Ian John­son

Blood Let­ters: The Un­told Story of Lin Zhao, a Mar­tyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi. Ba­sic Books, 331 pp., $30.00 Cen­sored: Dis­trac­tion and Di­ver­sion In­side China’s Great Fire­wall by Mar­garet E. Roberts. Prince­ton Univer­sity Press, 271 pp., $29.95

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Ian John­son

Blood Let­ters: The Un­told Story of Lin Zhao, a Mar­tyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi

Cen­sored: Dis­trac­tion and Di­ver­sion In­side China’s Great Fire­wall by Mar­garet E. Roberts

1.

A year ago, the re­mains of Liu Xiaobo were scat­tered in the Yel­low Sea. Over the decades, many gal­lant Chi­nese have spo­ken up for in­di­vid­ual rights and govern­ment ac­count­abil­ity, but Liu stood out for his sys­tem­atic cri­tique of China’s govern­ment, as well as his mod­er­a­tion and ad­vo­cacy of non­vi­o­lent protest. It is no won­der that he was awarded the 2010 No­bel Peace Prize, or that his death was an enor­mous loss for China’s ziy­oupai, or “free­dom fac­tion.” The sense of help­less­ness among Liu’s sup­port­ers was com­pounded by the grotesque se­ries of events that led up to his death from liver can­cer. The au­thor­i­ties had con­stantly as­sured the world that he was be­ing treated fairly. Yet he was only trans­ferred to a guarded hospi­tal ward a month be­fore he died— pre­sum­ably to avoid the charge that the regime had al­lowed a No­bel Peace Prize win­ner to die in prison. For­eign doc­tors were brought in, but only in his last few days. The govern­ment re­leased strangely voyeuris­tic videos and pho­tos show­ing his painfully dis­traught wife, the artist Liu Xia, at his bed­side. Af­ter Liu died, his es­tranged brother, who years ear­lier had al­lied him­self with the Com­mu­nist Party, was shown thank­ing the party and say­ing that ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble had been done.

Most of this was for for­eign con­sump­tion. Do­mes­ti­cally, the flow of in­for­ma­tion was more con­trolled. Liu’s prison is­sued a few terse state­ments on his ill­ness, care, and death, but his thoughts and writ­ings are im­pos­si­ble to find through any nor­mal chan­nel. A year later, de­spite the re­lease in July of Liu Xia to Ger­many, one can ar­gue that Liu is a non­per­son in China—of in­ter­est only to a few thou­sand dis­si­dents. One might imag­ine that when they die, he too will die in the pub­lic mem­ory, com­mem­o­rated only by for­eign hu­man rights groups and stud­ied by aca­demics in­ter­ested in turn-of-the-cen­tury Chi­nese thought and pol­i­tics.

And yet mem­ory can be mirac­u­lously per­sis­tent. This is a ma­jor theme in Blood Let­ters, an im­por­tant new bi­og­ra­phy of Lin Zhao, the jour­nal­ist who was ex­e­cuted fifty years ago this spring for crit­i­ciz­ing the Com­mu­nist Party’s mis­rule in the 1950s and 1960s. Af­ter years of im­pris­on­ment, tor­ture, and men­tal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, she was hauled out of the prison hospi­tal where she had shriv­eled to sev­enty pounds, taken to a thou­sand­seat prison au­di­to­rium in her hospi­tal gown, gagged with a rub­ber ball, sen­tenced to death, and shot. Her mother learned the news from a mes­sen­ger; a few days later, law en­force­ment de­manded from her five cents to cover the cost of the bul­let.

Sus­tained by her Chris­tian faith, Lin wrote hun­dreds of thou­sands of words in prison, but all were con­fis­cated and locked away. Yet her writ­ings some­how sur­vived and slowly spread, de­spite cen­sor­ship. To­day she is counted as one of the most re­mark­able dis­si­dents of the Mao era, one whose rep­u­ta­tion grows by the year.

In the 1980s, ad­mir­ers and fam­ily mem­bers found her ashes and buried them at Lingyan Hill out­side her home­town, the east­ern city of Suzhou. Her grave has be­come one of the most vis­ited pil­grim­age sites for China’s hu­man rights ac­tivists. Ev­ery year on April 29, the an­niver­sary of her death, the area is locked down; the rest of the time it is guarded by closed-cir­cuit tele­vi­sion. The ex­is­tence of Lin’s grave may have caused au­thor­i­ties to scat­ter Liu’s ashes at sea.

How did such a per­son be­come a threat to the regime? Thanks to Lian Xi, a pro­fes­sor at the Duke Divin­ity School, we now have a clearer an­swer. Blood Let­ters is one of the most im­por­tant books on the Com­mu­nist-era rights move­ments to be pub­lished in re­cent years. It is not only the first bi­og­ra­phy of Lin in English, but also the first in any lan­guage to care­fully sort through the some­times over­wrought and polem­i­cal writ­ing in­spired by her mar­tyr­dom. Lian’s ear­lier works have been about Chris­tian his­tory in China, most no­tably Re­deemed by Fire (2010), which shows how the in­di­g­e­niza­tion of Protes­tantism in the first part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury helped cre­ate a dy­namic re­li­gious move­ment that re­mains the most per­sis­tent chal­lenge to govern­ment con­trol. This back­ground helps him un­der­stand Lin’s anti-Com­mu­nist fer­vor. He read the more than 500,000 char­ac­ters she wrote in prison, as well as her ear­lier writ­ings, and tracked down her paramours and class­mates. He also talked to the judge who re­viewed her case in the early 1980s as part of a reck­on­ing with the ex­cesses of the Mao era. His highly read­able, deeply in­formed book por­trays some­one who re­dis­cov­ered her faith un­der the pres­sure of per­se­cu­tion and used it to cre­ate a body of writ­ing that to­day ex­em­pli­fies re­sis­tance to Maoist-era per­se­cu­tion.

2.

Born Peng Lingzhao in 1932 in the pros­per­ous city of Suzhou, Lin was ed­u­cated in a Methodist mis­sion school, where she learned hymns and prayers by heart. In her teens, how­ever, she con­verted to com­mu­nism, blindly be­liev­ing the party’s prom­ises of equal­ity and jus­tice, and re­mold­ing her­self into a good Com­mu­nist. She stopped go­ing to church and dis­tanced her­self from her fam­ily. Her fa­ther had been a mi­nor of­fi­cial in the Kuom­intang govern­ment, which had lost China’s civil war to the Com­mu­nists in 1949, while her mother had run a small bus com­pany, mak­ing her a cap­i­tal­ist. The daugh­ter broke with them by chang­ing her sur­name Peng to Lin and short­en­ing her given name to Zhao.

She ran away from home to join a pro­pa­ganda team and par­tic­i­pated in the Com­mu­nists’ bloody cam­paign against small land­hold­ers. Be­tween one and two mil­lion were killed—the mi­nor of­fi­cials, schol­ars, medicine prac­ti­tion­ers, and re­li­gious clergy who formed the back­bone of tra­di­tional so­ci­ety. Lin didn’t spare her fam­ily ei­ther: she de­nounced her fa­ther for lis­ten­ing to Voice of Amer­ica and her mother for al­legedly be­ing back­ward. Her fa­ther was later la­beled a “his­tor­i­cal coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary,” and her mother at­tempted sui­cide. But Lin had an in­de­pen­dent streak that she couldn’t re­press. She crit­i­cized male cadres who took ad­van­tage of young women—a com­mon oc­cur­rence in Maoist China—and be­came frus­trated in love be­cause she wanted to ask men out and not wait mod­estly for them to ap­proach her, as was ex­pected of proper women ac­cord­ing to the party’s pu­ri­tan­i­cal moral­ity. Most trou­bling for the party was her re­fusal to give it ab­so­lute obe­di­ence. In 1949 it or­dered her to leave her home­town, feel­ing that she was in dan­ger, but she re­fused, think­ing that it was be­ing overly cau­tious, and she was stripped of her party mem­ber­ship.

Af­ter the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic was founded in Oc­to­ber of that year she was still trusted enough to be as­signed to a news­pa­per, where she was charged with bring­ing in­de­pen­dent re­port­ing to heel. A few years later, she was al­lowed to ap­ply to Pek­ing Univer­sity. She had one of the high­est scores on the en­trance exam in the coun­try and was ad­mit­ted at age twenty-two to the Chi­nese de­part­ment.

Even though Lin suf­fered from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, she was ac­tive and pop­u­lar at Pek­ing Univer­sity: her many ad­mir­ers saw her as a mod­ern Lin Daiyu, the fair and frail hero­ine of China’s most fa­mous novel, Dream of the Red Cham­ber. Well ed­u­cated in clas­si­cal Chi­nese, she edited the po­etry jour­nal, de­lighted in recit­ing an­cient texts, and also en­joyed ball­room danc­ing. As one of her friends later re­counted in an ar­ti­cle: “Wear­ing a wreath made of the flow­ers she picked, she en­tered the ball­room and would dance to its very end.”

But her in­de­pen­dent spirit soon got her into more trou­ble. In 1957 the party launched the “Hun­dred Flow­ers” cam­paign, which en­cour­aged peo­ple to of­fer crit­i­cisms of it. Os­ten­si­bly a way to help the party im­prove its per­for­mance, the call for crit­i­cism was re­ally a trap. Two of Lin’s friends fell for it and of­fered a cri­tique in the form of a poem that they pasted on a wall. That spurred a mass protest by Pek­ing Univer­sity stu­dents against bu­reau­cratism and high-handed party of­fi­cials, as well as broader is­sues such as the party’s monopoly on truth.

The party’s coun­ter­at­tack against such protests was known as the An­tiRight­ist Cam­paign. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of ed­u­cated peo­ple were purged from schools, re­search in­sti­tutes, govern­ment of­fices, and en­ter­prises for crit­i­ciz­ing the party. It marked a for­mal end to any sort of tol­er­ance that the new govern­ment had for al­ter­na­tive view­points and un­leashed a twen­tyyear pe­riod of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism that ended with Mao’s death in 1976.

Lin naively came to her friends’ de­fense, writ­ing her own poem crit­i­ciz­ing the party’s defenders: “The power of truth/never lies in/the ar­ro­gant air/ of the guardians of truth.” She was not ar­rested, but she sym­pa­thized with the Right­ists, think­ing that the party had be­come cruel and un­bend­ing. She had sev­eral ro­man­tic af­fairs, and knew of plans that some had to flee China to set up a demo­cratic base abroad. She was de­clared a Right­ist for her role in de­fend­ing these govern­ment crit­ics and sen­tenced to three years of

“reed­u­ca­tion through la­bor.” This could have meant a la­bor camp, but be­cause of her tu­ber­cu­lo­sis—by then she was cough­ing up blood—she was al­lowed to work on cam­pus.

It was at this time that Lin broke with the party and re­turned to her Chris­tian roots. She re­sumed at­tend­ing church and openly de­scribed her­self as a Chris­tian. Her fi­ancé warned her against be­ing too head­strong, say­ing it was like smash­ing an egg on a rock. Her an­swer was typ­i­cal of her un­bend­ing char­ac­ter: “I have to strike it. If thou­sands upon thou­sands of eggs strike against it, this hard rock will be smashed.”

Even­tu­ally, her fi­ancé was as­signed to a la­bor camp in China’s far west, and Lin went to Shang­hai, where her mother lived, to seek med­i­cal treat­ment. There she heard about a group of stu­dents in western China who had been ex­iled for their be­liefs. She mailed them a copy of “Seag­ull,” a prose poem that dis­pensed with the sub­tleties and clas­si­cal al­lu­sions that typ­i­fied her ear­lier work. “Seag­ull” was a call for free­dom and op­po­si­tion to Mao and his reign of vi­o­lence:

The tyrant wields his sword and rod, and puts us on trial, be­cause he fears free­dom just as he fears fire.

He is afraid that once we find free­dom, his throne will be shaken, his fate will be dire.

One of the stu­dents was so ex­cited by her poem that he trav­eled to Shang­hai to meet her. By then she had al­ready com­pleted her most fa­mous poem, “A Day in Prometheus’s Pas­sion,” a 368-line ac­count of the Greek myth. In it, Zeus is a tor­tur­ing bully, but Prometheus’s op­po­si­tion leaves the great god ner­vous and de­fen­sive:

“But you ought to know, Prometheus, for the mor­tals, we do not want to leave even a spark.

Fire is for the gods, for in­cense and sac­ri­fice, how can the ple­beians have it for heat­ing or light­ing in the dark?”

The stu­dents in western China had been alarmed by the eco­nomic prob­lems caused by the govern­ment crack­down. Mao’s Great Leap For­ward (1958–1962) cre­ated the worst famine in his­tory, with tens of mil­lions dy­ing. In 1960 they pub­lished A Spark of Fire, a jour­nal of es­says and se­cret doc­u­ments re­veal­ing the un­fold­ing catas­tro­phe. Lin Zhao’s poem was the long­est sin­gle piece in what turned out to be the jour­nal’s only is­sue.

Au­thor­i­ties swiftly ar­rested the group, in­clud­ing Lin. She was re­leased in 1962 on med­i­cal pa­role due to her tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and af­ter she tem­po­rar­ily curbed her crit­i­cisms of the party. Af­ter the famine, mod­er­ates briefly side­lined Mao, and Lin was hope­ful that change was afoot. But once out on the street, she saw that the party hadn’t changed. She packed her clothes and in­formed neigh­bor­hood po­lice that she was ready to be taken back to prison. The party soon obliged, and later that year she was again be­fore a judge, charged with “coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion.” She ar­gued that the term was mean­ing­less, and that “the real ques­tion,” as Lian writes, “was not what crimes her gen­er­a­tion . . . had com­mit­ted against the ruler, but what crimes the ruler had com­mit­ted against them.” She was so blunt that the judge asked, “Are you sick?”

In fact, her men­tal health was pre­car­i­ous, which is un­sur­pris­ing given her soli­tary con­fine­ment and mis­treat­ment. The most com­mon form of tor­ture that she and oth­ers suf­fered was hand­cuff­ing, with the arms pulled be­hind the back and the hand­cuffs tightly fas­tened, leav­ing the in­mate un­able to eat, dress, or use the toi­let with­out help. In­mates like Lin of­ten had to lick their food off the floor and soil their trousers. Some cuffs were so tight that the shoul­ders would be dam­aged and the flesh of the wrists would rot, leav­ing per­ma­nent marks. At times, pris­on­ers would beat Lin, or guards would pull out her hair.

For these fi­nal six years of her life, Lin didn’t leave prison. But she kept writ­ing, mostly on pa­per with ink. When she was de­nied writ­ing im­ple­ments or when the is­sue was ur­gent, she wrote in her own blood. She would sharpen the end of a tooth­brush by scrap­ing it on the floor and then prick her fin­ger, col­lect­ing the blood in a spoon and then writ­ing with a sliver of bam­boo or reed. Some­times she wrote on scraps of pa­per, other times on her cloth­ing.

As Lian points out, her writ­ing is direct, an­gry, and shorn of nu­ance. Most fa­mously, she wrote a 137-page let­ter to the Com­mu­nist Party’s mouth­piece, Peo­ple’s Daily. She also used blood to paint an al­tar on her prison wall in honor of her fa­ther, who had com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter his ar­rest in 1960. She later added an in­cense burner and flow­ers, and from 9:30 AM to noon each Sun­day she held what she called “grand church wor­ship,” singing the hymns and say­ing the prayers she had learned in the Methodist girls school. Like other sin­gle-minded dis­si­dents— Liu Xiaobo, for ex­am­ple—Lin of­ten gave lit­tle thought to the suf­fer­ing her ob­sti­nance caused her fam­ily. Her mother re­ceived a stipend of only twelve yuan a month, but Lin bom­barded her with re­quests for blan­kets, food, and sup­plies. Lin’s un­wa­ver­ing op­po­si­tion also turned her sib­lings into po­lit­i­cal pari­ahs, and her brother chas­tised her as “the most self­ish per­son in the world.”

But this fo­cus came from her con­vic­tion—which would surely have seemed delu­sional to any­one who knew her at the time—that her writ­ings would last. In 1967 she de­scribed a re­cent 30,000-char­ac­ter batch of blood let­ters that she had sent to her mother in this self-con­fi­dent way: “In the fu­ture, they will make up yet an­other vol­ume of ei­ther my com­plete pub­lished works or a post­hu­mous col­lec­tion of my pa­pers.” Who could con­tem­plate in these cir­cum­stances that her works would be pub­lished? None of her let­ters reached her mother, let alone Peo­ple’s Daily. But prison guards didn’t de­stroy valu­able ev­i­dence against this en­emy of the state and the writ­ings stayed in her ever-ex­pand­ing file.

Her death in 1968 came dur­ing the ex­trem­ism of the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, when the state de­cided to kill es­pe­cially un­re­pen­tant crit­ics. When her death sen­tence was passed, she was made to wear a “Mon­key King cap”—named af­ter the myth­i­cal Chi­nese hero who was so un­con­trol­lable that he had to wear a band around his head that could be con­tracted to bring him to heel. In this case, it was a huge rub­ber hood with a slit cut for the eyes and a hole for her nose. The hood was only re­moved at meal­time.

When she was ex­e­cuted on April 29—a few days be­fore the big May Day cel­e­bra­tions—her fam­ily’s fate seemed sealed. Her mother slid into men­tal ill­ness. She tried to com­mit sui­cide by throw­ing her­self in front of a trol­ley but ended up with a gash on her head and a bro­ken pelvis. Her son be­came un­hinged too, and beat his mother. She died in 1975.

Mao’s death in 1976 ended the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. Slowly, in­for­ma­tion about Lin be­gan to come to light. In 1979 Pek­ing Univer­sity for­mally lifted the charge against her of be­ing a Right­ist. Later, the Xin­hua news agency held a memo­rial ser­vice for her.

The judge who re­viewed Lin’s file de­cided to re­lease much of her writ­ing to her fam­ily in 1982. This didn’t in­clude of­fi­cial court doc­u­ments, but did in­clude sheets of manuscripts, num­bered and bound with green thread, and four note­books of di­aries, as well as ink copies of her blood let­ters home, which Lin had copied so they would be pre­served for pos­ter­ity. Lian in­ter­viewed the judge, who said he was im­pressed by her po­etry and felt it should be de­liv­ered to her fam­ily, but that the orig­i­nal blood let­ters were “too much for the raw nerves.”

In the early 2000s, Lin’s friends and fi­ancé edited her writ­ings, and they slowly spread on­line. One of the first dis­si­dents to dis­cover them was Ding Zilin, the mother of a Tianan­men mas­sacre vic­tim. A fel­low alumna of the Methodist school in Suzhou, Ding

found Lin’s let­ters to be rev­e­la­tory, writ­ing that they were “a kind of re­demp­tion for my soul.”

Most im­por­tant was a doc­u­men­tary by the artist and film­maker Hu Jie.* Search­ing for Lin Zhao’s Soul (2004) tells her tale through in­ter­views with those who knew her. Hu’s film has dis­ap­peared from Chi­nese web­sites, but it re­mains im­por­tant for many Chi­nese dis­si­dents. Liu Xiaobo praised her, as did the prom­i­nent rights lawyer Xu Zhiy­ong, who called her “a mar­tyred saint, a prophet and a poet with an ec­static soul, the Prometheus of a free China.” Or as the well-known writer Cui Weip­ing put it, be­cause of the dis­cov­ery of Lin Zhao’s writ­ings, “we now have our ge­neal­ogy.”

3.

How does Lin ex­ist for some Chi­nese but not for oth­ers? How can dis­si­dents know of her, while most peo­ple re­main ig­no­rant?

To un­der­stand this we have Cen­sored, a new book by Mar­garet Roberts, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at San Diego. It pro­vides the clear­est and most con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tion of how in­for­ma­tion is con­trolled in to­day’s China. This is es­pe­cially valu­able be­cause most ideas about cen­sor­ship in China rest on fun­da­men­tal mis­un­der­stand­ings. Al­though we might imag­ine cen­sors as drudges wield­ing big red pens to strike out of­fend­ing words, re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with mil­lions of edi­tors, cu­ra­tors, direc­tors, pro­duc­ers, and ul­ti­mately with the cre­ators them­selves: writ­ers, artists, and mu­si­cians. They know what is off-lim­its and ex­er­cise self-cen­sor­ship, from top­ics such as the Tianan­men mas­sacre to rou­tine is­sues such as trade dis­putes, ter­ri­to­rial claims, or ur­ban re­de­vel­op­ment. Those writ­ing on these is­sues must be aware of the party’s view­point or face pun­ish­ment. In some cases, they do sub­mit works to a cen­sor for vet­ting, but mostly the cen­sor sits in the cre­ator’s head.

As for con­sumers, Roberts says they are con­trolled through “fric­tion” and “flood­ing.” As she puts it, cen­sor­ship in China is pri­mar­ily a “tax on in­for­ma­tion, forc­ing users to pay money or spend more time if they want to ac­cess the cen­sored ma­te­rial.” This means that in­for­ma­tion—say, a web­site with Lin Zhao’s writ­ings—might be in­ac­ces­si­ble in China. But some­one de­ter­mined to ac­cess it could buy a for­eign vir­tual pri­vate net­work, or VPN, which al­lows the per­son to ac­cess the uncensored In­ter­net, or per­haps try a free VPN—most of these are blocked in China, but de­ter­mined peo­ple can keep try­ing un­til one fi­nally works.

This is the fric­tion that makes it hard to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion. The flood­ing makes avail­able so many al­ter­na­tives— not just en­ter­tain­ment but gov­ern­men­tap­proved ver­sions of his­tory—that they will sat­isfy most peo­ple. If you are a stu­dent at Pek­ing Univer­sity and won­der who Lin Zhao was, there is an en­try on Baidu Baike, a gov­ern­men­tap­proved ver­sion of Wikipedia. It is fairly factual and de­scribes her case as typ­i­cal for in­tel­lec­tu­als dur­ing the

*See my “China’s In­vis­i­ble His­tory: An In­ter­view with Film­maker and Artist Hu Jie,” NYR Daily, May 27, 2015.

Anti-Right­ist Cam­paign, and if you searched that event, you would find that it was a re­gret­table pe­riod of ex­trem­ism for which the party has long since made amends and dis­tanced it­self. Most peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t search much fur­ther.

One of Roberts’s im­por­tant in­sights is that peo­ple aren’t will­ing to pay much for in­for­ma­tion, ei­ther in time or money, un­less it is im­me­di­ately per­ti­nent to their lives. So when the govern­ment wanted to push Google out of China in 2010, it did so by mak­ing the search en­gine ap­pear to mal­func­tion by not al­low­ing it to load 75 per­cent of the time. By con­trast, Baidu Baike was speedy. For all but the savvi­est of users, it sim­ply seemed that Google didn’t work. Use of Google plum­meted, and it left China. A ma­jor ad­van­tage of this pol­icy is that most peo­ple aren’t aware of it. This drives a wedge be­tween the elites and the masses, who are too busy and gen­er­ally un­in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics to search for banned ma­te­rial. “By sep­a­rat­ing the elite from the masses,” Roberts writes, “the govern­ment pre­vents co­or­di­na­tion of the core and the pe­riph­ery, known to be an es­sen­tial com­po­nent in suc­cess­ful col­lec­tive ac­tion.”

But this doesn’t mean that ef­forts to ac­cess this in­for­ma­tion are point­less. It’s in­con­ceiv­able, for ex­am­ple, that Baidu would have such a sub­stan­tive if in­com­plete ar­ti­cle on Lin Zhao were it not for Hu Jie’s doc­u­men­tary or the pub­li­ca­tion of Lin’s works on­line. While most peo­ple can­not see ei­ther, elites in China can, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble for Baidu and other gov­ern­menten­dorsed in­for­ma­tion out­lets to pre­tend that Lin didn’t ex­ist.

This is why it’s wrong to think that no one knows about Liu Xiaobo and his ter­ri­ble death a year ago. Many peo­ple have paid the price to learn about his fate. Last year, scores of peo­ple memo­ri­al­ized him on the beaches of north­ern China: they waded out into the wa­ter, lit can­dles, took self­ies, posted them on­line, and went to jail to show that they hadn’t for­got­ten.

In­evitably, these com­mem­o­ra­tions will be­came less fre­quent, mak­ing it easy for some to say that Liu is ir­rel­e­vant to most Chi­nese. But like Lin and her mem­ory, Liu’s will con­tinue to at­tract peo­ple devoted to the protest of one up­right per­son. And one day, when the de­fin­i­tive his­to­ries of this era are writ­ten, they will be part of it.

‘Lin Zhao Be­hind Bars’; paint­ing by Hu Jie, 2007

Lin Zhao with her fi­ancé, Gan Cui, Jing­shan Park, Bei­jing, circa 1959

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