Chinese Police Cordon Off Grave of Mao-Era Dissident, Detain Dozens of Activists

Activists trying to mark the anniversary of Lin Zhao's execution for 'counterrevolutionary crimes' are detained or placed under house arrest.

Activists mark the 49th anniversary of the death of Lin Zhao at her grave in Suzhou, April 29, 2017.

Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou threw a tight security cordon around the grave of a political dissident executed during the Mao-era, as activists converged upon the area in a bid to mark the 49th anniversary of her death.

Activists arrived in the vicinity of the cemetery housing the remains of Lin Zhao on Saturday, the anniversary of her execution for alleged counterrevolutionary crimes under the rule of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

They had planned to hold a memorial event at the Lingyan Shan hillside cemetery. But while some were unable even to approach the site, others somehow managed to evade the security cordon, according to photos seen by RFA.

"We couldn't even get onto the road that leads up to the cemetery today," an activist surnamed Chen said. "Previously, Lin Zhao's tomb has always been open to the public."

"Now is surrounded by wire fencing, which is open most of the time, but which was locked up a couple of days ago," Chen said.

He said it was unclear whether the police operation had been ordered by Jiangsu provincial authorities, or from the highest levels in Beijing.

"Either way ... they are intercepting large numbers of people heading to the area, and taking them to the local police station," he said. "Some have been prevented from even setting out, and are being kept at home [under house arrest]."

"Some people we know in Suzhou, Wuxi and Nanjing have been prevented from leaving home and are now under surveillance," Chen said.

An official who answered the phone at the Suzhou municipal government offices on Monday declined to comment.

'Stability maintenance'

Jiangsu-based rights activist Hua Chunhui said the "stability maintenance" operation had prevented him from traveling to visit Lin Zhao's grave.

"I will usually go every year, but now they've got me under surveillance," Hua told RFA. "The state security police detained me at the door of my home, because they were afraid of a mass gathering there [on the anniversary]."

"A lot of people are under surveillance here in Wuxi, maybe 100 or more, I'd say," he said. "They detained a lot of people there last year who went to Lin Zhao's grave."

He said Lin has long been a poignant symbol for Chinese dissidents and democracy activists, but she has since also become a focal point for the country's army of petitioners, ordinary people who pursue complaints against the ruling Chinese Communist Party through official channels.

"Since the petitioners started going there a couple of years ago, the numbers have risen sharply," Hua said.

Some activists said they would be marking the anniversary of Lin's execution in their own way.

Fujian-based blogger and member of the Independent Chinese PEN writers' group Fan Yanqiong said there had been a number of memorial activities online in the form of social media posts.

"It's important to remember her," Fan said. "It's like June 4, 1989 [the bloody crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement]. There are memorial events for that every year, too."

"Just like the 1989 protesters, we are all hoping that China will develop in the direction of human rights, constitutional government and justice for all," she said.

Star student

Lin Zhao was the pen name of Peng Lingzhao, a writer who grew up near Nanjing, in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

A star student at the prestigious Beijing University's Chinese language department in 1954, Lin worked for student poetry publication "Red Mansion."

Lin was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" in 1957 for her criticism of then supreme leader Mao Zedong's Anti-Rightist Movement targeting intellectuals.

She then went on to publicly defend army general Peng Dehuai's criticism of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961), during which tens of millions are estimated to have starved to death.

Initially detained on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the ruling Chinese Communist Party, Lin was later handed a 20-year jail term for "counterrevolution."

She was subjected to brutal torture while in jail, but continued to write until her pen and paper were taken away in September 1964, after which she wrote poems and essays on the walls and bedding using a hairpin dipped in her own blood.

She was executed by firing squad at Shanghai's Longhua Airport in 1968 at the age of 36 after her sentence was changed to the death penalty because she refused to plead guilty.

She had previously written a message in her own blood, which read: "History will declare that I am innocent."

Her mother and sister knew nothing of the execution until police visited the family two days later, demanding payment for the bullets used to kill her.

Lin's treatment at the hands of the state was believed to have led to the suicide of both parents, at different times. She has a surviving sister who lives in the United States.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.