Tombstones and Knives

This week’s issue of Southern Weekly (南都周刊) has a long profile of Yang Jisheng, disenchanted Xinhua journalist and editor of Annals of the Yellow Emperor, a reformist political magazine (which manages to avoid censorship by focusing reassessments of historical figures). In Yang’s book on the 1958 famine, Tombstone, he estimates that 38 million died as a result of government policies. The book is banned in mainland China, but the piece still mentions it. Here’s my translation:

Yang Jisheng’s investigation into ‘the great famine’ period brought him a lot of attention. A lot of people said the book was ‘worthy of respect’, but there have been no shortage of doubts about the veracity of his findings since then.

The piece runs to four pages in the print edition, and the sentence above stands out even more because everywhere else in the article the portrait of Yang is extremely positive, presenting him as a fearless pursuer of truth and champion of journalistic values. The profile ends gushingly: ‘Yang has suffered in the pursuit the facts, but he prefers to talk about the joys of speaking the truth, because he once experienced push of fear and ignorance, like a pain of a knife pressed to his back’.

Yang with the inevitable mug of hot tea

Two detailed English interviews with Yang Jisheng by Richard McGregor and Ian Johnson.

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