Tiananmen Anniversary: Memory of executed poet resonates
Lin Zhao, who was executed in 1968, challenged history and Mao.
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It was signed by 2,000 brave and quixotic Chinese in December – and then seemed to be quashed. But no: It is gaining traction on the Internet; even some Chinese officials have raised the question of democracy and the party's absolute hold on power.
Lin Zhao asked the same question – in the time of Mao Zedong. I discovered Ms. Lin – an extraordinary individual by any reckoning – in my last months as a Monitor correspondent in Beijing. She was a prophetic voice, a thinker, a Vaclav Havel of China who believed deeply in the reality of what she called "truth."
She was executed in 1968 at the age of 36, probably by the order of Mao. She remains virtually unknown in her country.
Lin's main insight was that Mao, to put it mildly, was not serving the people. Her prison writings during the Cultural Revolution may constitute the most incisive critique of "Red China" extant; they remain forbidden, kept under lock and key at a Beijing archive.
"She was rehabilitated in the late 1970s, during a thaw, but I don't think [today] she would be," the intellectual Li Datong told me. "In her day, Lin alone marked Mao as a big rotten egg, so she was way ahead of her time. Hers was the deepest accusation of the Communist Party written in the 60 years of its history. So this government will make sure we never hear from her fully."
Lin's story is about modern China's conscience and soul. It raises questions about the future, as do the Charter 08 authors: "Where is China headed in the 21st century? Will it continue … under authoritarian rule, or will it embrace universal human values, join the mainstream of civilized nations, and build a democratic system? There can be no avoiding these questions."
But despite China's stunning progress, they, like Lin, have been avoided.
A trip to Suzhou
Had I learned of Lin earlier in my assignment, it would have been difficult to see how unusual she was – what it took for a frail young woman to remain so tough, so "pure," as her admirers call her. But while I was on a visit to Suzhou, Lin's birthplace, to do a story on China's passion for the Yangtze Delta hairy crabs, a Chinese friend filled me in.
He had just seen an underground film, "Searching for Lin Zhao's Soul," by director Hu Jie, who eluded the police for years in order to finish it.
Lin's father was educated in England. She was the top pupil in her province, and, at age 16, a committed revolutionary, saying, "I have only a Red Star in my heart."
At Peking University, she edited the campus literary magazine "Red Mansions." A quick wit and a strange incandescence made her attractive to nearly everyone. (Later, professors, doctors, and prison officials all tried to protect her, some losing their lives.)
But as China's intellectuals disappeared in Mao's antirightist "100 Flowers" campaign, after being encouraged to be critical, she soured.
"What I hate most is deception," she said.