Ian Buruma was educated in Holland and Japan, where he studied history, Chinese literature, and Japanese cinema. In the 1970s in Tokyo, he acted in Kara Juro’s Jokyo Gekijo and participated in Maro Akaji’s butoh dancing company, Dairakudakan, followed by a career in documentary filmmaking and photography. In the 1980s, he worked as a journalist and spent much of his early writing career travelling and reporting from all over Asia.

Buruma now writes about a broad range of political and cultural subjects for major publications, most frequently for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Corriere della Sera, and NRC Handelsblad. He was Cultural Editor of The Far Eastern Economic Review, Hong Kong (1983-86) and Foreign Editor of The Spectator, London (1990-91), and he has been a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin; the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington D.C.; St. Antony’s College, Oxford; and Remarque Institute, NYU.

He has delivered lectures at various academic and cultural institutions world-wide, including Oxford, Princeton, and Harvard universities. He is currently Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Ian Buruma was awarded the 2008 international Erasmus Prize for making "an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe." He was voted as one of the Top 100 Public Intellectuals by the Foreign Policy/Prospect magazines in 2008 and 2010. Buruma was awarded the 2008 Shorenstein Journalism Award, an annual award which "honors a journalist not only for a distinguished body of work, but also for the particular way that work has helped American readers to understand the complexities of Asia." His book, Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance (Penguin USA) was the winner of The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for the Best Current Interest Book. In April 2012 he was awarded the Abraham Kuyper Prize at the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Some of his recent books include Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents (Princeton University Press, 2010), based on the Stafford Little lectures given at Princeton in 2008, and Grenzen aan de vrijheid: van De Sade tot Wilders (Lemniscaat, 2010), written in Dutch as the 2010 essay for the Maand van de Filosofie and later published as (Arcadia, Barcelona, 2011).

Buruma writes monthly columns for Project Syndicate. From September 2011 to May 2012, he was a fellow of the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library.

Last Updated: June 12, 2015

Lost in China’s Exploding Future

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s new movie, Mountains May Depart, begins with a disco dance in a bleak mining town to the sounds of “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys. It is the lunar New Year, 1999. Outside, the end of the millennium is celebrated in a...

In North Korea: Wonder & Terror

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
The northeast of China used to be called Manchuria. Another name was “the cockpit of Asia.” Many wars were fought there. A French priest who traveled through the region in the 1920s wrote: “Although it is uncertain where God created paradise, we can...



The Other China

Michael Meyer & Ian Buruma
Writers Michael Meyer and Ian Buruma engage in a discussion co-sponsoted by The New York Review of Books centered on Meyer's new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, which combines immersion...



Simon Leys Remembered

Isabel Hilton, Perry Link & more
Isabel Hilton: When I heard the news of the death of Pierre Ryckmans, better known by his pen name, Simon Leys, I began to hunt in my bookshelves for the now yellowing and grimy copies of Chinese Shadows and The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the...



Is a Declining U.S. Good for China?

Zha Daojiong, Gordon G. Chang & more
Zha Daojiong:Talk of a U.S. decline is back in vogue. This time, China features more (if not most) prominently in a natural follow-up question: Which country is going to benefit? My answer: certainly not China.Arguably, the first round of “U.S.-in-...

China: Reeducation Through Horror

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Here are two snippets from a Chinese Communist journal called People’s China, published in August 1956:In 1956, despite the worst natural calamities in scores of years, China’s peasants, newly organized in co-operatives on a nation-wide scale,...

The Man Who Got It Right

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
1.Near the beginning of Simon Leys’ marvelous collection of essays is an odd polemic between the author and the late Christopher Hitchens, fought out in these very pages. Leys takes Hitchens to task for attacking Mother Teresa in a book entitled The...

From Tenderness to Savagery in Seconds

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Much nonsense has been written about the Nanjing Massacre, also known as the Rape of Nanking. We know this much: in December 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army, after taking the Chinese Nationalist capital of Nanjing, went on a six-week rampage,...

Why They Hate Japan

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
1.Those who think that the Japanese are a little odd will have been confirmed in their prejudice by the behavior of Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro during his June visit to the United States. The social highlight was a trip to Graceland, home of...

Chinese Shadows

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
There are many reasons for getting tattooed. But a sense of belonging—to a group, a faith, or a person—is key. As a mark of identification a tattoo is more lasting than a passport. This is not always voluntary. In Japan, criminals used to have the...


Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
To stand somewhere in the center of an East Asian metropolis, Seoul, say, or Guangzhou, is to face an odd cultural conundrum. Little of what you see, apart from the writing on billboards, can be described as traditionally Asian. There are the faux-...

The Muslims of Tibet

Ian Buruma from New York Review of Books
Jamyang Norbu, writes in response to Ian Buruma’s article “Tibet Disenchanted” and Buruma replies.