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Ian Johnson

Beijing-Based Writer
Country: China

Keynote speaker Ian Johnson is a Beijing-based writer who specializes in civil society, culture and religion. For 13 years, Johnson worked at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a page-one feature writer and bureau chief. Ian Johnson first went to China in 1984 and has lived there off and on for a dozen years. He was bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of China.

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Ian Johnson is a Beijing-based writer who specializes in civil society, culture and religion. For 13 years, Johnson worked at The Wall Street Journal, where he was a page-one feature writer and bureau chief.

Johnson started writing full-time in 1981 at The Independent Florida Alligator, a student-run newspaper based in Gainesville, Florida. At the same time, he earned a degree in Asian Studies and Journalism from the University of Florida, including a stay from 1984 to 1985 at Peking University.

After graduating, he worked in a county bureau of The Orlando Sentinel before leaving in 1986 to study Chinese language at Taiwan National Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center. In 1988 he moved to Berlin, Germany, to work as a free-lancer and attend the Freie Universität Berlin. While earning a Master’s in Chinese Studies (Sinologie), he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification for Baltimore’s The Sun and The St. Petersburg Times. In 1992, the Sun hired him as its New York-based financial correspondent and in 1994 sent him to its Beijing bureau.

In 1997, he moved to The Wall Street Journal, covering Chinese macro-economics, China’s accession to the World Trade Organization and social movements. In 2000 and 2001, he won several prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize, the Overseas Press Club’s Hal Boyle Award and theSociety of Professional Journalists’ Foreign Correspondence award, for his coverage of the suppression of the Falun Gong movement and the rise of civil society in China. In 2004, he published Wild Grass on civil society in China.

In 2001, Johnson moved to Berlin to head the Journal’s Germany bureau, overseeing European economic coverage and social issues like the anti-globalization movement. After the 9/11 attacks, he ran a 12-person investigative team on terrorism, and co-won the German Marshall Fund’s Peter R. Seitz Award for reporting on trans-Atlantic issues. In 2005 he wrote a series on the roots of radical Islam in Europe that eventually led to the 2010 publication of A Mosque in Munich.

In 2006-2007, Johnson was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He returned to the Journal in 2007 as a senior correspondent, moving back to China in 2009. Johnson left the paper in 2010 to pursue magazine and book writing on cultural and social affairs.

Johnson was born in Montreal, Canada. He is fluent in German, Chinese and conversational in French.

    Keynote by Speaker Ian Johnson

    The Soul of a Superpower.

    • China is undergoing one of the most profound religious revivals in the world, with churches, temples and mosques being rebuilt at an astounding rate. Behind this is a people who, after 30 years of breakneck growth and disorienting reforms, are searching for answers to deeper questions in life. The turn to religiosity also reflects a desire for a higher quality of life and a search for identity–what does it mean to be Chinese in today’s world beyond being part of an economic juggernaut? These are the deep-structure questions that move Chinese and help explain not only religion, but rising nationalism, a return to traditional culture and even citizen activism.


    Keynote by Speaker Ian Johnson

    The Silent Majority: why grassroots China matters.

    • A look at several off-the-beaten parts of China and people who work there, such as a barge captain on the Grand Canal, a railroad tunnel blaster in Hunan and a small-town lawyer in Shaanxi province. These are the people of China’s third-tier cities, many upwardly mobile but all hoping for more accountability from the government and control over their lives. A look at what life is like in these beyond-the-headline locations and how these rising expectations are a source of strength for China–and possibly instability.


    Keynote by Speaker Ian Johnson

    China’s changing political landscape

    • 2012 will see a once-in-a decade leadership shift in China at the 18th party Congress. This will be the fifth party Congress that Ian Johnson has covered and he can give you tips on what to watch for, who to expect to win and what longer-term trends to watch out for–not just who will be in the Politburo but how the change can play out further down the political food chain.


    Keynote by Speaker Ian Johnson

    Misunderstanding China

    • The only thing more certain than the enduring interest in China is the enduring series of mistakes that the West makes in observing this enormous country. Ian Johnson first interviewed foreign correspondents on their work in China in 1984 and now, having run news operations here and won an array of prizes for his work, he can reflect on some of the continuing problems that bedevil foreigners and how they attempt to make sense of China. This isn’t a tale of woe about security agents; instead, it’s a self-critical look at the media, the corners they cut and stereotypes they follow. It’s also an attempt to explain why most first-time visitors to China are so shocked–it’s inevitably different than what they thought.
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Ian Johnson’s Keynote Speaking Topics