—in Liu’s case, the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. But with time, history vindicated Tan; I wonder if it will do the same for Liu.

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.


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.