Ian Johnson is a Beijing-based reporter who won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of China. His most recent book is The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. (November 2018)

Follow Ian Johnson on Twitter: @iandenisjohnson.


In Search of the True Dao

Daoist practitioners meditating in a cave in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China, 2011

Dream Trippers: Global Daoism and the Predicament of Modern Spirituality

by David A. Palmer and Elijah Siegler

China’s Green Religion: Daoism and the Quest for a Sustainable Future

by James Miller
Last year I got a call from Abbess Yin, an old friend who runs a Daoist nunnery near Nanjing. I’ve always known her as supernaturally placid and oblique, but this time she was nervous and direct: a group of Germans were coming to spend a week learning about Daoist life; …

Breaking Eggs Against a Rock

‘Lin Zhao Behind Bars’; painting by Hu Jie, 2007

Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China

by Lian Xi

Censored: Distraction and Diversion Inside China’s Great Firewall

by Margaret E. Roberts
A year ago, the remains of Liu Xiaobo were scattered in the Yellow Sea. Over the decades, many gallant Chinese have spoken up for individual rights and government accountability, but Liu stood out for his systematic critique of China’s government, as well as his moderation and advocacy of nonviolent protest.

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 …


‘It’s Hopeless But You Persist’: An Interview with Jiang Xue

Chinese writer Jiang Xue

Ian Johnson: Haven’t some people given up on civil society? Jiang Xue: It was our hope. Now, a lot of people have lost hope. The way society has developed under the Communist Party, it’s impossible to develop civil society. Public media has been killed. Public institutions have been closed. Teachers who dare to speak up have been driven off. It seems that civil society has no force. But I don’t agree with this view. Civil society is something we have to struggle for. It’s something we can fight for bit by bit. 

‘My Responsibility to History’: An Interview with Zhang Shihe

Zhang Shihe, often known—as China’s first citizen journalist—by his web name “Tiger Temple”

Ian Johnson: Where does it come from, this sense of justice—your experiences in the Cultural Revolution? Zhang Shihe: Mao ordered young people to the countryside. I was sent to work on the Xi’an to Qinghai railway, with some 26,000 others. Most were broken when they came home. Today, they have children and grandchildren, but thousands died prematurely after coming back—it ruined so many people’s health. These old guys don’t want that forgotten.

How Slovakians Beat the Oligarchs

A protester commemorating murdered journalist Jan Kuciak at a Movement for a Decent Slovakia demonstration, Bratislava, May 4, 2018

Instead of joining Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic in sliding toward authoritarianism, hundreds of thousands of Slovaks have rallied around their fragile democracy. Protesters in Bratislava and fifty cities across this country of five million staged the largest demonstrations since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The government resigned. Reforms were passed. At a time when democracy is under siege around the world, Slovakia’s spirited response is an important counterpoint, a small victory built on luck, guile, and courage. 

The Uighurs and China’s Long History of Trouble with Islam

A Uighur woman walking past a statue of Mao Zedong in Kashgar City, northwestern Xinjiang, China, 2017

It would be tempting to say that we are seeing a typical Communist excess in the party’s DNA that forces it to turn to repression and violence to solve problems. But its approach to Muslim presence in China is part of an older, deeper problem. The Qing Dynasty that ruled for nearly three centuries from 1644 was, like today’s China, a multi-ethnic empire, but the underlying assumption was that the state should determine orthodoxy and heterodoxy. For those who assimilated, the state was generous. But for those whose beliefs didn’t fit the mold, magnanimity turned to suppression.


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.