Yang Jisheng (杨继绳, born November 1940) is a Chinese journalist and author of Tombstone (墓碑; Mubei), a comprehensive account of the Great Chinese Famine during the Great Leap Forward. Yang joined the Communist Party in 1964 and graduated from Tsinghua University in 1966. He promptly joined Xinhua News Agency, where he worked until his retirement in 2001. His loyalty to the party was destroyed by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, and, although he continued working for the Xinhua News Agency, he, in fact, spent much of his time researching for Tombstone. As of 2008, he was the deputy editor of the journal Yanhuang Chunqiu in Beijing. Yang Jisheng is also listed as a Fellow of China Media Project, a department under Hong Kong University.
Tombstone: The Great Famine
Beginning in the early 1990s, Yang began interviewing people and collecting records of The Great Famine of 1959–1961, in which his own foster father had died, eventually accumulating ten million words of records. He published a two-volume 1,208 page account of the period, in which he meticulously cited his sources to prevent the Chinese government from dismissing it. It was widely acclaimed as being the definitive account of the Great Famine. He begins the book,
“I call this book Tombstone. It is a tombstone for my [foster] father who died of hunger in 1959, for the 36 million Chinese who also died of hunger, for the system that caused their death, and perhaps for myself for writing this book.“
The book was published in Hong Kong and is banned in mainland China. In 2012 translations into French, German, and English (which has been condensed almost by 50%) have been published.
Yang was awarded The Stieg Larsson prize 2015 for his ‘stubborn and courageous work in mapping and describing the consequences’ of The Great Leap Forward.
Yang was awarded the 2016 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, selected by the Nieman Fellows at Harvard University. In the award citation, the fellows stated: “Through the determination and commitment required for this project, Mr. Yang clearly demonstrates the qualities of conscience and integrity. He provides inspiration to all who seek to document the truth in the face of influences, forces and regimes that may push against such transparency.” He was reported to be banned from leaving China to receive the award in a ceremony in Harvard University to be held in March 2016.
- 2013 Hayek Book Prize and Lecture by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
- 2015 Stieg Larsson Prize
- “for his stubborn and courageous work in mapping and describing the consequences of The Three Years of Great Chinese Famine”
- 2015 Award from the Independent Chinese PEN Center (for the Chinese language version)
- 2016 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.