Jonathan Mirsky

The neighbour from hell

Blessings from Beijing will inform readers who know little about Tibet, and those who know a great deal will discover more. Both groups will be surprised. The newcomers especially will be disabused of any belief that Tibetans were always non-violent, deeply spiritual and unworldly. Tibetanists and advanced students will learn that, decades after the Chinese

Theresa May and the curious case of human rights in China

Did Theresa May raise human rights with China during her visit to Beijing this week or not? The Chinese press has praised her for not mentioning the most neuralgic issue between China and all visiting officials. Downing Street sources, however, stated flatly that Mrs May raised the issue with both President Xi Jinping and Premier

BBC4’s The Vietnam War was unique, informative and shattering

The Vietnam War BBC4 The BBC should be praised for showing all ten episodes of this unique, informative and shattering American series on the Vietnamese war, despite screening eight fewer hours than in the original. Before each episode the BBC warned that ‘some viewers may find some scenes upsetting’. Which ones? A frog jumping in a pool of

Richard Nixon: the nightmare president of his age

In this giant, prodigiously sourced and insightful biography, John A. Farrell shows how Richard Milhous Nixon was the nightmare of the age for many Americans, even as he won years of near-adulation from many others. One can only think of Donald Trump. Nixon appealed to lower- and  lower-middle-class whites from the heartland, whose hatred of

His dark materials | 12 October 2017

In this giant, prodigiously sourced and insightful biography, John A. Farrell shows how Richard Milhous Nixon was the nightmare of the age for many Americans, even as he won years of near-adulation from many others. One can only think of Donald Trump. Nixon appealed to lower- and  lower-middle-class whites from the heartland, whose hatred of

The lesson of Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo, China’s only Nobel Peace Prize winner, has died, eight years into his 11-year prison term. He was the greatest champion of democracy in a country where there are many others also detained by the Communist Party, which insists those convicted are not dissidents but criminals. Tried in 2009 for subversion, Liu had just been moved under

The ruin of a ruin

In the welter of Syrian bloodshed, why should we remember the death of a single man? Because he was the archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, tortured and beheaded by Isis two years ago when they destroyed the remains of Palmyra, one of the world’s most important ancient cities. Their victim was its director of antiquities. In an

Whisper who dares

Stand aside, Homer. I doubt whether even the author of the Iliad could have matched Alexis Peri’s account of the 872-day siege which Leningrad endured after Hitler’s army encircled the city in September 1941. I never knew, for example, that if an adult starved for months on a few ounces of bread daily, a sip

A girl in a million

All readers know that good novels draw us into other worlds. I cannot think of another, however, which so alarmed me as this one, just as events alarmed and frightened its central character. She is Okatsu, a young woman from the samurai Satsuma Clan in mid-19th-century Japan. The country has been ruled by the shogunate,

Untold tales of Tibet

On the night of 17 March 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama, aged 23, slipped out of the Norbulinka, his summer residence in Lhasa, and began his flight to India, where he arrived on 31 March, after crossing some of Tibet’s most rugged terrain. He was so heavily disguised that the faithful crowds who had gathered

Mao devours his foes

Frank Dikötter, professor of humanities at the University of Hong Kong and winner of the Samuel Johnson prize in 2011, is the author of many studies on China, most notably two on Mao’s dark rule. This new book completes the trilogy. The first volume, The Tragedy of Liberation, made plain, more exhaustively than previous accounts,

‘Money, money, money’

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Listen: Fraser Nelson and Jonathan Mirsky discuss Britain’s attitude towards China” startat=35] Listen [/audioplayer] The Dalai Lama is a connoisseur of absurdity. When we met in London on Monday I reminded him that two years ago, desperate to resume relations with China, No. 10 said it had ‘turned the page on that issue,’

Cry havoc

If you love dogs and or live with one — I declare an interest on both counts — there is enough here about what the authors too often call ‘doggies’ to keep you interested. But what I liked about this book, despite its trickle of cute language, is that the title exactly tells the story.

Monster of misrule

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 Square, where in 1989 his successors massacred hundreds of students and workers. After so many years and books and articles, can anything new be said

Little brother’s helper

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 Gyalo Thondup is entitled to tell his story, beginning with his life as a boy in a small town near the Tibet-China border where, in

Deng Xiaoping: following in Mao’s footsteps

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 playing bridge, and the fact that his second wife left him for a party colleague — Michael Dillon records the divorce only — we still

Spectator books of the year: Jonathan Mirsky on dogs

The Great Grisby: Two Thousand Years of Exceptional Dogs by Mikita Brottman (William Collins, £16.99). I have read thousands of books in my 81 years and this is the only one that has made me happy. Brottman, a psychoanalyst, contends that her French bulldog, Grisby, ‘forms a bridge between my inner life and the real world

Am I wrong to fear another Tiananmen?

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 this: China agreed to hold free elections in 2017, but now a Beijing-appointed committee will determine whether candidates for chief executive can be relied on

Talking to the ghosts of Tiananmen Square

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 up during that Chinese spring. Following the Tiananmen killings on 3–4 June 1989, she was warned by her teacher to remove the black mourning band

David Cameron’s craven surrender to China follows a pattern

‘This week I make a visit to China. I come with a clear ambition: to build a lasting friendship that can become a blueprint for future cooperation between our countries. We have a responsibility through our ongoing dialogue to work together on a range of wider international issues – from negotiations with Iran, to counter-terrorism