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China Stops Author from Accepting Prize in US

Chairman Mao Zedong at general assembly of the Chinese communist party in March 1955.

Chairman Mao Zedong at general assembly of the Chinese communist party in March 1955.

A former reporter for China’s official news agency says the government forbids him to accept an award in the United States for a book he wrote about the Great Chinese Famine.

Yang Jisheng’s book -- called Tombstone -- was published in 2008. In December, Harvard University’s Nieman Fellows program gave him an award for writing the book. It is 1,200 pages.

The book tells about the famine that lasted from 1958 to 1961.

Yang estimates that at least 36 million Chinese died during the famine. He wrote that the government hid information about the disaster, which was caused by agricultural mismanagement.

As he researched the book, Yang was permitted to see many government documents that others had not read.

Recently, China has allowed authors to write about problems during the time of former leader Mao Zedong. But the government does not permit discussion of national disasters. Yang’s book has been banned in China.

In a telephone interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Yang said the official Xinhua news agency would not permit him to travel. He did not say how it would stop him from leaving the country. And he did not say if his passport had been taken from him. Because Yang worked for the Chinese government, his pension could be at risk.

Yang says he traveled to Sweden in November to receive the Stieg Larsson Prize in Stockholm. The 76-year-old writer said he accepted the prize “with grief.”

This time he told officials of his travel plans, and they stopped him. He said he could not give more information because he is not permitted to speak to foreign reporters.

“I grieve for the 36 million starved dead,” he said in a speech. “I grieve that this human tragedy that occurred five decades ago is still being covered up, while those who uncover this human tragedy are pressured, attacked and slandered.”

After he retired from Xinhua, Yang wrote for a history journal that publishes articles that the government sometimes does not like. In a message published online, he said he stopped working for the journal last year after he was pressured to do so by people at Xinhua.

The Xinhua news agency did not immediately answer a message asking for an interview about Yang.

I’m Mario Ritter.

The Associated Press reported on this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

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Words in This Story

forbid – v. to order (someone) not to do something; to bar

pension – n. an amount of money that an employer pays to a retired worker

grief – n. deep sadness, caused especially by someone’s death

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