Lin Zhao

Chinese poet Lin Zhao is gradually making a posthumous name for herself, mainly among the cliques of dissidents and intellectuals.

She was executed in 1968, after spending the last 8 years of her life in jail for publishing critical articles. Over that period she managed a stunning output, even by the standards of people committed enough to choose jail and death on the basis of principle. 200,000 words. Written in blood. On the paper provided so she could free herself by writing a confession.

I’ve not managed to track down much of her poetry — there are a couple of pieces here and here. Neither is particularly memorable in English, but then I doubt they are easy to translate.

It does, of course, fit uncomfortably well into tropes of martyrdom, religious or political. You could doubtless find a direct counterpart of Lin in the lives of the Catholic saints. And it doesn’t make complete sense: why would the jailors would provide paper but no ink?

For all that, it’s a story that brings you up short. And, apparently, it’s becoming easier to talk about Lin in China:

In 2004, the Beijing Youth Daily published a feature about Lin while Southern Weekly has also run several articles about her.

Lin’s poems are also becoming more widely circulated. People are starting to see the value in her writings as a complement to Cultural Revolution literature, which is virtually non-existent.

“So many people kept silent during those years, but she was still speaking up,” said Hu. “She represented the most beautiful quality of mankind, its conscience.”

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