Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who lives in ­Beijing, his home for more than twenty years. His most recent book is The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao.
 (March 2020)

Follow Ian Johnson on Twitter: @iandenisjohnson.

IN THE REVIEW

The Flowers Blooming in the Dark

Voices from the Chinese Century: Public Intellectual Debate from Contemporary China

edited by Timothy Cheek, David Ownby, and Joshua A. Fogel

Rethinking China’s Rise: A Liberal Critique

by Xu Jilin, translated from the Chinese and edited by David Ownby
Ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, Chinese people have sought to give voice to how they would like their country to be run. In 1956, Mao Zedong announced a brief flourishing of free speech called the “Hundred Flowers Campaign,” referring to a vibrant era in antiquity …

The Eastern Jesus

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well; illustration from the Mirror of Holiness, an account of the life of Christ by the Jesuit priest Jerome Xavier for the Mughal emperor Akbar, India, 1602–1604

Jesus in Asia

by R.S. Sugirtharajah
In Jesus in Asia, R.S. Sugirtharajah shows how Jesus has been promoted, despised, and utilized in Asia. He begins in China around the seventh century and ends in twentieth-century South Korea and Japan, but is mainly concerned with thinkers from the Indian subcontinent. He introduces us to intellectuals—some believers, many not—who grappled with Jesus as a historical figure and a person with a place in Asian religions.

What Holds China Together?

Protesters outside the Hong Kong Space Museum holding illuminated cell phones as part of the ‘Hong Kong Way’ human chain, inspired by the 1989 ‘Baltic Way’ protests against the Soviet government, August 2019
As another humid Beijing summer passes into a crisp autumn of wind-swept skies and chrysanthemum-decked parks, it’s easy to put oneself in the minds of government propagandists and feel that things are going quite well in China. Yes, faraway Hong Kong is in crisis, with huge antigovernment protests going on …

China’s ‘Black Week-end’

Demonstrators and troops during the Tiananmen Square protests, Beijing, June 1989

The Last Secret: The Final Documents from the June Fourth Crackdown

edited by Bao Pu
For authoritarian regimes like China’s, history is power, because their political systems are legitimized through myths. In the case of the People’s Republic, the story goes that earlier efforts to modernize China were failures and that only the Chinese Communist Party was able to bullwhip the country into the future. This is the history that every child learns in textbooks, that museums serve up in exhibitions, and that the media push in countless television dramas, news reports, and popular books. The problem for the government is that historical truth is hard to suppress.

NYR DAILY

Pandemic Journal, March 30–April 5

The latest edition in a running series of dispatches by New York Review writers documenting the coronavirus outbreak with updates from around the world, including Danny Lyon in Bernalillo, Andrew McGee in New York, Nicole Rudick in South Orange, Ali Bhutto in Karachi, Jamie Quatro in Chattanooga, Edward Stephens in Athens, Carl Elliott in Auckland, Liza Batkin in Rhinebeck, Tim Flannery in Sydney, Ian Johnson in Beijing and London, and more.

‘Everyone Is Isolated’: An Interview with Yuan Ling

Yuan Ling in Xinjiang helping harvest corn at a family he interviewed for his book Silent Children, undated

Ian Johnson: You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. What would be the best way to approach Wuhan? Yuan Ling: The virus causes isolation and shutdown, which mirrors the isolation and shutdown in Chinese society, and also because it was directly the result of controlling speech and clamping down on “rumors.” This is symbolic. During normal times, people aren’t free but they don’t feel it, but now everyone feels their unfreedom. 

How China’s Rise Has Forced Hong Kong’s Decline

Police watching as people formed a line at a polling station to vote in district council elections, Hong Kong, November 24, 2019

Journalists expecting to cover Tiananmen II flew in for the most promising global story of the year, its allure bolstered by the protesters’ ability to speak English and the easily digestible narrative of David vs. Goliath, democracy vs. authoritarianism, right vs. might. Beijing, though, will spin recent events as another staging post in its policy of “strategic patience”: that despite protesters’ having launched Molotov cocktails and set up petrol-bomb production lines, China hasn’t sent in the People’s Liberation Army. But these arguments obscure a bleaker fact: while the activists have made their mistakes, the Hong Kong protests are mostly an epic failure of China’s soft power—and we are witnessing Hong Kong’s descent from leading international city to collateral damage in Beijing’s rise to a strident superpower.

A Radical Realist View of Tibetan Buddhism at the Rubin

Kingdom of Shambhala and the Final Battle, Mongolia, nineteenth century

For many people in the West, Buddhism is completely divorced from its history. So many of the beliefs and rites have been stripped away that many Westerners regard it purely as a philosophy, rather than a religion. As well-intentioned as this version of Buddhism might be, it is also a fantasy that places its practice on a higher moral and spiritual plane and erects an unbridgeable distance between us and its real, historical significance in Tibet. This exhibition offers an unsentimental, non-Orientalist perspective on Tibet, in which violence is a normal part of the political and religious discourse, as elsewhere in the world.

NYR CALENDAR

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.