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Ian Johnson

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Homepage: https://www.chinafile.com/

The coronavirus was a big deal; it was something that I (and many other smug foreigners) misjudged but that the Chinese authorities accurately saw as a public health crisis. The thought and effort that went into the flyer were especially impressive in hindsight: organizing the hospitals and the hotline, the quick consensus on measures like face masks that many other countries, such as the United States, grudgingly adopted only...

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It’s possible to identify another period that might surpass the 1980s as China’s most open: a 10-year stretch beginning around the turn of this century, when a rich debate erupted over what lay ahead. As in the past, many of those speaking out were establishment intellectuals who were careful not to challenge too directly the Communist Party’s right to rule but took advantage of the relatively relaxed social policies...

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It’s possible to identify another period that might surpass the 1980s as China’s most open: a 10-year stretch beginning around the turn of this century, when a rich debate erupted over what lay ahead. As in the past, many of those speaking out were establishment intellectuals who were careful not to challenge too directly the Communist Party’s right to rule but took advantage of the relatively relaxed social policies...

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Yuan Ling is a border-crosser: between village and city, academia and journalism, mainstream and underground—a writer who is sometimes censored but usually measured (or ambiguous) enough to be published in China.

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“Tiger Temple” (Laohu Miao) is the nom de guerre of Zhang Shihe, one of China’s best-known citizen journalists and makers of short video documentaries, many of them profiling ordinary people he met during extraordinarily long bike rides through China, or human rights activists who have been silenced but whose ideas on freedom and open society he has recorded for future generations. Now 65 years old, Zhang belongs to a...

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The forty-five-year-old investigative journalist Jiang Xue is one of the most influential members of a group of journalists who came of age in the early 2000s, taking advantage of new—if temporary—freedoms created by the Internet to investigate pressing social issues. She worked at Chinese Business View (Huashangbao) until 2014, when she quit as its opinion-page editor over censorship. Since then, she has kept writing to an ever-shrinking audience on...

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Last month, I spent several days at the Forbidden City, the gargantuan palace in the middle of Beijing where China’s emperors ruled the land for nearly five hundred years. I was there to attend a conference on religion and power in imperial China, but my thoughts were drawn to more contemporary concerns: the plight of the Uighurs in China’s far western province of Xinjiang, including re-education camps aimed at...

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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; could I travel down from Beijing to help? To translate, I asked? No, she said impatiently, to mediate—to...

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Blood Letters is an important new biography of Lin Zhao, the journalist who was executed 50 years ago this spring for criticizing the Communist Party’s misrule in the 1950s and 1960s. After years of imprisonment, torture, and mental deterioration, she was hauled out of the prison hospital where she had shriveled to 70 pounds, taken to a thousand-seat prison auditorium in her hospital gown, gagged with a rubber ball,...

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Guo Yuhua is one of China’s best-known sociologists and most incisive government critics. A professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, she has devoted her career to researching human suffering in Chinese society, especially that of peasants, the promised beneficiaries of Communist rule. Born in 1956, Guo grew up in one of the “big courtyards” of government housing compounds for the country’s ruling elite. Her parents were military officers who...

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