Economist baffled by ban on his book

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 July, 2004, 12:00am

Outspoken Mao Yushi may be the victim of a crackdown by authorities on publications and the media

Well-known economist Mao Yushi has demanded an explanation from authorities for why one of his books was banned.

'The person who gave the order should talk to me - whether it is an open dialogue or a private one. But of course a public dialogue is better,' Professor Mao said yesterday.

'If this is [an order from] the publicity department of the Communist Party, then the person who made the decision should talk to me. If it is the department head who made the decision, then let the department head speak to me.

'I don't think it is the head of the department, probably someone lower [in rank] in the department.'

Professor Mao, 75, a former visiting fellow to Harvard University, is one of the mainland's top economists and is known for his outspokenness and liberal views.

He said he had no idea why his book, Give Freedom to Ones You Loved, was banned because it was a collection of essays he had published in earlier books. He also found it unreasonable to ban the book more than a year after it was published.

According to Professor Mao, the publisher received an order last week to stop making new prints and to cease distribution of unsold copies.

Professor Mao said the book was not sensitive as it was about economics and ethics and did not touch much on politics. He wanted an explanation because the ban was a violation of the constitution, which guaranteed citizens freedom of publication. In a statement circulating on the internet, Professor Mao said: 'I express deep regret about such an act which violates the constitution and basic civil rights.'

Intellectuals and observers said they were not surprised about the ban because authorities had tightened control in all areas of public speech in recent months, including publications, the media and the internet.

A cleanup of internet sites, renewed control over installation of satellite dishes for foreign broadcasts and the banning of several popular books in March indicated a crackdown.

'The atmosphere is tense,' Professor Mao said.

Outspoken writer Yu Jie said there was evidence of a tightening of control over public speech. 'What happened to the Southern Metropolis News [in Guangzhou] is a clear sign. Then for the past six months, about a dozen more outspoken publications no longer publish any critical news or articles,' Yu said.

Two former executives of the Guangzhou newspaper received long jail terms despite calls from human rights groups for their release.

Yu said the authorities appeared to have adopted more subtle control methods. A covert ban was placed on two popular and controversial books in March - An Investigation of Chinese Farmers by two reporters on abuses of farmers in Anhui province , and Past Doesn't Disappear Like Smoke by Zhang Yihe on the travails of rightists before the reform era.