Mystery Surrounds Disappearance of Chinese-Australian Writer

Two intriguing stories this week have triggered a renewal of the debate about free speech. It was feared Dr Yang Hengjun (known to friends as Henry), a Chinese-Australian crime novelist and prominent blogger on contemporary China, was being held captive by Chinese authorities after disappearing from an airport in Guangzhou. The writer, whom Greens Senator Scott Ludlam described as one of the most influential political bloggers in China, divides his time between the People’s Republic and Sydney. John Garnaut’s op-ed gave readers a personal insight to the story. Yang has since given the ABC assurances that he expects to leave China in a matter of days.

Nonetheless, a fog of intrigue continues to hang over the story, as if it were lifted from the pages of a political thriller. Yang’s political thrillers include the bestselling ‘Fatal Weakness’ series: Fatal Weakness, Fatal Weapons and Fatal Pursuit. The novels, published online, feature plots in which government corruption is endemic. An English-language excerpt can be read here. According to the writer’s agency, Creative Works, Yang’s novels “tell of an American plot to control China, set right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Too sensitive to be published in China, these Chinese language novels have been read by millions of Chinese online …” Yang adds a personal message: “I want to thank the Beijing authorities personally on my own behalf because without their strong suppression of freedom of publishing, I would never have become the first political espionage novelist in China.”

The New York Times reports Yang last blogged on March 27, the day he disappeared. “The entry criticizes Peking University in Beijing for a new policy that aims to re-educate students who are deemed to have ‘radical’ thoughts.” The Times report continues: "The Chinese government, in the harshest crackdown in years, is holding scores of human rights advocates, political writers, lawyers and dissidents. The roundup began in late February after calls for a revolution modeled on the protests in Tunisia surfaced on the Internet in Chinese.”

Earlier this year, another Chinese writer, Murong Xuecun, visited the Wheeler Centre and spoke of the difficulties of maintaining independence as a Chinese writer. Local crime writer and Wheeler Centre Fellow Andrew Nette has also blogged on the Chinese crime fiction scene, which is a popular source of critique of low-level and mid-level government corruption. And while the book industry in Australia worries about the future of publishing, Chinese writers are showing that, despite stringent censorship, the web can reach a massive reading public with a voracious appetite for controversy, courage and truth.

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