Lin Zhao Wrote Poetry In Blood So Her Comrades Could Run Their Liquor-Addled Mouths

This is obscure Chinese poet Lin Zhao. She was executed by the Chinese government in 1968, at the age of 36 and the height of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. For the decade or so prior she had been imprisoned, for the crime of not confessing to being a counterrevolutionary. Maybe a half million people died during the Cultural Revolution and Lin Zhao probably would have gone completely forgotten, but for the fact that she'd earned a reputation as being one of the few women at her college who liked to drink and dance and run her mouth, and also the fact that she was so pissed about being locked up and tortured when she'd been such a devoted Communist that she wrote hundreds of thousands of words worth of poetry about it, using her own blood.

Oh yeah, and none of that would have been discovered if an intrepid photographer for state-run news service Xinhua hadn't learned all this upon learning a few stories about Lin and daring to ask the question, "But why would the Party imprison someone so clearly passionate about socialism and the brotherhood of the proletariat?" After all, she had supervised a the execution of a landlord.

No really, he really wondered this. See, your average Chinese college student is almost as ill-informed about the Cultural Revolution as your average American college student. The difference is that your average Chinese college student, upon realizing this, might find something actually wrong with that.

For nearly a month, he had been trying to learn about Lin Zhao, an obscure poet who grew up not far from Nanjing and attended Peking University in the 1950s. A friend told him that of all the students at the school, Lin was the only one who refused to write a political confession during the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Mao Zedong's 1957 purge of Communist Party critics. Her intransigence was rewarded with a prison term, and then a death sentence at the age of 36. But she left behind a secret legacy: She had continued writing in prison, using her own blood as ink.

Hu was stunned. He had never heard a story like Lin's, never imagined that anything like it could happen in China. He began looking into her story and was quickly drawn in. It was as if he had stumbled upon a mystery waiting to be unraveled. Why had she been executed? What did she do?

In essence: she basically just refused to shut her mouth, or succumb to torture and use it to take back everything she said about the Communist Party needing scrutiny and input from dissidents etc. etc.

Hu read feverishly deep into the night. The document was ostensibly a letter to the People's Daily, the party's official newspaper, but it was unlike any letter he had ever seen. Lin condemned the Anti-Rightist Campaign and accused the party of taking advantage of the idealism of her generation. She wrote of the abuse she suffered in prison, of guards who handcuffed her in painful positions and force-fed her through her nostrils. She described how she wrote in blood after they took away her pen, and how the prison saved her writing to use against her. Occasionally the letter deteriorated into an incoherent rant, but every page was brimming with emotion and defiance.

Anyway, an ex-boyfriend of Lin Zhao daringly managed to save the poems, which is more than you can say for all the countless other priceless ancient edifices, artifacts, artistic and literary works and sundry other manifestations of counterrevolutionary thought destroyed during the campaign, and when Hu Jie got hold of them, he decided to film a documentary about Lin. Of course, since China is decades ahead of us on FISA-type tricks, the authorities were onto him, but after a brief chat, they decided not to break his legs or anything. So, the documentary is out and Lin's story can now go on to activate the spirits of that tiny half-percentage of the population interested in things like mob rule and groupthink and the disarming sincerity of the victims of some of history's most incomprehensible acts of cruelty... and maybe what the consequences suffered by people dedicated to the seemingly benign pursuit of the truth can teach us about the present condition.

While leaving the rest of us to ponder such questions as, 'So you think she used her menstrual blood?'

A Past Written In Blood [Washington Post]

Out Of Mao's Shadow

To Remember History: Hu Jie Talks About His Documentaries [Senses Of Cinema]