Quiet Mourning for Dissident Lin Zhao On 56th Anniversary Of Her Execution

56 years after her wrongful execution, the poet-journalist turned dissident Lin Zhao is still mourned in China. Lin, a Peking University student persecuted during the anti-Rightist Campaign, was executed at the height of the Cultural Revolution on April 29, 1968. Lin had joined the Party in her teens but began to question Mao’s leadership. She was first arrested in 1958 in Beijing and then released for medical reasons. She was re-arrested in 1960 and spent the rest of her life in prison. Denied the use of pen and paper while incarcerated, Lin wrote hundreds of thousands of characters of poetry and political writing using her own blood as ink. Before her death, she asserted: “History will find me innocent.” In 1980, these words were vindicated when the Shanghai Higher People’s Court posthumously overturned her conviction. 

Her dissident poetry inspired the underground magazine “Spark” and continues to reverberate within China today. While Lin has been officially rehabilitated, public mourning for her remains politically sensitive (as it does for others, including late premier Li Keqiang earlier this April). Police have detained visitors to Lin’s grave on the anniversaries of her execution. The 2004 documentary “Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul,” a film by the legendary documentarian Hu Jie, has also never been publicly shown in China. However, samizdat copies circulate online—and censors appear to leave them alone. On Weibo, a pirated version of the full documentary has accumulated over 150,000 views in the past few weeks. One of the top comments says, “I hope that in the future we can say farewell to ignorant dictatorship.” A number of other viewers commented on continued police surveillance of her grave. 

On WeChat, many public accounts shared public remembrances of Lin. The oft-censored account 玖奌杂货店 (Jiǔdiǎn záhuòdiàn) wrote that Lin’s unflagging commitment to speaking the truth inspires their writing

I’m lazy by nature. I often don’t finish what I start. But I’ve somehow persisted in writing this account for quite a few years now. I’ve been through a fair amount of trouble, but I have never given up. I believe that decades from now Lin Zhao’s spirit of insistence on the truth—of dying on her feet rather than living on her knees—will still shine like a bright star, illuminating the hearts of authors. [Chinese]

The documentarian filmmaker and activist Ai Xiaoming also published an interview with Lin’s former associate to WeChat: 

In 2022, Vienna Tang of Radio Free Asia interviewed Duke University professor Lian Xi about his biography of Lin, “Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China”:

RFA: Why was Lin such an important figure?

Lian Xi: Lin Zhao really was an extraordinary person. We know that there were many, many victims of the Cultural Revolution, but there were no real political dissidents like Lin Zhao. There were some big-name intellectuals within [the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)] … peoplel like Deng Tuo and Wu Han in the early 1960s before the Cultural Revolution started … who tried to persuade Mao to give up authoritarian rule. There were also some political heretics outside the CCP during the Cultural Revolution, like Yu Luoke and Zhang Zhixin, but they never totally broke away from the ideology of the CCP. The only one who openly rejected CCP ideology as enslavement and tyranny was Lin Zhao.

[…] RFA: A lot of people have referred to Lin Zhao as the goddess of democracy. Should she be elevated in such a way?

Lian Xi: Lin Zhao wasn’t a saint; she was flesh and blood. During the land reform movement, she supported revolutionary violence, which she later regretted very much. We also know that she was very short-tempered. What I hoped to achieve in the biography to restore this sense of a real person. But her personality, her impatience, don’t mean she wasn’t a great person: she was a truly great person. I wanted readers to get to know Lin Zhao’s mind, her inner life and her psyche; her courage, moral fiber, her values and how she kept going to defend human dignity under unimaginably difficult circumstances. At such a dark time, Lin defended the idea of personal independence and freedom. We should be defending those things with even greater zeal today. [Source]


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