In This Review

Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China
Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China
By Lian Xi
352 pp, Basic Books, 2018

Lin Zhao was executed in 1968 in Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison for her opposition to Chairman Mao Zedong, and she became famous in the post-Mao period when some of her many letters from prison, mostly written in her own blood, were given to her family by prison officials and published online. (They now reside at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.) Lin’s passionate, literate, and penetrating cellblock writings form the basis for Lian’s moving account of her tragic life. In the early years of Mao’s rule, Lin was an enthusiastic communist. But she fell afoul of the leadership during the Hundred Flowers movement, when intellectuals were invited to criticize the Chinese Communist Party. She “resisted reform” through long periods of ostracism and imprisonment, eventually reconverting to Christianity, her family’s religion. She was tortured in prison by guards who handcuffed her for long periods, exposed her to freezing temperatures, and left her in solitary confinement. As her letters wavered between clarity and delirium, her jailers accused her of “madly attacking, abusing, and slandering [the Chinese Communist] party and its leader.” After Lin’s death, her grave became a pilgrimage site for pro-democracy activists, and in 2004, the Chinese independent filmmaker Hu Jie made a documentary about her.