The tomb of Lin Zhao in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province is covered with flowers left by mourners.
Seeing a crowd of people gathered around the tomb and reading poems, Hu Jie could not hide his surprise.
This group had come together from across the country to honor the memory of Lin Zhao, an outspoken female student who was labeled as a "rightist" for criticizing Chairman Mao Zedong and executed in 1968. The mourners, ranging from college students to retirees, read poems that Lin had written in blood during eight years in prison. They all took notice and pointed at the surveillance camera set up near the tomb to show they are not afraid.
"I have often come here but rarely met anyone, except for a few putting flowers on the grave," said Hu, 54, an independent filmmaker known for directing a documentary about Lin. "This public attention to her is spontaneous."
Over the past decade, Lin's story has become increasingly well-known and discussed. On April 29, the anniversary of her execution, famous writer Han Han, who has more than 3.6 million followers on Sina Weibo, wrote on his microblog to remind people of this memorable day.
"Many young people don't know the name of Lin Zhao. Life is short, freedom is priceless. History has proclaimed her innocence, but history has also collected a fee for her bullet. Let the bullet stop here," he wrote. This comment has been re-posted over 47,000 times.
Within hours, searches had surged on Baidu and Weibo for "Lin Zhao," "Lin Zhao's story" and other related keywords.
Remembering a fallen hero
Hu believes this renewed interest in Lin's tragic story reflects a growing desire to remember the past and see changes take place today.
Hu first heard about Lin back in 1999. The image of a frail woman writing using her own blood in prison stuck with him and haunted him. He then spent five years digging into newspaper clippings and talking to Lin's family and friends before shooting his film.
While making his documentary, In Search of Lin Zhao's Soul, Hu had difficulty in finding documents and getting people to talk. "The overall atmosphere was tense and cautious," he recalled. The film came out in 2004, but never got a public release. It is now mainly circulated online between those curious about Lin's life and times.
Lin, born Peng Lingzhao in 1932, was a fervent supporter of the Communist Party of China during the revolution. She joined other young revolutionaries and placed landowners in icy tanks of water during winter. She even wrote denunciations of the "crimes" of her parents, like many young people back then.
However, her studies at Peking University during the 1950s gave her a more critical outlook on the country's political direction.
During the Hundred Flowers Movement in 1957 when free speech was encouraged, people were encouraged to criticize and make suggestions to the government. However, this was quickly followed by retaliation and an "anti-rightist" movement.
In 1957, Lin publicly defended a fellow student who had criticized the government. She was then labeled as a rightist along with other 800 students at the university.
Lin resisted efforts to make her give up her stance and continued to speak out about equality, freedom and democracy. In 1960, she published two poems in an underground pro-democracy magazine, and was immediately arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison. A total of 39 people were arrested because of the magazine.
Even in prison, Lin refused to confess. She continued to write articles criticizing Mao and wrote poems using her own blood for ink. She was then sentenced to 20 years in jail before seeing her sentence changed to the death penalty.
Lin was executed on April 29, 1968 in Shanghai at the age of 36. An officer informed her mother of the execution and collected the fee for the bullet.
In 1980, Lin was judged to have been innocent and wrongfully executed.
In 2004, some of Lin's former classmates put some money together and set up a tombstone for her in Lingyanshan mountain cemetery in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. On the back of the tombstone, they engraved Lin's poem that roughly means, "Freedom is priceless, life is short, I'd rather die with honor, for my country."
Over the years more and more people found their way to the cemetery to pay respect. There are also several websites that set up online memorials for her.
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