On this date in 1968, a “rightist” student whose critique of the Cultural Revolution was not blunted by the rigors of imprisonment was informed that her jail sentence had been changed to execution — which was immediately imposed at Shanghai’s Longhua Airport.
Utterly obscure at her death, Lin Zhao’s memory was tended by those closest to her, passed down like samizdat to latterly emerge out of Mao’s shadow.
An impassioned young intellectual at Peking University and a dedicated Communist with an irrepressible sense of justice, Lin Zhao once called Mao the “red star in my heart” and actually supervised the execution of a landlord during the country’s land reform push in the early 1950s.
In 1960, after circulating a petition for fallen Communist (but not orthodox Maoist) Marshal Peng Dehuai, Lin was arrested, and eventually sentenced to a 20-year term.
It is here that the judicious person discovers the error of her ways, and accepts such terms as she can make for herself.
Not Lin Zhao.
Lin kept writing. Poetry, political manifestos, letters to the newspaper — hundreds of thousands of “reactionary” words. When they took away her ink, she opened her veins and wrote in blood.
By the end, official maltreatment and Lin’s own hunger strikes had wasted her away to less than 70 pounds. She was literally plucked from her prison hospital bed on this date by soldiers who drug her (gagged) to a show trial and execution. But like Marshal Peng, she never bent.
“Better to be destroyed,” she told her doctor, “than give up one’s principles.” (He’s quoted in Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China.)
Somehow, many of her hematic scribblings (saved by the prison, for possible use against her down the road) were smuggled out to her loved ones.* Somehow, they made their way to filmmaker Hu Jie, who put Lin Zhao back on the cultural map with the banned but well-received 2004 documentary Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul (or In Search of Lin Zhao’s Soul).
This movie can actually be seen in its entirety in 10-minute installments on YouTube as of this writing.
Lin Zhao was posthumously exonerated by a Shanghai court in 1981. Despite Hu Jie’s efforts, she is still little known in her country, or abroad.
Phosphorescent green light never goes out
And lighting up souls every night
Preserving the soul
Letting go the crippled body
Burning into ashes in misfortune
Someday with a red flower on the head
Recognizing the blood stains
Just as copying a bright red flower
Impossible to paint the real color
* Stanford’s Hoover Institution also holds a collection of Lin Zhao papers.