Thursday Oct 05, 2023
In March 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the globe, the Chinese government expelled a handful of U.S. journalists from China. The move came weeks after the Trump administration curtailed the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the United States for state-run Chinese news organizations. Among the journalists forced to leave China was Ian Johnson, who had been living there for 20 years.
This spring, Johnson finally returned to China. While he was there, he spoke to a cross section of Chinese people—not only scholars and officials but also small business owners, bus drivers, students, and nuns. Some were people he’d known for years.
What he found was grim—a country in a state of stagnation and turning inward. Its leader, Xi Jinping, seemed so intent on control and so obsessed with security that no price was too high. Yet, under the surface, Johnson found there may be more dissent than most observers realize—a phenomenon he explores in his new book, Sparks: China's Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future.
You can find transcripts and more episodes of The Foreign Affairs Interview at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/podcasts/foreign-affairs-interview.