The Blog

The Cultural Revolution Continues

11:18 AM, Apr 28, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Lin Zhao, a fearless critic of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party who was executed at the height of the Cultural Revolution. This past February, a campaign was launched in Chinese cyberspace calling on the public to gather on April 29 by her tomb in Suzhou, in the eastern province of Jiangsu, for a memorial.

The online proposal seems to have caught the eye of the authorities. Hu Di, one of the signatories, has been summoned by police for questioning. Video cameras have reportedly been installed around Lin Zhao's grave. A plaque marking the entrance to the cemetery has been removed, and local residents have been instructed by police not to disclose the location of her tomb.

Lin Zhao is the pen name of Peng Lingzhao. In 1957, while studying at Peking University, she was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" after criticizing Mao's Anti-rightist Movement.
In 1960, Lin Zhao drafted a petition regarding the case against Peng Dehuai, the Red Army commander and onetime defense minister who incurred Mao's wrath for his criticism of the disastrous Great Leap Forward. In October of that year, Lin Zhao was arrested on charges of "active counter-revolution" for publishing an underground magazine. Shortly after her arrest, Lin Zhao's British-educated father, who had himself been labeled a "counter-revolutionary," committed suicide by taking rat poison.

In 1962, Lin Zhao was sentenced to 20 years in prison. While there, she continued her writings. After the authorities confiscated her pen and paper in September 1964, she used a hairpin dipped in her own blood to write poems and essays on her cell walls, clothes, and bed sheets.

On April 29, 1968, Lin Zhao's 20-year sentence was changed to death by immediate execution. Gagged and handcuffed, Lin Zhao was shot dead at Longhua Airport in Shanghai. She was 36. Her mother and sister learned of the execution two days later when the police showed up at their doorstep demanding payment for the bullets used to kill her.

The beefed-up security at Lin Zhao's tomb in anticipation of tomorrow's graveside memorial is Beijing's most recent attempt to erase her from the collective memory of the Chinese people. The majority of her writings remain sealed by the authorities. A 2004 documentary titled Looking for Lin Zhao's Soul was limited to private showings. Filmmaker Hu Jie lost his job with the official Xinhua News Agency because of his involvement in the project. And Lu Xuesong, an instructor at the Jilin College of Fine Arts, was suspended after showing the film to her students.

What has the Chinese government got to fear from a woman who perished four decades ago? Organizers of the memorial expressed one view when they noted that "even though Lin Zhao's country has witnessed many changes in the 40 years since her passing, the totalitarian politics that she strove to change remain the same."