In 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, 36-year-old poet and journalist Lin Zhao was executed inside Shanghai’s Tilanqiao Prison for her open and unbending opposition to what she called the “tyranny and slavery” of Chinese communism under Mao. Zhao had claimed to “follow the line of a servant of God, the political line of Christ” in her dissent; she had been holding her one-person “grand church service” each Sunday morning in her cell, starting promptly at 9:30 a.m.
An estimated total of two million Chinese perished during the violence of the Cultural Revolution, their voices lost or muted and their ideas irrelevant in our time. What has kept Lin Zhao’s voice alive and turned her tomb into a prime pilgrimage site for democracy activists in contemporary China? Historian Xi Lian, author of Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, A Martyr in Mao’s China (2018), discusses the life and writings of Lin Zhao who became, in the words of the late Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, “the only voice of freedom left for contemporary China.”
Xi is Professor of World Christianity at Duke Divinity School and also the author of Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (2010) and the Conversion of Missionaries: Liberalism in American Protestant Missions in China, 1907–1932 (1997).