Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky is a historian of China and was formerly the East Asia Editor of The Times of London. (October 2015)

  • Pope Francis's China Problem

    December 15, 2014

    The Dalai Lama has a long history of meeting with the head of the Catholic Church. Why has Pope Francis snubbed him?

  • Okinawa: Why They Chose Death

    October 23, 2014

    Would the Japanese have surrendered without Hiroshima? For decades the question has lingered, as historians have challenged one of the most important American rationales for dropping the bomb.

  • Taking Aim at Hong Kong

    September 29, 2014

    As in the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square in 1989, we are watching heavily armed police in Hong Kong trying to disperse peaceful democracy protesters.

  • Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were

    May 20, 2014

    I may have been inadvertently right in May 1989 when I said China would “never be the same again” after the Tiananmen protests.

  • China: Five Pounds of Facts

    December 10, 2013

    In China, Endymion Wilkinson informs us in his unparalleled collection of Chinese facts and analysis, 90 million people have the surname Wang.

  • Who's Afraid of Chinese Money?

    October 19, 2013

    Western governments used to go to great lengths to say they were standing up for human rights in China. Now, trade ties with Beijing are so lucrative that Western leaders no longer need to lie: China is what it is.

  • Burma: The Despots and the Laughter

    July 24, 2013

    It’s hard to get a handle on Burma. In Golden Parasol, her memoir of Burma during the years in which the country went from a British colony to a military dictatorship, Wendy Law-Yone suggests why the country’s ruling class may be so difficult to understand.

  • Clearing the Men's Room for Thatcher

    April 17, 2013

    Why was I invited to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral? I had never been a parliamentary journalist. But I did have a little history with Mrs. Thatcher, including four personal encounters. Here’s how they happened.

  • Tibet: The CIA's Cancelled War

    April 9, 2013

    For nearly two decades after the 1950 Chinese takeover of Tibet, the CIA ran a covert operation designed to train Tibetan insurgents and gather intelligence about the Chinese. Though it was cancelled in the early 1970s, it did not end the long legacy of mistrust that continues to color Chinese-American relations.

  • The Old Fears of China's New Leaders

    January 8, 2013

    I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in Southern Weekend, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou.

  • Advice for Soldiers in Vietnam: 'The Fish is Good'

    August 20, 2012

    Most American soldiers landing in Vietnam in the 1960s were handed a ninety-three-page booklet called A Pocket Guide to Vietnam. Produced by the Department of Defense, it described how small, well-proportioned, dignified, and restrained Vietnamese people are, how the delicately-boned local women appear in their flowing national dress, how Vietnamese love tea, and don’t like slaps on the back, how they excel at cooking fish. Soldiers reading this advice could get the mistaken idea that they were going to a tourist destination with a bit of violence on the side.

  • Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

    June 21, 2012

    “I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London Wednesday. “But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese leadership beginning late this year. The Communist leaders now lack self-confidence, but I have heard from my Chinese friends that after a year or two the new ones will take some initiatives, so more freedom, more democracy.”

  • Bringing Censors to the Book Fair

    April 18, 2012

    When I arrived at the London Book Fair on Monday, I saw a huge sign outside showing a cute Chinese boy holding an open book with the words underneath him: “China: Market Focus.” The special guest of this year’s fair was the Chinese Communist Party’s censorship bureau. What has caused a bitter public wrangle in London is that Beijing not only chose—with the full approval of the fair itself and of the British Council—which writers to bring to the fair; it also excluded some of China’s best-known writers. Among these are two Nobel Prize winners: Gao Xingjian, China’s only Literature Prize laureate, who lives in nearby Paris, and Liu Xiaobo, the Peace Prize winner who is now serving out an eleven year prison sentence.

  • China's Death-Row Reality Show

    March 27, 2012

    Until it was taken off the air last December, one of the most popular television programs in China’s Henan province, which has a population of 100 million, was “Interviews Before Execution.” The presenter was Ding Yu, a pretty young woman, always carefully dressed with colorful scarves and blouses; in each episode, she would interview on camera a condemned murderer who was about to face a firing squad or a lethal injection.

  • Banned in China

    January 9, 2012

    In late December, a foreign correspondent in Beijing emailed me to say that a four-page article on China I’d written for a special New Year’s edition of Newsweek had been carefully torn from each of the 731 copies of the magazine on sale in China. In over forty years of writing about China, I have been subjected to many forms of pressure. But this has never happened. Surely everything in my article is well known in Beijing, especially to the tiny number of English-reading urban people who buy Newsweek. What had I said that attracted the attention of the official shredder?

  • Murdoch's Chinese Adventure

    July 26, 2011

    After the elder Murdoch declared how “humbled” he was by all that had happened, he told his questioners, in effect, that he’s always played a humble role in the running of his papers: he telephoned the editor of the Sunday News of the World only twice a month, each time saying, “I’m not interfering.” Having worked for four years, from 1993 to 1997, as the East Asia editor of Murdoch’s Times, I have my doubts about this. I watched our proprietor trying to blandish and spend his way into the People’s Republic, and for some years insure that his interests dictated the kinds of stories about China that appeared in his paper.

  • China's Political Prisoners: True Confessions?

    June 30, 2011

    The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s ankle-deep heap of porcelain sunflower seeds bewitched recent visitors to London’s Tate Modern. But in early April Ai’s strong criticisms of the regime led to his disappearance somewhere in Beijing. On June 22, eighty-one days later, he reappeared at home. Not freed: reappeared, which can mean something closer house arrest. A lifeguard at my local pool in London announced to me that Ai had been freed, and I fear that is what the “Sinologists”—as the China specialists in the Foreign Office like to be called—may have told Prime Minister David Cameron before his meeting on June 27 in London with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. They may also have mentioned that, according to the government’s official press agency, Ai “confessed his crimes”—though it should be noted no formal charge was ever brought against him.

  • Jailed for Words: Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo

    October 11, 2010

    On October 8, Liu Xiaobo became the first Chinese to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and one of only three winners ever to receive it while in prison.