NEW YORK—News that Chinese dissident writer and 2008 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award Winner Yang Tongyan was released on medical parole for brain cancer is another appalling reminder of how critics of the government are treated under President Xi Jinping’s regime, PEN America said today. 

This morning, Nanjing Prison authorities released Yang Tongyan—who wrote under the pseudonym Yang Tianshui—to his home in Siyang, Jiangsu province. He is scheduled for admission to a hospital in Nanjing later today. His family was informed on Saturday that Yang was diagnosed with a brain glioma. According to Yang’s sister, authorities have told them that Yang would not be permitted to leave the country for treatment.

Yang was serving the last year of his 12-year prison sentence and was scheduled to be released in December. He was imprisoned on charges of “subversion of state power” for writing dissident articles and for the illicit organization of a branch of the Chinese Democratic Party. Yang’s family previously applied for medical parole in 2010 and 2012, as he suffers from various illnesses including tuberculosis, diabetes, and nephritis.

News of Yang’s cancer follows Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s death in custody on July 13 from late-stage liver cancer. In the days following Liu’s release, Chinese officials refused to honor his wish to travel overseas for treatment and he was held incommunicado. Since his death and funeral, his wife Liu Xia has been held by authorities in an undisclosed location, and friends have been unable to reach her.

“Yang Tongyan’s release demonstrates a startling pattern in the abysmal treatment of imprisoned Chinese dissidents. That authorities continue to wait until the last minute to release writers on medical parole is proof of the government’s cruel and vindictive attitude toward their critics,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN America. “We urge Chinese authorities not to repeat the same tragedy that befell Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese government should allow Yang Tongyan the freedom to leave the country and pursue treatment for a life-threatening medical condition wherever he chooses.”

In 2008, PEN America honored Yang Tongyan with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Free to Write Award. Yang is also a member of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, an organization of leading Chinese writers working on free expression issues both inside and outside of China. Lengthy prison sentences have long been used in China to silence dissident voices. Today there are more than 40 writers in prison, making China one of the biggest jailers of writers in the world. Since 1990, Yang has spent 23 years and 8 months in prison during two separate prison terms.


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

Sarah Edkins Lien, Communications Director:, +1.646.779.4830