Sparks is a vital account of how some of China’s most important writers, filmmakers, and artists have overcome crackdowns and censorship to challenge the Chinese Communist Party on its most sacred ground – its monopoly on history. In traditional China, dynasties rewrote history to justify their rule by proving that their predecessors were unworthy of holding power. Marxism gave this a modern gloss, describing history as an unstoppable force heading toward Communism’s triumph. The Chinese Communist Party builds on these ideas to whitewash its misdeeds and justify its rule. But in recent years, critical thinkers from across the land have begun to challenge this state-led disremembering. Using digital technologies to bypass China’s legendary surveillance state, their samizdat journals, guerilla media posts, and underground films document a pattern of disasters: from past famines and purges to the ethnic clashes and virus outbreaks of the present.
Ian Johnson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who has spent most of his adult life in China, working as a correspondent for The New York Times, New York Review of Books, and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of other books that also focus on the intersection of politics and civil society, including The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao, and Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China.