After Yang got home from government school, his dad was almost dying because of starvation. His dad extended his hand to Yang, but he couldn’t lift it to greet Yang because his arm was so weak. Shortly later, Yang’s dad died. Yang was very, very sad. But he found out that his dad's death wasn’t the only unusual death when he heard a leader in Hubei say that 300,000 people died because of starvation. Something scary and uncommon was going on.
Children dying from starvation
Later, something else that was uncommon was going on called the Tienanmen Square Protest. It was students protesting to have a more Democratic government and for repressive leaders to resign. But on June 4, 1989, Chinese troops and security police stormed through Tienanmen Square. They shot indiscriminately at the protesters.
A student standing in front of security tanks
Yang greatly disliked how the government reacted, so he then moved from working at the government to working at Xinhua, the most influential news company in China.
Then, 30 years later, when Yang was working, he accidentally found some archives about the Great Leap Forward and the Great Chinese Famine. After he read them, he found out that they told about a time when the communist government made all the townspeople work to make tons of iron, steel and grain. He also found out that the government didn't let anyone own farmland.
This is what the government thought what the Great Leap Forward would do, but it actually made the Great Chinese Famine.
And after a while, he made a connection that the Great Chinese Famine was when his dad died. Now Yang was not only sad, but also mad at the government.
He didn't know about the Great Chinese Famine until now because the government didn't tell it's workers that it was their fault, because otherwise the workers would resign and would have a very bad reputation of the Communist government.
One of the many versions of a Communist flag
After the incident of finding the archives, Yang found even more and more archives, and he decided to make a book about the Great Chinese Famine. He begins it:
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.
Yang meticulously cited Tombstone, because if one thing was not proven true, the government would dismiss it. But they banned the book from China anyway, and banned Yang from leaving China to go to an award ceremony at Harvard University for his book. The ceremony was scheduled to be on March 2016.
But the Nieman Fellows at Harvard University still praised his book. They said:
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.
Yang Jisheng's book, Tombstone is 1,208 pages and the most definitive book on the Great Chinese Famine.
And of course, this is Yang Jisheng's awesome book.
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