Jonathan Mirsky is a historian of China and was formerly the East Asia Editor of The Times of London.
 (March 2016)


China: The Benefits of Persecution?

Chinese middle school graduates (zhiqing), 15 million of whom were ‘sent down to the countryside and up to the mountains’ to ‘learn from the peasants’ during the Cultural Revolution, aboard a Red Guard ship that was about to sail from Guangzhou to Hainan Island

Mao’s Lost Children: Stories of the Rusticated Youth of China’s Cultural Revolution

edited by Ou Nianzhong and Liang Yongkang, and translated from the Chinese by Laura Maynard
During decades of reading and reviewing books on China I have learned a great deal, even from those I didn’t like. Only a few have surprised me. Mao’s Lost Children is such a book, and those like me who believe that the Mao period was bad for China and the …

The Bloodthirsty Deng We Didn’t Know

Deng Xiaoping at a military parade, September 1981

Deng Xiaoping: A Revolutionary Life

by Alexander V. Pantsov with Steven I. Levine
“Deng was…a bloody dictator who, along with Mao, was responsible for the deaths of millions of innocent people, thanks to the terrible social reforms and unprecedented famine of 1958–1962.” This is the conclusion of Alexander Pantsov and Steven Levine’s biography of Deng Xiaoping, a book that, at last, shows him …

Fighting False Words and Worlds

Sin-Lin’s mother, Lin Na, when she was the deputy director and Communist Party secretary of a new steel foundry, Fulardi, China, May 1953

Shattered Families, Broken Dreams: Little-Known Episodes from the History of the Persecution of Chinese Revolutionaries in Stalin’s Gulag

by Sin-Lin, translated from the Russian by Steven I. Levine
The title of Sin-Lin’s moving, frightening, sometimes disappointing book is incomplete. Her story is also about the way that Chinese Communists lied to themselves while staying loyal to Stalin and Mao, no matter how badly they were treated. Such loyalties are well known, although we can never be reminded of …


Pope Francis’s China Problem

The Dalai Lama

Over the last few years, a growing number of world leaders, under pressure from China, have spurned or downgraded meetings with the Dalai Lama. But the Tibetan leader has a long history of meeting with the head of the Catholic Church. Why has Pope Francis snubbed him?

Okinawa: Why They Chose Death

A Japanese naval lieutenant surrounded by American soldiers in Okinawa, July 14, 1945

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. It comes freshly into view in Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, a remarkable new book based on Japanese eyewitness testimony from one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

Taking Aim at Hong Kong

Tear gas canisters raining on thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, September 28, 2014

Watching tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of Hong Kong, I have felt the same emotion I experienced on the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989. Again we are watching heavily armed police trying to disperse peaceful democracy protesters and they are possibly awaiting orders to do more than that.

Tiananmen: How Wrong We Were

Pro-democracy student protesters sit face to face with policemen outside the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, April 22, 1989

A few days before the killings in Tiananmen Square, thousands of unarmed soldiers marched towards the square only to be scolded by elderly women and shamed into turning back. A column of tanks had been stalled on the edge of the city, where young men urinated on their treads while local women offered the crews cups of tea. Now we really thought the Party was finished. How wrong we were.