Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, researcher, and Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the founder of the China Unofficial Archives, a new website that collects hundreds of samizdat journals, books, and underground documentary films. His most recent book, Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future, was released in September 2023.

Johnson first went to China as a student in Beijing from 1984 to 1985, and then studied in Taipei from 1986 to 1988. He later worked as a newspaper correspondent in China, from 1994 to 1996 with The Baltimore Sun, and from 1997 to 2001 with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered macroeconomics, China’s WTO accession, and social issues.

In 2009, Johnson returned to China, living there until 2020. He wrote regularly for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and other publications. He taught undergraduates at The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, and served as an advisor to The Journal of Asian Studies. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the University of Leipzig on Chinese religious associations.

Johnson won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of China, two awards from the Overseas Press Club, an award from Society of Professional Journalists, and Stanford University’s Shorenstein Journalism Award for his body of work covering Asia. In 2019, he won the American Academy of Religion’s “best in-depth newswriting” award.

In 2006-2007, he spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University, and later received research and writing grants from Open Society Foundations, Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, and The Alicia Patterson Foundation. In 2020, he was an inaugural grantee of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation for work in progress. He was also awarded a 2020-2021 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholars fellowship for a new book he is writing on China’s unofficial history.

Johnson has published three books and contributed chapters to four others. His newest book, The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, describes China’s religious revival and its implications for politics and society. His other books are on civil society and grassroots protest in China (Wild Grass, 2004) and Islamism and the Cold War in Europe (A Mosque in Munich, 2010).

He has also contributed chapters to: My First Trip to China(2011), Chinese Characters (2012), The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China (2016), and The Forbidden City: The Palace at the Heart of Chinese Culture (2021).

Last Updated: April 18, 2024

‘My Personal Vendetta’

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
The presumed kidnapping of the Hong Kong bookseller and British citizen Lee Bo late last year has brought international attention to the challenges faced by the Hong Kong publishing business. During a break from The New York Review’s conference on...

Why Pollution is Good for China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
I am a member of a martial arts group that performs at annual temple fairs around Beijing. Half of our group are children, and almost without fail they meet at a park on the west side of town at around three in the afternoon to practice fighting...

Xi’s China: The Illusion of Change

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Xi Jinping is often described as China’s most powerful leader in decades, perhaps even since Mao. He has been credited—if sometimes grudgingly—with pursuing a vigorous foreign policy, economic reforms, and a historic crackdown on corruption.But as...

Sinica Podcast

10.21.15

Tu Youyou and the Nobel Prize

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
This week on Sinica, hosts Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn, and David Moser speak with Christina Larson and Ian Johnson about Tu Youyou, the scientist who recently shared a Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of the anti-malaria compound...

‘I Try to Talk Less’: A Conversation with Ai Weiwei and Liao Yiwu

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
In late July, Chinese authorities renewed travel privileges for conceptual artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, ending a five-year prohibition following his arrest in 2011. He promptly flew to Munich and then Berlin, where he has accepted a...

Sinica Podcast

06.08.15

Writers: Heroes in China?

Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn & more from Sinica Podcast
If you happen to live in the anglophone world and aren’t closely tied to China by blood or professional ties, chances are that what you believe to be true about this country is heavily influenced by the opinions of perhaps one hundred other people,...

China’s Invisible History: An Interview with Filmmaker and Artist Hu Jie

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Though none of his works have been publicly shown in China, Hu Jie is one of his country’s most noteworthy filmmakers. He is best known for his trilogy of documentaries about Maoist China, which includes Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2004), telling...

Conversation

05.21.15

Censorship and Publishing in China

Andrew J. Nathan, Zha Jianying & more
This week, a new PEN American Center report “Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship,” by Alexa Olesen, draws fresh attention to a perennial problem for researchers, scholars, and creative writers trying to...

An American Hero in China

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
One night in September, three hundred people crowded into the basement auditorium of an office tower in Beijing to hear a discussion between two of China’s most popular writers. One was Liu Yu, a thirty-eight-year-old political scientist and blogger...

China: What the Uighurs See

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Xinjiang is one of those remote places whose frequent mention in the international press stymies true understanding. Home to China’s Uighur minority, this vast region of western China is mostly known for being in a state of permanent low-grade...

Conversation

03.03.15

Why Has This Environmental Documentary Gone Viral on China’s Internet?

Angel Hsu, Michael Zhao & more
[Updated: March 6,  2015] Our friends at Foreign Policy hit the nail on the head by headlining writer Yiqin Fu's Monday story "China's National Conversation about Pollution Has Finally Begun." What happened? Well, in the...

How to Be a Chinese Democrat: An Interview with Liu Yu

Ian Johnson from New York Review of Books
Liu Yu is one of China’s best-known America-watchers. A professor of political science at Tsinghua University, she lived in the U.S. from 2000 to 2007 and now researches democratization in developing countries, including her own. The thirty-eight-...