Writer focusing on civil society, culture, and religion
Travels from New York, USA
Awarded with a Pulitzer prize, Ian Johnson worked for twelve years for the Wall Street Journal as feature writer and bureau chief. He is now a regular contributor to the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker, and National Geographic. Early 2020 Ian Johnson was forced to leave China, together with a large group of journalists working for US publications.
Ian Johnson has been awarded a 2020–2021 Public Scholar grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to write a book on underground history in China. (November 2020)
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 from 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.
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.”
2020: Ian Johnson discusses the return and importance of religion in China for the domestic and international debate
2018: Twenty years of change in China: Ian Johnson speaks in Bratislava
Some older articles by Ian Johnson:
The global reach of the Muslim brotherhood