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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

BLOOD LETTERS: THE UNTOLD STORY of LIN ZHAO, a MARTYR in MAO'S CHINA by Lian Xi



To be published by Basic Books on March 20, 2018

Lin Zhao was a political prisoner in China during the reign of Mao, from 1960 until her execution in 1968. She was imprisoned for criticizing the Communist Party for, among other things,  causing an immense amount of suffering for the rural poor during the Great Leap Forward campaign. 


Lin Zhao (1932-1968)
Lin Zhao's early life is a series of contradictions. Her family worked with the Nationalist (anti-Communist) government for a time, but switched sides. She attended a Christian school for a while and seemed devout in her faith, but then ran away from home to join the Communists. Throughout her life, she was a headstrong woman who developed a habit of speaking her mind no matter the consequences. She was a talented writer and often wrote highly symbolic poems that were critical of the Chinese Communist Party, in addition to letters, articles and essays.

When she was actively encouraged to offer constructive criticism of the Communist Party as part of the Hundred Flowers Movement, she did so. Sadly, those criticisms served as the basis of her arrest in 1960.

While she was in prison she was often beaten and treated roughly by her captors. She also returned to her Christian faith. Her criticisms of the party became much more pointed - often calling out Mao himself in letters that were never sent out of the prison. While she usually had access to ink, Lin Zhao often chose to write her letters with her own blood. She developed a way to squeeze out a little blood at a time and write with it before it coagulated.

Her letters were collected by her guards and kept in a file as evidence of her crimes. Later, years after her death, her writings were smuggled to her family. Many of them are now kept in Stanford University.

This was a challenging book to read - and not because of the topic. This book was often a dense, tedious read. If I hadn't had a couple of classes in college 30 years ago, I would have had little background as to the delicate situation that Lin Zao's family was trying to negotiate by going back and forth between the Nationalist and Communist governments. The book assumes that the reader has a solid handle on Chinese history from the 1930's through the 1960's.

Other times, the book seems to make random stabs 
into obscure corners in an attempt to give the book some context but it mostly fails. I left the book feeling like I got a glimpse of what was going on but, on the whole, it was mostly a missed opportunity.

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: 
BLOOD LETTERS: THE UNTOLD STORY of LIN ZHAO, a MARTYR in MAO'S CHINA.

Note: I received a preview copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program.

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