Cover of Sparks, a new book by Ian JohnsonIan Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author, teacher, and researcher. He has been engaged with China for the past thirty-five years, writing on the country’s search for faith and values, as well as efforts to control dissent and history.

Since 2021 he has been a senior fellow for Chinese studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also contributes to The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, and regularly speaks in the media or to public audiences about China. Starting in September, 2024, he will be a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (the Institute of Advanced Studies), where he will write a book on the Chinese state’s effort to coopt traditional faith and values.

He is the founder of the China Unofficial Archives, an online repository of hundreds of samizdat magazines, books, and underground films. This website is a registered (501c3) non-profit that uploads and annotates new movies and publications daily.

His newest book, Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future, describes how some of China’s best-known writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to forge a nationwide movement that challenges the Communist Party on its most hallowed ground: its control of history. See the book’s page for reviews, tours, and other information. The book was included on five “best of 2023” lists by publications such as The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Financial Times

Johnson is best known for his reporting from grassroots China, with projects usually taking years of on-the-ground research to complete. His work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which awarded him a  Public Scholar grant; a solo Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on China; Stanford University’s Shorenstein prize for his body of work on Asia; a grant from the Open Society Foundation; a Nieman fellowship at Harvard University; the American Academy of Religion’s award for best in-depth news writing; and a Robert B. Silvers Foundation grant for work-in-progress.

Please feel free to explore this site to learn more about his projects, books, articles, biography, as well as public speaking appearances.

"With firm but never dogmatic moral conviction, Johnson pays tribute to the writers, the scholars, the poets, and the filmmakers who found the courage to challenge Communist Party propaganda....a superb, stylishly written book."
The New Yorker, on Sparks, 2023 books of the year
"A rare insight into the extraordinary risks that some Chinese take to illuminate the darkest corners of communism."
The Economist, on Sparks, books of the year 2023
"a stunning portrayal of some of the most courageous individuals in China today…The China that emerges from the pages is both real and magical. In a landscape pregnant with memory, the past echoes in the present, and the personal is always political."
China Book Review, on Sparks
"A masterpiece of observation and empathy"
The New York Review of Books, Souls of China.
"Full of moving encounters with Chinese citizens ... Johnson succeeds in having produced a nuanced group portrait of Chinese citizens striving for non-material answers in an era of frenetic materialism."
The Guardian on Souls of China
Some talks & interviews from 2024
  • China Law & Policy podcast with Elizabeth M. Lynch
  • Techtonic podcast with Mark Hurst
  • China Power podcast with Bonny Lin
  • public talks at Stanford, UC San Diego, Boston U, Yale, York University
  • chaired panel at Association for Asian Studies annual meeting in Seattle



A highlight from 2023:
Atlantic Council
7 December 2023

Fireside talk with RFA’s Bay Fang and then a panel discussion with Katie Stallard of the New Statesman and Eric Schluessel of GWU on challenging the CCP’s control of history. Watch the video here.

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