Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao's China

Xi Lian
Basic Books
Published Year: 
Image of Lin Zhao on cover of Professor Xi Lian's biography

Xi Lian, professor of World Christianity at Duke Divinity School, has written a new book that tells the astonishing story of the only Chinese citizen known to have openly and steadfastly opposed communism under Mao. The biography is being published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of her execution.

The book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao's China, will be released March 20 by Basic Books. It recounts the story of Lin Zhao, a poet, journalist, and devoted Christian arrested by the Communist authorities in 1960 and executed eight years later on April 29, 1968, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. After she was shot, the authorities ordered her family to pay a five-cent “bullet fee.”

The book describes how in her teens, Lin Zhao attended a Methodist mission school in Suzhou, where she was baptized as a Christian but also secretly joined the Communist revolution. Her disillusionment with communism came after she was purged as a Rightist in 1958. Thereafter she embarked on political dissent. She rooted her dissent in a fervent Christian faith—and expressed it in long, prophetic writings often done in her own blood, at times on her clothes and on cloth torn from her bedsheets.

“During her imprisonment,” a prison report states, Lin Zhao “poked her flesh countless times and used her filthy blood to write hundreds of thousands of words of extremely reactionary, extremely malicious letters, notes, and diaries, madly attacking, abusing, and slandering our party and its leader.” She drew blood with a makeshift prick—a bamboo pick, a hair clip, or the plastic handle of her toothbrush, sharpened against the concrete floor—and held it in a plastic spoon, in which she dipped her “pen,” often a thin bamboo strip or a straw stem. Her letters were addressed variously to the party propaganda apparatus, the United Nations, the prison authorities, and her mother. She called them her “freedom writings.”

In recounting this tale of courage and faith in the face of unrelenting evil, Professor Xi Lian draws upon Lin Zhao’s prison writings that survived and only recently came to light. He also conducted extensive interviews with Lin Zhao’s friends, classmates, and former political prisoners.

Blood Letters is the first authoritative, documented biography of Lin Zhao, whom the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo called “the only voice of freedom left for contemporary China.”

Xi Lian is the author of two other books, The Conversion of Missionaries, and Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China, winner of the 2011 Christianity Today Book Award.

Professor Lian on Lin Zhao

More about the book

Read an article, “Learning from History about Changing the World,” about Xi Lian’s scholarship on the Divinity School website. 

See a book review by Christianity Today, “How Christian Faith Led a Single Woman to Defy Chairman Mao.”

Attend a book launch and reception for Blood Letters being sponsored by Duke Divinity School on March 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Alumni Memorial Common Room (152 Langford Building) at the school.