Jonathan Mirsky, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who led a New York Times investigation of China’s Cultural Revolution and was later imprisoned for revealing sensitive information, has died in New York at the age of 88.
Mirsky, who was also a journalist for the New York Times and a correspondent for the Financial Times, died of emphysema and heart failure, according to a news release from NYU Langone Medical Center, where he had been in rehabilitation since being diagnosed with dementia more than three years ago.
In an obituary written for the Times, Janine Zacharia said that the newsman who rose to national prominence in the 1960s was probably best known for a multi-part series in the Times that explored the brutal effects of the Cultural Revolution on Chinese people.
Mirsky told the Times in 2011 that he was deeply moved after seeing dozens of children at Tiananmen Square crying when she interviewed them.
“You don’t realize that for all these years, Chinese children have been going to school,” he said. “To see those children weep was very hard to take.”
Mirsky also spoke candidly in a TV interview with Greg Miller for the PBS NewsHour about his imprisonment by China during the Cultural Revolution. According to the Times obituary, Mirsky was part of a so-called “Red Guards” faction, who were reportedly responsible for beating fellow classmates and executing prisoners and civilians in mass executions.
“I was criticized very harshly, very severely,” Mirsky said. “I was punished for about two and a half years. I learned a lot about prison life … I learned how stupid people can be.”
The reporter for the New York Times was one of more than 80 individuals who were arrested by the Chinese government in 2009.
According to the Times, his attorney during that investigation described Mirsky as a dedicated journalist.
“Jonathan was what the Chinese call a patriot,” attorney Brad W. Adams told the Times. “And one of the things Jonathan was absolutely beyond any measure, he was completely loyal to the United States. He was their man in China and they couldn’t have had a more amiable, loyal supporter.”
The Times has made a series of the journalist’s writings available. Mirsky, the second youngest member of his family to hold a U.S. passport, grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel, and graduate from Yale University in 1949.
He became a correspondent for the Financial Times in 1955 and joined the Times the following year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.