Censorship in China

Long struggle to publish Fang Lizhi's autobiography

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 5:32am

It was an overdue autobiography, Li Shuxian, wife of Fang Lizhi and the book's collator, write in the preface. Indeed, most of it was written before the couple left Beijing more than 20 years ago following their 13-month confinement at the US embassy in 1989 and 1990.

As Fang's international popularity soared after the embassy announced he was under their protection, several overseas publishers invited him to write his autobiography, with some even suggesting "ghost writers" to pen the work, Li said.

However, the professor insisted he would be the author. In October, 1989, he started writing and authorised copyright to Doubleday, an American publishing company. But the publication was shelved in 1991 when Doubleday realised Fang's story had slipped out of the news as he settled down in the US.

The following year, Li writes, a famous Chinese-American physicist - whom she does not name - persuaded another publisher against releasing the book, saying its content would offend the Chinese government.

The book was put on hold until Li discovered the original manuscript after Fang died suddenly in April last year.

"He was working until he died … when I found he had no pulse, his left hand was still holding a folder containing his Chinese students' application forms for funding and other documents, while the Skype he used to keep in touch with his Chinese doctoral students was still operating," Li writes. Fang arose at 5am every day, which is 8pm in China, to provide distance tutoring for Chinese astrophysics students.

"I couldn't believe he had left me so soon, and then I started to look for everything he left behind to me … Finally I found the papers and his diaries."

Li passed the manuscripts to their old friend Dr Charles Kao, founder of Taipei-based Commonwealth Publishing Group, to complete the publication. The book, which has only been published in Chinese, was launched in Taiwan on May 1.

Professor Perry Link, who was expelled from China for helping Fang seek political asylum in 1989, told the Sunday Morning Post it was predictable that Fang's book would be banned by Beijing. But it would also be hard for mainland authorities to stop people reading it on the internet.