James Fallows

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

James Fallows: Tibet

  • Obama meets the Dalai Lama (updated)

    On the road and changing planes, let me take four minutes on Boingo to refer readers to an op-ed yesterday by Jerome A. Cohen, who has been involved for decades is the campaign to expand citizen rights and the rule of law in China, in the South China Morning Post. You have to register or subscribe (worth it!) to read the whole thing, but the headline and subhead get the idea across.

    His article is called "Fight the Good Fight: As China rises, foreigners need to keep protesting against cases of injustice on the mainland." It argues that the United States should continue the same contradictory-sounding but strategically sensible policy toward China that it has more or less maintained throughout the past 30 years. This involves looking for areas of cooperation wherever possible -- on financial and business matters, on environmental challenges, on strategic measures like those I discuss at the end of this article. In general, that means that the United States should treat China as a potential partner unless compelled to do otherwise.

    But American leaders should also resolutely speak up for values the country is supposed to believe in -- individual liberties, religious tolerance, due process, freedom of expression -- and not be afraid to criticize Chinese policy when these issues are at stake. Thus the Chinese government will complain every time an American president meets the Dalai Lama -- but the United States must continue those meetings in consonance with its own beliefs*, despite the protests, and continue to complain when Chinese dissidents are locked up, as in the Liu Xiaobo case. Why make gestures like these? According to Cohen:

    "Despite the regime's censorship, [such protests] boost the sagging morale of those in mainland China who hope for freedom and due process of law, as the country's beleaguered rights lawyers and activists emphasise [sic -- Cohen is American but the SCMP is in Hong Kong!]. Moreover, they give the world a fuller picture of contemporary China than that provided by the Olympics, the Confucius Institutes that the government has established abroad and its mind- boggling economic accomplishments. China's quest for "soft power" - international influence based on more than military and economic coercion - will always be frustrated as long as there are continuing foreign protests against abuses suffered by dissidents, religious figures, criminal defence lawyers and others.

    "Finally, if stated with requisite humility, public reaffirmation of the basic human decencies that every government should accord its own citizens as well as foreigners reminds all countries, including the US, of the importance of practising what we preach to China."

    As is evident from this last line, Cohen is not blind to America's deviations from its own ideals. Anyhow, this is what to think about today's meeting, as I sign off and run to the next plane.
    * To be clear, those legitimate American beliefs do not involve support for "splittism," the main Chinese government charge against the Dalai Lama. Rather they involve respect for him as a spiritual leader, a view 100% rejected by the Chinese government but accepted in most of the rest of the world.

    UPDATE: Jerome Cohen's full essay is available here in English with links to versions in both simplified and traditional Chinese. Thanks to ESZ.

  • That tricky old language barrier (China, Tibet, and France)

    As I so often say, my favorite newspaper is the (state-controlled) China Daily. It's possible that the French ambassador in Beijing, Herve Ladsous, now has a different view.

    Ladsous was the star of yesterday's newspaper, thanks to his observation in a China Daily interview that Tibet had been a "slave society" before the arrival of Mao's liberators 60 years ago. Below, the lead story on the front page, and the lead paragraphs in that story:

    The front page:

    The story:

    The man himself, as shown in the China Daily:

    Such observations would be heartily welcomed by officials and many citizens in China. That Tibetans lived as slaves under the lamas is one of the Three Unappreciated Truths about Tibet, as propounded by the Chinese government and endorsed by most of the public. The other two: that Tibet has since ancient times been an acknowledged and inseparable part of China; and that the Dalai Lama, despite having gulled naive foreigners into thinking him a "spiritual" figure, is actually a cunning "splittist" bent on breaking up the Chinese state.

    Was this simply...what is the mot juste? Oh, yes, kow-towing by the government of France, in awareness of how many fences it has to mend in China? The complaints on the Chinese side are numerous but mainly seem to involve Tibet (eg, protests in Paris against the Olympic torch relay, mainly about Tibet; Sarkozy's initial claim that he would boycott the Olympics, and his recent meeting with the "splittist" leader). Carrefour, Airbus, and other big French names have felt the heat of Chinese popular ill will.

    So perhaps the French representative had gotten the signal to truckle make nice? I wondered when I saw the story -- and also saw no related item at the sites of Le Monde or Figaro, nor at Agence France-Presse. But it appears -- zut! -- that it was all a misunderstanding, accidental or otherwise. Just now, France-Info has posted an item in which the Ambassador says that the story "did not reflect the tone of the interview" and that "this was not the first time that China Daily" has misrepresented a discussion. I will try to deal with the disillusionment.

  • Two brief media notes about Tibet

    Like most other people, I don't know for sure what is going on in Tibet, and in ethnic-Tibetan regions in nearby provinces (Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, etc) right now. It does look ominous. For the moment, here are two semi-surprising media notes, as of Wednesday morning, March 11, Beijing time:

    1) CNN and BBC are just now running extensive reports on crackdowns and extra Chinese troops being set to Tibet and Tibetan ethnic areas. Plus, historical footage of Chinese soldiers "liberating" Tibet 50 years ago. The surprising aspect: the transmissions are not being blocked or cut off, as happened routinely last year with far less sensitive material. Even footage of an old interview with the Dalai Lama is coming right across the airwaves. Oversight? New strategy? Just too busy? Don't care what people hear in English? Impossible to say.

    2) The official Chinese media usually take the sledgehammer approach when explaining China's Tibet policy to the outside world. "Jackal in a Buddhist monk's robes" as an epithet for the Dalai Lama, etc. But yesterday's editorial in my favorite newspaper, the China Daily, instead tried... the light touch! The editorial, in the form of an open letter to the D.L, was mock reverent (rather than blusteringly condemnatory), consistently addressing him as "Your Holiness" and asking him if he would be so kind as to explain various mysteries and problems. It began this way:


    Full text, again, here. A new approach? An aberration? Something that will be shelved now that the D.L. has taken a much harsher, "hell on earth" tone?  I don't know. We all will watch.


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