Late Activist’s Writings Saved

The writings of an outspoken critic of China’s early Communist policies go to a Western university.

Lin-Zhao-Writings-305.jpg Peng Lingfan, sister of Lin Zhao, speaks to a student at the Hoover Institution on the campus of Stanford University, Oct. 27, 2009.

SAN FRANCISCO—The literary work of an outspoken Chinese political activist who was executed for her beliefs has been presented to a university for further study, in a private ceremony attended by her only living relative.

Peng Lingfan, sister of the late Lin Zhao, donated the writings to Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in a ceremony Oct. 27, at which she discussed the newly revealed collection.

Historian Thomas Mullaney called at the ceremony for Lin’s works to be more carefully studied to restore China’s lost history.

At the ceremony, Peng said the Hoover Institution was the best place to store Lin’s work.

She also stressed that “what happened to Lin Zhao is still happening right now in China, only at varying degrees,” referring to her outspoken sister’s jailing and execution.

The collection includes a group of Lin’s essays and poems written from jail, containing hundreds of thousands of words.

Among the essays are a journal written with blood on a shirt and a letter addressed to the editorial department of the official People’s Daily newspaper.

Other items include the written verdict of her death sentence, issued by the court in 1968, and a collection of photos showing Lin Zhao.

The artifacts will soon be on public display.

Early activism

Lin Zhao is the pen name of Peng Lingzhao, an obscure writer who grew up near the city of Nanjing in China’s eastern Jiangsu province.

Lin enrolled in Beijing University’s Chinese language department in 1954 and became actively involved in a campus poetry publication named “Red Mansion.”

In 1957, she was branded a "rightist" and a "class enemy" after criticizing Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Movement, during which intellectuals who had previously been encouraged to criticize the Party were punished.

In 1960, Lin drafted a petition regarding the case against Peng Dehuai, the People's Liberation 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, she was arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the Communist Party.

Two years later, Lin was arrested again—this time on charges of “counterrevolution"—and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Shortly after her arrest, Lin's British-educated father, who had himself been labeled a "counterrevolutionary," committed suicide by eating rat poison.

Writings in jail

During her time in prison Lin continued her writings, even as she endured brutal torture at the hands of her jailors.

After 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’s sentence was changed to death because she refused to plead guilty to her “crimes” against the state.

Gagged and handcuffed, Lin was shot dead at Longhua Airport in Shanghai at 36.

Lin wrote in her own blood prior to the execution: “History will declare that I am innocent.”

Her mother and sister learned of the execution two days later when police showed up at their doorstep demanding payment for the bullets used to kill her.

Years later, Lin’s mother suffered a psychological collapse and committed suicide.

Peng Lingfan, who now lives in Baltimore, is Lin’s only living family member.

Recovered work

The majority of Lin’s writings remain sealed by Chinese authorities.

But while researching a 2004 documentary titled "Looking for Lin Zhao’s Soul," filmmaker Hu Jie discovered a cache of writings in the possession of Lin’s former lover, a retired librarian in Beijing named Gan Cui.

After the tumultuous Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, a police official had risked punishment and given a selection of Lin's writings to her sister.

Another family member had given them to Gan.

Hu eventually lost his job with the official Xinhua News Agency because of his involvement in the project, but his efforts to document Lin Zhao’s life drew praise from many Chinese for preserving a part of history that Chinese officials hoped to erase.

Those writings eventually made their way back to Peng Lingfan and on to Stanford University, where they will be studied in order to preserve Lin’s legacy.

Original reporting by C.K. for RFA’s Mandarin service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Feng Xiaoming. Written for the Web in English by Joshua Lipes. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Nov 07, 2009 03:49 AM

I am in the middle of Phil Pan's "Out of Mao's Shadow," so it was with amazement that I came across this story that Lin Zhao's sister has just donated these writings to the Hoover Institution a few days ago. I hope Peng Lingfan is correct in that the writings are best kept at Hoover, and I hope that Hoover does an appropriate job of making them available on the web as stated, complete with English translations. Hoover must realize how precious and unique this gift is and do its best to preserve and disseminate Lin Zhao's writings. After all, that is the only hope she had left during her years of imprisonment and as she faced her execution, and we at long last have the opportunity to fulfill that hope.