NEW YORK-China’s refusal to allow renowned author and journalist Yang Jisheng to travel to the United States to accept an award for his work is a blatant and futile effort to deprive one of China’s most distinguished independent voices the international recognition and acclaim that he has earned, PEN America said today.

Yang Jisheng is the author of Tombstone, considered to be the definitive work on China’s Great Famine of 1958-61. Published in 2008, the book remains banned in mainland China, though it is available in Hong Kong. Chinese authorities actively censor information about the Great Famine, considered a highly sensitive topic because the famine was caused by government policies instituted by Mao Zedong and resulted in the deaths of an estimated 36 million Chinese, as Mr. Yang’s meticulously researched book documents. The book has received numerous awards, including the Hayek Book Prize and the Stieg Larsson Prize. Prior to publishing Tombstone, Mr. Yang had a long career as a journalist with China’s official news agency, Xinhua.

Mr. Yang was awarded Harvard University’s Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism for Tombstone, and planned to travel to the U.S. next month to accept the award. However, on February 16 Mr. Yang said that officials from Xinhua had met with him and informed him that he was forbidden to travel. He told reporters that he believed he was being barred from traveling because he had informed authorities of his plans in advance, whereas on prior trips abroad he had not done so. He also said that leaving the country against Xinhua’s wishes could endanger his prospects for publishing future work, and that he had been forbidden from speaking with foreign journalists. 

“Beijing authorities should be ashamed of these efforts to interfere with Yang Jisheng’s acceptance of this richly deserved award,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, “Thanks in large part to him, the truth about China’s Great Famine is out.  Efforts to punish Yang Jisheng, restrict his movements or deflect attention from his work will boomerang, drawing more attention to the facts that China wishes to suppress and deny.  This unwarranted travel ban should be rescinded immediately.”  


Founded in 1922, PEN America is an association of more than 4,400 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, and Susan Sontag.


Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications:, +1.646.779.4830