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Ian Denis Johnson
Unaffiliated independent scholar
Sparks: Writing China's Unofficial History

Research and writing leading to a book on how dissident writers, filmmakers, academics, and others in China work to document events suppressed in the official national history promoted by the Chinese Communist Party.

In China, few issues are as sensitive as history, which the Communist Party sees as the basis of its legitimacy--history, in its telling, chose it to lead China, resulting in today's rising superpower. But a group of persistent skeptics--professors, writers, and filmmakers--challenge this, much as groups like Memorial in the Soviet Union helped dig up the past and undermine one-party rule. In China, they document massacres, famines, and labor camps, using digital technologies to make documentary films, books, and samizdat magazines. Over the past decade, the Party has ushered in tight political control. And yet a core group inside China keeps at it, convinced it is their duty to document their country's history, and that one day—even if far off in the future--they will spark an awakening. Using carefully documented interviews and observations drawn from years of field work, I will use techniques of narrative non-fiction to show them evade police and censors to keep the past alive.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
East Asian History; East Asian Studies; Intellectual History

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$60,000 (approved)
$60,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2020 – 8/31/2021