Writer focusing on civil society, culture, and religion; senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations
Travels from New York
Awarded with a Pulitzer prize, Ian Johnson worked for twelve years for the Wall Street Journal as feature writer and bureau chief. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and National Geographic.
His book The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao is published in April 2017.
He has been coming to and living in China since 1984, longer than almost any other foreign journalist. He can cover a wide range of subjects including China’s economic prospects, foreign relations, elite politics, migration. He is fluent in English, Chinese and German. In 2020 he had to leave China after his journalism visa was withdrawn.
On migration, he notes: “Migration is probably one of the most important topics relating to China’s future. Getting it right means getting China’s economic future right.” He wrote a five-part series for the New York Times on migration in 2013 and 2014. This series won a citation for excellent from the Asia Society in 2014.
Ian Johnson is currently writing a book on China’s search for values. “People want to know generally whither China,” says Ian Johnson. “How is China going to turn out, understand its beliefs, hopes, and values is an excellent way to figuring this out. When Alex de Toqueville wrote Democracy in America, he spent a lot of time discussing how that young, rising power’s spiritual life was organized because he realized that understanding this sort of thing is key to understanding a country.”
“We want to know what makes their potential clients tick. It’s fine to say they want to buy cars or go on holidays–everyone around the world does–but where are they active on social media? How do they spend their weekends? Even, how do they spend their money? Surprisingly, religious and spiritual pursuits play a big role in these areas. I call it China’s Gross Religious Product and we need to understand these motivations. They need to know how much money is poured into religion each year, from the millions spent on temple reconstruction, to the expensive retreats, fasting weekends and the like that Chinese pay money to attend.”
An expelled journalist returns to China (2023 – podcast)
A counterhistory of China (2023)
2019: The return of religion to China
2018: Twenty years of change in China: Ian Johnson speaks in Bratislava
The global reach of the Muslim brotherhood