Jonathan Mirsky rss

A paramilitary guard stands on Tiananmen Square before a portrait of chairman Mao Zedong (Photo: Getty)

Chairman Mao: monster of misrule

22 August 2015
China under Mao Andrew G. Walder

Harvard University Press, pp.413, £35, ISBN: 9780674058156

Mao Zedong, once the Helmsman, Great Teacher and Red Red Sun in Our Hearts, and still the Chairman, died in 1976. Even today his giant portrait gazes down over Tiananmen… Read more

Gyalo Thondup (right) pictured with the Dalai Lama on their arrival in India in 1959

From diplomacy to disillusion with the Dalai Lama’s big brother

18 April 2015
The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston

Rider, pp.353, £20, ISBN: 9781846043826

Can there ever have been another book in which one of the authors (Anne Thurston in this case) so effectively pulls the rug out from under the other? Of course… Read more

Deng Xiaoping Photo: Getty

Deng Xiaoping: Mao’s devoted follower

6 December 2014
Deng Xiaoping Michael Dillon

I.B. Tauris, pp.329, £25, ISBN: 9781780768953

Much has been written about Deng Xiao-ping (1904–1997), most recently by Ezra Vogel in Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China. But apart from his fondness for eating croissants and… Read more

Sit In Protest Continues In Hong Kong Despite Chief Executive's Calls To Withdraw

Am I wrong to fear another Tiananmen?

4 October 2014

For Beijing, the tens of thousands of protestors choking the centre of Hong Kong are such a dangerous outrage that mainland media cannot report on them. The real outrage is… Read more

The lone demonstrator who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square on 5 June 1989 was dubbed ‘Tank Man’ or the ‘Unknown Rebel’. Though the image achieved worldwide fame, neither the man’s name nor his fate has ever come to light

Talking to the ghosts of Tiananmen Square

31 May 2014
Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China Rowena Xinoqing He, with a foreword by Perry Link

Palgrave, pp.240, £18, ISBN: 9781137438300

Twenty-five years ago, Rowena Xiaoqing He, then a schoolgirl, was participating in the Tiananmen-supporting demonstrations in Canton. Far from the capital, this was one of several hundred cities that rose… Read more

Greta Garbo (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Bill Bryson's 'long extraordinary' summer is too long

9 November 2013
One Summer: America 1927 Bill Bryson

Doubleday, pp.557, £20, ISBN: 9780385608282

Hands up Spectator readers who can remember the American celebrities Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs and the  adulteress and husband-killer Ruth Snyder … Read more

Jonathan Mirsky and his whippet, Iris, with the Dalai Lama

Is your dog enjoying more than physical exercise when you walk him?

19 October 2013
Sleeping with Dogs Brian Sewell

Quartet, pp.134, £12.50, ISBN: 9780704373259

Skip this book if you dislike dogs, or even if you are indifferent to them, or echo an acquaintance of Brian Sewell’s who told him: ‘We expected better of you… Read more

Against Their Will, by Allen M. Hornblum - review

6 July 2013
Against Their Will Allen M. Hornblum, Judith Lynn Newman and Gregory J. Dober

Palgrave Macmillan, pp.259, £16.99, ISBN: 9780230341715

After the Morecambe Bay Hospital scandal a new era opens of compassion, -whistle-blowing, naming names and possible prosecutions. But what about 70-odd years of harming children in ‘care’ homes, and… Read more

Chinese refugees stream through the wrecked streets of Chungking after heavy bombing by the Japanese in 1937

China’s War with Japan, by Rana Mitter - review

22 June 2013
China’s War with Japan 1937–1945: The Struggle for Survival Rana Mitter

Allen Lane, pp.450, £25, ISBN: 9781846140105

The Sino-Japanese struggle that began in 1937, two years before the rest of the world plunged into war, is not as unknown as Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history… Read more

The Dark Road, by Ma Jian - review

1 June 2013
The Dark Road Ma Jian, translated by Flora Drew

Chatto, pp.260, £16.99, ISBN: 9780701187538

If you are considering adopting — that is, buying — a Chinese baby girl, recycling a television or computer, or buying a Vuiton bag, think again. Ma Jian, author of… Read more

Joan Fontaine in Max Ophuls’s  1948 film version of Letter from an Unknown Woman

Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories, by Stefan Zweig - review

23 March 2013
Letter from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories Stefan Zweig

Pushkin Press, pp.152, £8.99, ISBN: 9781906548933

Do men or women of the world still exist? Well-educated, they are from families that value taste, manners and intellectual cultivation, and with enough money to allow their children to… Read more

Going under

2 February 2013
Pondlife: A Swimmer’s Journal Al Alvarez

Bloomsbury, pp.273, £14.99, ISBN: 9781408841006

As someone slightly older than Al Alvarez, and also a regular swimmer — although not in the ice-edged Hampstead Heath pools into which he dived for over 60 years —… Read more

The plot thickens

8 December 2012
The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo: How a Murder Exposed the Cracks in China’s Leadership John Garnaut

Penguin Special ebook, £1.99

At last! At the age of 80, I have read my first digital book. According to Penguin, these brief ‘Specials’ are written to be read over a long commute or… Read more

All in the telling

17 November 2012
Hymie Joke Book Michael Winner

The Robson Press, pp.256, £12.99, ISBN: 9781849543910

I like Jewish jokes. I begin every conversation with the literary editor of The Spectator with one or two, do the same with the judge across the road, and tell… Read more

Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

‘Ill luck was my faithful attendant’

6 October 2012
The Madness of Mary Lincoln Jason Emerson

Southern Illnois University Press, pp.255, £25.60, ISBN: 9780809327713

Here is the melancholy story of Mary Todd Lincoln, widow of President Abraham Lincoln, who was shot next to her on 12 April 1865 as they were watching a play.… Read more

Star-crossed lovers

11 August 2012
Across a Bridge of Dreams Lesley Downer

Bantam, pp.448, 14.99, ISBN: 9780593066829

Having lived for 15 years in Japan, Lesley Downer has already written several highly informed books with Japanese themes. For her most famous, Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing… Read more

‘Am I not God’s chosen?’

16 June 2012
Muckraker W. Sydney Robinson

The Robson Press, pp.281, 20, ISBN: 9781849542944

Never write blurbs. That is my modest advice to Sir Harold Evans, who in his endorsement of Muckraker describes the life of W.T. Stead as ‘ennobling’. This is particularly odd… Read more

Back to the Dreyfus Affair

26 May 2012
Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian Bernard Lewis, with Buntzie Ellis Churchill

Weidenfeld, pp.386, 20

Not bad, this life. Now 95, Bernard Lewis, is recognised everywhere as a leading historian of the Middle East.He is the author of 32 books, translated into 29 languages, able… Read more

Pawns in the game

31 March 2012
The Meadow Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark

Harper Press, pp.510, 16.99

The authors of this book have attempted a difficult thing: to ‘write about something that could never be known’. Here is a terrific and scary story about a group of… Read more


Fall from grace

28 January 2012
Confidence Men Ron Suskind

HarperCollins, pp.528, 19.99

The Obamas: A Mission, a Marriage Jodi Kantor

Allen Lane, pp.368, 14.99

Barack Obama is not up to the job. That is Ron Suskind’s oft-repeated contention. The President, he states, compromised with, rather than curbed, failing American financial institutions, and has surrounded… Read more

Chaps v. Japs

14 January 2012
Escape from Hong Kong: Admiral Chan Chak’s Christmas Day Dash, 1941 Tim Luard

Hong Kong University Press, pp.320, £29.95

Does anyone do derring-do anymore? Here’s the real thing. On Christmas Day 1941, despite Churchill’s call to fight to the last man, Hong Kong fell to the Japanese, the first… Read more


Lifelong death wish

10 December 2011
Three Lives: A Biography of Stefan Zweig Oliver Matuschek, translated by Allan Blunden

Pushkin Press, pp.381, 20

In February 2009, in a review in these pages of Stefan Zweig’s unfinished novel, The Post Office Girl, I wrote: ‘Here surely is what Joseph Conrad meant when he wrote… Read more

Mao Zedong (Image: Getty)

Me and Mao’s girl

29 October 2011

An encounter with one of the Chairman’s underage lovers In 1997 in Hong Kong one of Mao Zedong’s numerous sexual partners — in this case an underage one — told… Read more

Ignorance is bliss

20 August 2011
The Fat Years Chan Koonchung, translated by Michael S. Duke, introduced by Julia Lovell

Doubleday, pp.307, 12.99

This novel frightened me several times. Here is how Chan Koonchung, brought up in Hong Kong but now living in Beijing, does it. He sets the story in a very… Read more


Pet obsession

16 April 2011
My Dog Tulip J. R. Ackerley, with an introduction by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

New York Review of Books, pp.190, 8.99

I declare two interests. I own a dog, Lily, and I admire the New York Review of Books. What could go wrong? Especially because, according to the enthusiastic introduction, back… Read more