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Tom Rosshirt
Tom Rosshirt
26 Apr 2013

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China's Communist Party Censors


There was a knock at the door. When they answered it, a police officer was standing outside. ...

"You are Lin Zhao's mother? Your daughter has been suppressed. Pay the five-fen bullet fee."

The older woman was confused. The police officer spoke again, his voice rising: "Hurry and pay the five-fen bullet fee. Your daughter has been executed by gunshot."

As her mother stood stunned in the doorway, Lin's sister rushed into another room, fumbled through a drawer for five fen — the equivalent of less than a penny — then returned and gave it to the officer. It was not until the man left that her mother realized what had just transpired. Suddenly, she collapsed on the floor in grief, sobbing and crying.

The scene above, taken from Philip Pan's book, "Out of Mao's Shadow," comes from the story of an idealistic and defiant young woman who was imprisoned, tortured and killed for criticizing China's Communist Party.

Lin Zhao, a gifted writer and poet, was completely loyal to the party — at first. When Mao Zedong, in his Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1957, decided to encourage some criticism of the government, Lin Zhao went along. Mao had expected a "mild rain" of criticism. When a typhoon hit instead, he reversed himself. In Mao's subsequent Anti-Rightist Campaign, the party went after those who had accepted Mao's invitation to speak up.

Lin Zhao was the only student at Peking University who refused to "confess." She was given three years. In 1960, she joined others in a risky gamble to start an underground magazine that was critical of the party. She and her fellow publishers were angry over the reports of mass starvation as a result of the Great Leap Forward — a scheme of Mao's that drove farmers off the land and into primitive industrial projects. The lost farming productivity led to food shortages and starvation, and the party did nothing but deny it.

A colleague of Lin Zhao's said of the magazine: "We were certain we would be punished for doing it. But we felt we had to do it. Somebody had to stand up. If nobody dared to speak out, there would be no hope for the nation."

In 1999, a man named Hu Jie, a cameraman and producer for Xinhua, the government's official news agency, learned of the life of Lin Zhao and began pondering it as a subject for a film.

A month later, he was fired — which solidified his commitment to the project.

Hu was encouraged when he discovered a surprisingly bold 1998 article published in Southern Weekend, a newspaper in Guangdong province. The article described Lin Zhao as "a hero who 40 years ago insisted on the truth without fear of those with power."

Pan noted in his book that it was perhaps the first time in nearly 20 years that Lin Zhao's name had appeared in a Chinese newspaper, and "it couldn't have been easy for the editors at Southern Weekend to slip it in."

The editors at Southern Weekend still are doing bold things today. The paper's editors and reporters erupted in protest last week when the top Communist Party propaganda official in Guangdong province rewrote a New Year's Day editorial calling for enforcement of constitutional rights; it turned into an editorial praising the Communist Party.

The move triggered a backlash from students, intellectuals and journalists and raised calls nationwide for free press and political reform. The central propaganda officials in Beijing responded by forcing papers — including Beijing News — to run an editorial attacking Southern Weekend. One journalist from Beijing News blogged: "We don't want to kneel down. ... We are kneeling down this one time while gnashing our teeth."

Lin Zhao was sentenced to 20 years for her role in publishing the underground magazine. In prison, she continued to shout out her protests until prison officials forced her to wear a helmet that covered everything but her eyes to muffle the sound of her shouts. After a time, officials recommended that she be executed, citing her practice of "insanely attacking, cursing and slandering our great Chinese Communist Party and our great leader Chairman Mao."

Lin Zhao was very ill and spitting up blood in the prison hospital when they came for her. "Incorrigible counterrevolutionary, your judgment day has arrived!" they shouted at her, and then they took her — not even allowing her to change out of her hospital gown. She went calmly, asking the nurse to say goodbye to the doctor.

She left behind hundreds of pages of passionate, defiant passages, written from prison in her own blood. Among those words she first wrote after receiving her sentence of 20 years: "Justice will prevail! Long live freedom!"

Maybe someday.

Tom Rosshirt was a national security speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and a foreign affairs spokesman for Vice President Al Gore. Email him at To find out more about Tom Rosshirt and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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