Talking About China


Ian Johnson’s continuing series of interviews with intellectuals, activists, and artists in China


China's Unstoppable Lawyers: An Interview with Teng Biao
October 19, 2014
Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson: You’ve said that Xi Jinping is trying to bring China back to a totalitarian kind of system.

Teng Biao: He is not able to achieve totalitarianism, but he wants to. The problem for him is the civil society in China is stronger than he thinks.

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'They Don't Want Moderate Uighurs'
September 22, 2014
Ian Johnson

Why was Ilham Tohti arrested?

Wang Lixiong: The only conclusion is dark: they don’t want moderate Uighurs. Because if you have moderate Uighurs, then why aren’t you talking to them? So they wanted to get rid of him and then you can say there are no moderates and we’re fighting terrorists.

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Sex in China: An Interview with Li Yinhe
September 9, 2014
Ian Johnson

Why sex?

Li Yinhe: During the first thirty years of its rule, the Communist Party was anti-sex. So studying sex is controversial. Even in my current book, the section on laws about sex was eliminated. You can’t publish it.

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Wang Lixiong and Woeser: A Way Out of China's Ethnic Unrest?
August 8, 2014
Ian Johnson

Why has the Chinese government relied so much on suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang?

Wang Lixiong: Simply put, it’s due to their politics, but they can’t say that. They say it’s due to hostile foreign forces. After troubles started in Tibet they said it was the “Dalai Clique.” You can see the situation getting worse year by year, so it’s only possible to say that it’s their policy.

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Beyond the Dalai Lama: An Interview with Woeser and Wang Lixiong
August 7, 2014
Ian Johnson

You have spoken about how the Dalai Lama has had successes, but that his policy is at a dead end.

Wang Lixiong: I believe the Dalai Lama has fulfilled his historical role. His basic strategy is to get Western people and Western governments to put pressure on the Chinese government. But it doesn’t solve the problem.

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Hong Kong Rising: An Interview with Albert Ho
July 16, 2014
Perry Link, with Ian Johnson

Why are these protests happening now?

Hong Kong’s people have been striving for democracy for over two decades, and the desire is now so strong that if Beijing breaches its promise and fails to deliver democracy in 2017, Hong Kong will likely become ungovernable.

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'You Won't Get Near Tiananmen!': Hu Jia on the Continuing Crackdown
June 2, 2014
Ian Johnson

Hu Jia is one of China’s best-known political activists. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen protests as a fifteen-year-old and is currently under house arrest for having launched a commemoration of the June Fourth massacre in January. But on his way back from a rare unsupervised hospital visit, I met up with him for a talk about his work and the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tiananmen.

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Solving China's Schools: An Interview with Jiang Xueqin
April 8, 2014
Ian Johnson

The reform movement in the US is led by a bunch of Ivy League people obsessed with data. They want to bring ‘accountability’ to the American school system. That means testing. They use China as the Yellow Peril. ‘If our kids can’t do math, China is going to kick our ass.’”

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China's Way to Happiness
February 4, 2014
Ian Johnson

Are people in China happy?

Richard Madsen: The happiness level is diminishing. The pace of economic growth is not continuing like it was. You still have people becoming fabulously wealthy and crassly displaying it, but that also feeds into a deteriorating moral climate.

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Blogging the Slow-Motion Revolution: An Interview with China's Huang Qi
February 9, 2013
Ian Johnson

The first thing is we have to get the information out. You have to understand that the public security and government agencies are monitoring our site. They read it. News services too. After we publish, it’ll get the attention of the relevant authorities. So we have to send it out and then people can learn about it. That’s how we do it.”

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Jesus vs. Mao? An Interview With Yuan Zhiming
September 4, 2012
Ian Johnson

What China lacks the most is faith or a spiritual support. Look at Bo Xilai. He tried to use Mao’s idea to create a spiritual support for people in Chongqing by having them sing old communist songs. He recognized that people lacked a sense of community and wanted to create a model in Chongqing for all of China. But he made a mistake in that Mao isn’t a God.”

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China's 'Fault Lines': Yu Jie on His New Biography of Liu Xiaobo
July 14, 2012
Ian Johnson

Over the past hundred years, China has studied a lot from the West: from France, the French Revolution, and from Germany, of course Marx and nationalism, which came to us via Japan. And from Russia we learned Leninism. But we haven’t learned much from this British-American tradition.”

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'Pressure for Change is at the Grassroots': An Interview with Chen Guangcheng
June 26, 2012
Ian Johnson

Chinese police and prosecutors, do you think they don’t understand Chinese law? They definitely understand. But these people illegally kept me under detention. So you can see that once you enter the system, you need to become bad. If you don’t become bad, you can’t survive.”

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'In the Current System, I'd Be Corrupt Too': An Interview with Bao Tong
June 14, 2012
Ian Johnson

In America, if you’re corrupt you have to resign. Look at Nixon. In China does that happen? No. Why? Because everyone is in one boat. If that boat turns over, everyone ends up in the water. When I say ‘everyone’ of course I mean the people in power. In China everyone helps each other out.”

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'Worse Than the Cultural Revolution': An Interview With Tian Qing
April 7, 2012
Ian Johnson

The problem is that modernization and protecting heritage are at odds with each other. It’s like driving a car and then you tell someone to look back. You can’t do it. You say, for example, to a Miao woman, ‘Your clothes are beautiful,’ but she says, ‘No, I want to wear jeans.’”

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Learning How to Argue: An Interview with Ran Yunfei
March 2, 2012
Ian Johnson

You have to learn how to argue. Too few public intellectuals in China have learned to argue logically. They don’t know how and end up cursing each other all the time.”

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Is Democracy Chinese? An Interview with Journalist Chang Ping
January 27, 2012
Ian Johnson

Some people said that democracy wasn’t part of Chinese culture, and then Taiwan became democratic. Then they said that Taiwan was a special case. Now look at [the village of] Wukan. They had their own elections. People say it’s special, but in fact Wukan is really typically Chinese. It’s a Chinese town but they organized everything. So what argument are you left with?”

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'I'm not interested in them; I wish they weren't interested in me':  An Interview with Liao Yiwu
August 15, 2011
Ian Johnson

The 1980s were a golden age for Chinese thought and literature. Then came 1989. Then came the reforms and the economic growth. No one thought the Communists would be so tough and strong. Now there’s a new wave of people leaving, even though the economy is so good. At least among many artistic people it’s like this: You can’t do anything meaningful in China.”

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Finding the Facts About Mao's Victims
December 20, 2010
Ian Johnson

Traditional historians face restrictions. First of all, they censor themselves. Their thoughts limit them. They don’t even dare to write the facts. And even if they wrote it, they can’t publish it. But there are many unofficial historians like me.”

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