Lin Zhao was a figure of Chinese dissidence under Mao. This daughter of a bourgeois, the eldest child of an affluent family in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, engaged in the Communist Revolution and executed without a trial during the Cultural Revolution, today enjoys the status of an icon for many intellectuals in her country.
The short life of Lin Zhao, born Peng Lingzhao (1931 or 1932-1968), could have been written in red letters: red for the Maoist China whose birth coincides with hers; red from communism, which she then joined and which she dreamed would transform her country; red, finally, like her blood with which she sometimes had to write texts and poems from the Shanghai prison where she was detained from 1960 to her death in 1968.
Her story is part of that generation of intellectuals who believed that a place would be made for them in the new society, convinced that they could continue to occupy their position as adviser or critic of the government. It did not happen. And if the life of Lin Zhao strikes us with its tragic force, she is only one of those Chinese men and women who disappeared since the advent of Communist China. But that young woman with the face of an angel has been elevated to the rank of an icon of dissidence at the turn of the 2000s.
In love with justice, Lin Zhao, the Chinese activist, believed in Mao’s regime before she ended fighting it and making the ultimate sacrifice. In her country, the young woman, converted to Christianity, is considered, since the turn of this century, as a holy figure and an icon of political resistance thanks to the social media which is called the ‘people’s space’ in China. That is because there, information is allowed to pass through the mesh of repression.
The Chinese revolution proved to be the Golgotha of those who were then destined for journalism. Excluded from underground activity after having disobeyed an order, Lin Zhao would always have her ‘bourgeois’ origins against her, merchants on one side and mandarins on the other. Pursuing the cause of justice, determined to break with the old world, she gave herself to the Maoist cause. During the agrarian reform (1950), she even directed the trials requiring death penalty against the ‘middle peasants’ and the ‘rich’. Worse, she denounced her parents, ‘reactionary bureaucrats of the old regime’.
At 25, when the regime launched the Hundred Flowers, she regained her lucidity, detecting ‘a contradiction between the System and its conscience’. Attacked as ‘belonging to the right’, she refused to conduct self-criticism. That proved to be a double sin for this ‘enemy of the people’, already weakened by tuberculosis. From then on, she turned into a ‘freedom fighter’, denouncing in clandestine newspapers and forbidden meetings ‘the true colours of the masked devil’.
Imprisoned in 1960, subjected to hunger, torture and rape as the Cultural Revolution devastated the country, Lin Zhao continued her struggle between the four walls, writing hundreds of texts of denunciation with her blood. She was executed on April 29, 1968. She was only 35.