Jonathan Mirsky was born in New York in 1932 and educated at Columbia University, Cambridge University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught Chinese and Vietnamese history, Comparative Literature, and Chinese at Cambridge University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth College.

In 1974, Mirsky moved to England. From 1993 to 1998 he was based in Hong Kong as the East Asia editor of The Times (London). Previously he wrote for The Observer, The Economist, and The Independent. He is a regular writer for The New York Review of Books, Literary Review, and The Spectator, as well as a contributor to a range of other journals.

Mirsky broadcasts frequently on radio and TV and was part of the BBC team in China during the Queen of England's visit in 1986. He has accompanied Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries to Beijing, has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, and Lee Teng-hui, and has visited Tibet six times throughout the course of his long residence and travel in Asia.

Mirsky has lectured to the Royal National Defense College, the Institute for International Affairs, and at many universities. In 1989, he was named British newspapers' International Reporter of the Year for his coverage of the Tiananmen uprising. In 1999, Dr. Mirsky was a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard and in 2002 he was the I.F. Stone Fellow in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Last Updated: April 6, 2021

River of Fire

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In her introduction to a collection of Karl Marx’s newspaper dispatches on China, Dona Torr conceived a charming fantasy in which Marx speculates thatWhen our European reactionaries have to take refuge in Asia and at last reach the Great Wall of...

Jumping Into the Sea

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
“Be sure to prevent any contact between the barbarians and the population,” the Emperor Qianlong ordered in 1793. This is one of the many pointed epigraphs in China Wakes, and it shows what Chinese rulers knew for centuries: that, for the emperors,...

Unmasking the Monster

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In 755 the Tang dynasty poet Tu Fu wrote about the corruptions of court life:In the central halls there are fair goddesses; An air of perfume moves with each charming figure. They clothe their guests with warm furs of sable, Entertain them with the...

The Bottom of the Well

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Do Chinese women, as the Communist Party has held for decades, “hold up half the sky?” Or, like the frog at the bottom of a well in a famous Daoist legend, do they see only a little blue patch? Why is it that tens of millions of them are said to be...

The Prodigal Sons

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
What do Xi Yang, Wei Jingsheng, and Wang Juntao have in common? Yes, they are all “counter-revolutionary elements, subversives, splittists, black hands”—whatever Peking cares to call them—and all three are familiar with the Party’s prison...

The Battle for Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
1.Hong Kong—The first weekend of the Year of the Dog, February 11–13, was not a good one for those of us who live in Hong Kong. The annual fireworks display, sponsored by the Bank of China (in Peking fireworks are banned), was muffled in mist. In...

The Party’s Secrets

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Not long after Mao Zedong died in 1976, one of the editors of the Party’s People’s Daily said. “Lies in newspapers are like rat droppings in clear soup: disgusting and obvious.” That may have been true of the Party’s newspapers, which Chinese are...

Squaring the Chinese Circle

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
“China,” according to Lucien Pye, “is a civilization pretending to be a state.”1 This is an elegant formulation of an idea which eventually occurs to most people who have studied, read about, or traveled and lived in China. In the late sixteenth...

Literature of the Wounded

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, Bette Bao Lord’s memoir of her three years in Peking as the American ambassador’s wife, she recalled that “all Chinese were in pain, and taking their pulse, reading their temperature, charting every change and finding...

The Myth of Mao’s China

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In China Misperceived Steven Mosher strikes back at the profession, clan, or family of China watchers that cast him out. The official reasons have never been made public, although his university, Stanford, hinted at academic misconduct when it...

Lost Horizons

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
Except for the Chinese Communists, who call him names like “the wolf in monk’s robes,” or “the criminal Dalai,” virtually everyone speaks well of the Dalai Lama. The latest incarnation is the Fourteenth in a line that began in 1351 and exists...

In A Cruel Country

Jonathan Mirsky from New York Review of Books
In her disturbing memoir of three and half years in Beijing, Bette Bao Lord, the author of the novel Spring Moon and wife of Winston Lord, the American ambassador until just before the Beijing killings, retells a traditional story which is wholly...