Orville Schell was born in New York City in 1940, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University in Far Eastern History, was an exchange student at National Taiwan University in the 1960s, and did graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley in Chinese History where he earned a PhD (Abd). He has worked for the Ford Foundation in Indonesia, covered the war in Indochina as a journalist, and has traveled widely in China since the mid-70s.
Schell is a contributor to such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Granta, Wired, Newsweek, Mother Jones, The China Quarterly, and The New York Review of Books. Schell is also the author of fourteen books, nine of them about China, and a contributor to numerous edited volumes. His most recent books are, Virtual Tibet, The China Reader: The Reform Years, and Mandate of Heaven: The Legacy of Tiananmen Square and the Next Generation of China's Leaders. He has served as a television commentator for several network news programs, has worked both as a correspondent and consultant for a number PBS "Frontline" documentaries and been the correspondent for an Emmy award-winning program for "60 Minutes" segment.
Schell is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a regular participant in the World Economic Forum at Davos. Schell is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and the current Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society.