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John Burns and the Hunt for 'Essential Truths'

John Burns at the Asia Society's New York Center on Nov. 11, 2008.
by Jeff Tompkins
8 November 2008

NEW YORK, November 10, 2008 – In conversation with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, and Orville Schell, director of Asia Society's Center on US-China Relations, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning reporter John Burns delved into his experience covering China, first as a reporter for Toronto’s Globe and Mail from 1971 to 1975, and again for the New York Times during the 1980s.

Burns recalled the difficulties of bridging cultural divides during
a time when foreign reporters in China were few and far between. He
vividly recounted his experiences of being detained in a government
prison, setting across the countryside on a motorcycle, being expelled
from the country, and even travelling with a young George W. Bush when
the latter's father, George H.W. Bush, served as the American envoy to

Burns's experiences in China reaffirmed his belief that his mission
as a journalist is to find essential truths. "In my experience .... the
essential truths are always accessible," he said. "In places where the
price of telling the truth can be sometimes fatal, there are always
people who want to tell them." Burns found this to be equally true, he
concluded, whether under China’s oppressive regime or in more recent
war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Complementing the talk was a slideshow of Li Zhensheng’s photographs of China's Cultural Revolution from his book Red Color News Soldier (Phaidon Press, 2003).

Related links:

Art and China's Revolution (Asia Society Museum exhibition minisite)

Li Zhensheng's Red Color News Soldier is available from the AsiaStore.