Ian Buruma

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Ian Buruma
Ian Buruma (2015)
Ian Buruma (2015)
Born (1951-12-28) December 28, 1951 (age 71)
The Hague, Netherlands
OccupationWriter, historian
SubjectChina, Japan, Occidentalism, Orientalism

Ian Buruma (born December 28, 1951) is a Dutch writer and editor who lives and works in the United States. In 2017, he became editor of The New York Review of Books, but left the position in September 2018.

Much of his writing has focused on the culture of Asia, particularly that of China and 20th-century Japan. He was the Paul W. Williams Professor of Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College from 2003 to 2017.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Buruma was born and raised in The Hague, Netherlands. His father, Sytze Leonard "Leo" Buruma, was a Dutch lawyer and the son of a Mennonite minister, and his mother, Gwendolyn Margaret "Wendy" Schlesinger, a Briton of German-Jewish descent.[2][3][4] He went to study at Leiden University in 1971, and obtained a Candidate degree in Chinese literature and History in 1975. He subsequently pursued postgraduate studies in Japanese cinema from 1975 to 1977 at the College of Art (Nichidai Geijutsu Gakko) of the Nihon University (Tokyo, Japan).



Buruma lived in Japan from 1975 to 1981, where he worked as a film reviewer, photographer and documentary filmmaker. During the 1980s, he edited the cultural section of the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong. He later traveled throughout Asia working as a freelance writer. Buruma is a board member of Human Rights in China and a fellow of the European Council of Foreign Relations. Buruma has contributed numerous articles to The New York Review of Books since 1985[5] and has written for The Guardian.[6] He held fellowships at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (1991) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. (1999), and he was an Alistair Horne fellow of St Antony's College in Oxford, UK. In 2000, he delivered the Huizinga Lecture (on "Neoromanticism of writers in exile") in the Pieterskerk in Leiden, Netherlands.

From 2003 to 2017, Buruma was Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College, New York. In 2017, he became editor of The New York Review of Books, succeeding founding editor Robert B. Silvers.[7][8]

New York Review of Books controversy[edit]

In September 2018, Buruma left the NYRB position in the wake of a dispute about his decision to publish an essay by the Canadian talk show host Jian Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi was acquitted in 2016 of one count of choking and four counts of sexual assault, after over 20 women complained either to the police or in the media. The publication of the essay was controversial, in part, because Ghomeshi wrote that the allegations against him were "inaccurate".[9] In an interview with Slate magazine, Buruma defended his decision to publish, and denied that the article was misleading because it had failed to mention that Ghomeshi had been required to issue an apology to one of the victims as part of the terms of a case against him. He also denied that the title, "Reflections from a Hashtag", was dismissive of the #MeToo movement; stated that the movement has resulted in "undesirable consequences"; and said: "I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. ... The exact nature of [Ghomeshi's] behavior – how much consent was involved – I have no idea, nor is it really my concern."[10]

There was significant "outrage" over his defense of the article.[11][12][13] The Review later stated that it had departed from its "usual editorial practices", as the essay "was shown to only one male editor during the editing process", and that Buruma's statement to Slate about the staff of the Review "did not accurately represent their views".[14] More than 100 contributors to the Review, a group of acclaimed authors that included Joyce Carol Oates and Ian McEwan, signed a letter of protest to express fears that Buruma's exit threatened intellectual culture and "the free exploration of ideas".[15][16][17][18][19]


In 2004, Buruma was awarded an Honorary Doctorate (Dr.h.c.) in Theology from the University of Groningen.

In 2008, Buruma was awarded the Erasmus Prize, which is awarded to an individual who has made "an especially important contribution to culture, society or social science in Europe".[20] He is among the 100 top global thinkers of 2010, as selected by the Foreign Policy magazine.[21] Foreign Policy explained his contribution as a public intellectual:

Many liberals these days seem at pains to establish their bona fides as tough-minded hawks when it comes to global threats, but the Dutch man of letters has made a career out of affirming the classic liberalism of the open-door variety. His writing in recent years has attracted the ire of critics who think he equivocates on the dangers of radical Islam, but Ian Buruma made his response this year with a typically judicious and politically relevant book, Taming the Gods, that reflects on the Western capacity for religious pluralism. According to Buruma, Western society is robust enough to embrace even illiberal practices, so long as these are not violent. "Living with values that one does not share", he wrote in a recent column on France's burqa ban, "is a price to be paid for living in a pluralist society".

In April 2012, he was awarded the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life at the Princeton Theological Seminary.[22] Buruma has won several prizes for his books, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for Theater of Cruelty.[8] He has held a number of editorial and academic positions and has been termed a "well-regarded European intellectual".[5] He argued in 2001 for wholehearted British participation in the European Union because they were the "strongest champions in Europe of a liberal approach to commerce and politics".[23] He has been a regular contributor to Project Syndicate since 2001.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Buruma has been married twice. He and his first wife, Sumie Tani, had a daughter, as did he and his second wife, Hotta Eri.[25][26] Buruma is a nephew of the English film director John Schlesinger, with whom he published a series of interviews in book form.[27]



  1. ^ Title in the online table of contents is "Why 'The Tale of Genji' Is Still Seductive".
  2. ^ Online version is titled "Are China and the United States Headed for War?".
  3. ^ "The Churchill Complex - Ian Buruma - 9781786494658". www.allenandunwin.com. Retrieved September 1, 2020.


  1. ^ "Bard Faculty: Ian Buruma". Bard College. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  2. ^ Grimes, William (September 13, 2006). "Bumping Into Boundaries in a Land of Tolerance (book review". New York Times. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  3. ^ "Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War | Jewish Book Council". www.jewishbookcouncil.org. 2016. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
  4. ^ "Ian Buruma Critical Essays - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Peter Collier. "Backbone, Berman, and Buruma: A Debate that Actually Matters"[Usurped!], World Affairs Journal
  6. ^ "Ian Buruma". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 September 2021.
  7. ^ Schuessler, Jennifer. "Ian Buruma Named Editor of The New York Review of Books", The New York Times, May 18, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Contents: Contributors", New York Review of Books, August 17, 2017, Vol. 64, No. 13.
  9. ^ Ghomeshi, Jian (October 11, 2018). "Reflections from a Hashtag". The New York Review of Books.
  10. ^ Chotiner, Isaac. "Why Did the New York Review of Books Publish That Jian Ghomeshi Essay?", Slate, September 14, 2018.
  11. ^ Pilkington, Ed. "New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma departs amid outrage over essay", The Guardian, September 19, 2018.
  12. ^ Vanderhoof, Erin. "How Ian Buruma’s New York Review of Books Ouster Became Inevitable", Vanity Fair, September 19, 2018
  13. ^ O'Rourke, Meghan. "What Magazines Can’t Do in the Age of #MeToo", The Atlantic, September 21, 2018.
  14. ^ Williams, John. "New York Review of Books Acknowledges 'Failures' in a #MeToo Essay", The New York Times, September 24, 2018.
  15. ^ Laura Kipnis, "The Perils of Publishing in a #MeToo Moment", The New York Times, September 25, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  16. ^ David Taylor, "How one article capsized a New York literary institution", The Guardian, September 26, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  17. ^ Ed Pilkington, "Acclaimed authors pen letter in protest at 'forced resignation' of Ian Buruma", The Guardian, September 26, 2018. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  18. ^ Conor Friedersdorf "The Journalistic Implications of Ian Buruma’s Resignation", The Atlantic, September 25, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2019.
  19. ^ "A Letter from Contributors". 2018-10-25. ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved 2021-08-31.
  20. ^ "Former Laureates: Ian Buruma, 2008". Praemium Erasmianum Foundation. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  21. ^ "The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers", Foreign Policy, 29 November 2010.
  22. ^ "The Kuyper Prize". Princeton Theological Seminary. Archived from the original on August 22, 2017. Retrieved November 5, 2014.
  23. ^ "In praise of Englishness". The Economist. October 23, 2001.
  24. ^ "Ian Buruma". Project Syndicate. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
  25. ^ "A new cosmopolitan". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
  26. ^ "Objective subjects". South China Morning Post. Retrieved March 6, 2021.
  27. ^ Conversations with John Schlesinger. Random House.

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