Ian Johnson (writer)

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Ian Johnson
Born27 July 1962
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
EducationUniversity of Florida, Free University of Berlin, Harvard University,

Ian Johnson (born July 27, 1962) is a Canadian-born American journalist and independent writer known for his long-time reporting and a series of books on China and Germany. His Chinese name is Zhang Yan (張彦).[1] Johnson writes regularly for The New York Review of Books[2] and The New York Times,[3] and The Wall Street Journal.

Johnson won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage in the Wall Street Journal of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China.[4] His reporting from China was also honored in 2001 by the Overseas Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2017 he won Stanford University's Shorenstein Prize for his body of work covering Asia.[5] In 2019 he won the American Academy of Religion's "best in-depth newswriting" award.[6]

In 2020, Johnson's journalist visa was canceled amid US-China tensions over trade and the COVID-19 epidemic, and he left China.[7] He currently lives in New York, where he is Stephen A. Schwarzman senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.[8]

Life and work[edit]

Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Johnson is a naturalized United States citizen who lived in Beijing, China, for more than twenty years. He attended Chamberlain High School in Tampa, Florida.[9] He first visited China as a student in 1984[10] and later studied Chinese in Taiwan. From 1994 to 1997 he worked in Beijing for The Baltimore Sun and from 1997 to 2001 for The Wall Street Journal. After working in Berlin, Germany for nearly eight years he returned to China in 2009.[citation needed]

In 2004, Johnson published Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China (Pantheon) on grassroots efforts to form civil society. It was later released in paperback and has been translated into several languages.[11]

On February 9, 2006, Johnson delivered congressional testimony on the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe. He described the Brotherhood as "an umbrella group that regularly lobbies major international institutions like the EU and the Vatican" and "controls some of the most dynamic, politically active Muslim groups in key European countries, such as Britain, France and Germany." He said the group has schools "to train imams," has funded a "mechanism in the guise of a UK-registered charity," and has a fatwa council to enforce ideological conformity.[12]

Johnson left the Wall Street Journal in 2010 to pursue magazine and book writing on cultural and social affairs.[13] In 2010, Johnson published A Mosque in Munich, a book about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe.[14] He conducted research on the book while on a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University.[15]

In 2017, he published The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao about China's search for meaning and values. It included a 100-page profile of Early Rain Reformed Church in Chengdu and its pastor Wang Yi (pastor) who was arrested in 2018 for incitement to subvert state power.[16] It also included one of the last in-depth interviews with the popular Chinese spiritual leader Nan Huai-Chin as well as research on Xi Jinping's support for traditional religions, especially Buddhism, when he was head of Zhengding County in the 1980s.[17] The Souls of China was voted one of the best books of the year by The Economist and The Christian Science Monitor.[18][19]

He has published chapters in three other books: The Oxford Illustrated History of Modern China, Chinese Characters, and My First Trip to China.[20]

His book Sparks: China's Underground Historians was published in September 2023, and follows various "counter-historians" and dissident figures from China's past and present,[21] including whistleblowers of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan.

He attended the University of Florida, where he studied Asian Studies and Journalism.[22] He obtained his master's degree in Sinology from the Free University of Berlin.[23] He is currently pursuing a PhD focused on Chinese religious associations at Leipzig University.[24] In April 2022 he re-entered China for a visit, describing it in a Foreign Affairs article as having entered an "age of stagnation."[1]



  • Johnson, Ian (2004). Wild grass : three stories of change in modern China. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • — (2010). A mosque in Munich : Nazis, the CIA, and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • — (2017). The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao. New York: Pantheon Books. ISBN 9781101870051.
  • — (2023). Sparks: China's Underground Historians and their Battle for the Future. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780197575505.

Essays and reporting[edit]


  1. ^ "List of Chinese names of western scholars". home.uni-leipzig.de. 2017. Retrieved 2019-12-22.
  2. ^ "Ian Johnson". The New York Review of Books.
  3. ^ "Ian Johnson - The New York Times". www.nytimes.com.
  4. ^ Ian Johnson (2001) Pulitzer Prize winning articles in the Wall Street Journal
  5. ^ "FSI | Shorenstein APARC - Ian Johnson, longtime foreign correspondent, to receive Shorenstein Journalism Award". aparc.fsi.stanford.edu. 20 March 2017.
  6. ^ "AAR Announces Winners of 2019 Best In-Depth Newswriting on Religion Contest | aarweb.org". www.aarweb.org.
  7. ^ Johnson, Ian (16 July 2020). "Kicked Out of China, and Other Real-Life Costs of a Geopolitical Meltdown". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "Ian Johnson".
  9. ^ "CHS History | Chamberlain High School Legacy Project | United States". Chamberlain Legacy. Retrieved 2022-09-21.
  10. ^ "Deng's Heyday". ChinaFile. September 10, 2011.
  11. ^ "Wild Grass - Ian Johnson". www.ian-johnson.com.
  12. ^ Muslim Brotherhood in Europe Archived 2007-07-03 at the Wayback Machine, February 9, 2006, Ian Johnson, Congressional Testimony - published with the AIFD
  13. ^ "Bio". Archived from the original on 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2013-04-07.
  14. ^ "A Mosque in Munich - Ian Johnson". www.ian-johnson.com.
  15. ^ "Ian Johnson on A Mosque in Munich: narrative as "the sugar around the medicine"". Nieman Foundation.
  16. ^ Johnson, Ian (March 25, 2019). "This Chinese Christian Was Charged With Trying to Subvert the State". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Johnson, Ian (September 29, 2012). "Aiming for Top, Xi Forged Ties Early in China". The New York Times.
  18. ^ "Books of the Year 2017". The Economist. December 9, 2017.
  19. ^ "30 best books of 2017". Christian Science Monitor. December 4, 2017.
  20. ^ "Books - Ian Johnson". www.ian-johnson.com.
  21. ^ Hawkins, Amy (2023-11-01). "Sparks by Ian Johnson review – China's underground historians". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2023-11-06.
  22. ^ "Nieman Watchdog > About Us > Contributor > Ian Johnson". www.niemanwatchdog.org. Retrieved 2023-08-11.
  23. ^ Affairs, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World. "Ian Johnson". berkleycenter.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2023-08-11.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  24. ^ "Universität Leipzig: laufende Promotionen". www.gkr.uni-leipzig.de (in German). Retrieved 2023-08-11.
  25. ^ Johnson, Ian (2023-08-22). "Xi's Age of Stagnation". Foreign Affairs. No. September/October 2023. ISSN 0015-7120. Retrieved 2023-08-29.

External links[edit]