In 1960, a poet and journalist named Lin Zhao was arrested by the Communist Party of China and sent to prison for re-education. Years before, she had –at approximately the same time– converted to both Christianity and to Maoism. In prison she lost the second faith but clung to the first.
She is, judges her biographer Lian Xi,
the only Chinese citizen to have openly and steadfastly opposed Mao and his regime–denouncing lies such as those conveyed in the “Great Leap Forward” poster, reproduced above. From her cell, Lin wrote long poems and essays, some written in her own blood, denouncing those who had brought China into such a condition of misery and oppression.
Eventually she was judged incapable of re-education and executed. Her family was billed (as was typical) for the cost of the bullet that ended her life.
But Lin Zhao’s writings survived: Totalitarian societies are also bureaucratic ones, strangely loath to destroy even the evidence of their own tyranny. When Lin Zhao’s sentence was commuted during the rule of Deng Xiaoping, her family gained access to her work.
In 21st-century China, these writings have made her a prophet of change and a voice denouncing oppression. They have also made her as much an opponent of the current government as she was of Mao’s dictatorship.
This may be the most important, and also the most moving, conversation I’ve have had the privilege of hosting. Recorded in Lian Xi’s office at Duke Divinity School, he and I discuss his new book Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao's China
(Basic Books, 2018), Lin Zhao’s life and times, the survival of her writings, and her growing influence in modern China. Please listen, and share with others interested in history, China, human rights, and the triumph of the human person over tyranny.
Al Zambone is a historian and the host of the podcast Historically Thinking. You can subscribe to Historically Thinking on Apple Podcasts.