NEW YORK—The disappearance of Australian author Yang Hengjun during a trip to mainland China is a terrifying sign of the Chinese government’s willingness to disappear writers who criticize them, regardless of nationality, PEN America said today.

Yang Hengjun, an Australian citizen and author, was reportedly seized on Saturday, January 19 during a visit to China, as he attempted to board a flight from Guangzhuo to Shanghai. Yang was reportedly interrogated for 12 hours before disappearing into undisclosed state custody. Yang’s wife was reported with him, but was released after the interrogation, although it is unclear if she is allowed to leave the country.

Yang, who is originally from China, became an Australian citizen in 2000 and has spent the last two years in New York City as a visiting scholar at Columbia University. While Yang has previously been critical of the Chinese government, he has reportedly tamped down such criticism in recent years. A novelist and blogger, Yang is known for his spy thriller “Fatal Weakness” trilogy as well as his online writings on politics and society.

“It’s obvious that Yang would not have been seized if it weren’t for his previous critical writings,” said Summer Lopez, PEN America Senior Director of Free Expression Programs. “Yang’s seizure is yet another indicator that the Chinese government’s repression of free expression extends not only to its own citizens but to citizens of other countries. PEN America joins those calling on China to immediately release Yang Hengjun and to allow him freedom to travel.”

Other foreign citizens that the Chinese government has seized include Chinese-born Swedish poet and publisher Gui Minhai, who was kidnapped in Thailand by Chinese security agents in October 2015. More than three years later, Gui remains in state custody, despite reports of poor health. Last month, Chinese authorities arrested two Canadian citizens in the midst of an ongoing Chinese-Canada dispute stemming from Canadian police action against prominent Chinese businesswoman Meng Wanzhou. Some commentators have concluded that Yang Hengjun’s seizure may be related to this ongoing dispute, as an escalation of a tactic of “hostage diplomacy” to grant additional leverage in international negotiations.


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.

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: [email protected]