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 …


‘Ruling Through Ritual’: An Interview with Guo Yuhua

Guo Yuhua with a villager in Ji, northern Shanxi, China, 2005

Ian Johnson: When did you start commenting on daily life? Guo Yuhua: In about 2010. In this society, everything that seems impossible or completely weird actually does happen, so how can you not comment on it? It’s intolerable. You feel you can’t help people who are suffering in another way, so at least you can try to publicize it and get a public reaction. In fact, you aren’t really helping them, but you feel you have to speak.

After-Shocks of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake

Ruins from one of the most significant earthquakes in Chinese history, pictured a month before the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, Beichuan county, Mianyang, Sichuan, China, April 5, 2018

On May 12, 2008, one of the most disastrous earthquakes in Chinese history struck Sichuan, killing 69,000 people and leaving another 18,000 missing. The quake occurred during a time of enormous social ferment in China brought on by rising expectations and the ability to express them through the Internet, which the authorities had not yet brought to heel. This made the earthquake seem like a portent of enormous change, perhaps leading to a more open society. A decade on, the quake was indeed an omen of change, but not in the way that many expected.

Chairman Xi, Chinese Idol

Sculptures of Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong in front of a souvenir plate with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, March 1, 2018

I was skeptical at first when political analysts suggested that Xi might try to rule past a second term. One reason was that the Chinese political class has fought hard to institutionalize transfers of power. I wondered if Xi would want to risk alienating so many of his peers by taking such a step. Another risk is that this puts Xi in the crosshairs if his policies fail. And while it’s easy to imagine Xi steamrolling opponents until his health fails him, there are small signs of unease among people in China.

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.


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.