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Matches Polished into Lights:
Tiananmen Thirty Years On
(Mon 3 June 2019; 730 pm)
Cha and PEN Hong Kong
Media support: Hong Kong Free Press
Venue: Bleak House Books
Moderator: Tammy Ho
- Guo Ting’s “Lin Zhao (1932-1968), A Martyr in Mao’s China Who Created Our Genealogy” (an excerpt)
On May 31, 1965, Lin Zhao was tried in Shanghai and sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment as the leader of a “counterrevolutionary clique” that published A Spark of Fire 星火, an underground journal that decried Mao’s misrule, including the great famine (1959-1961) that cost at least 36 million lives.
“This is a shameful ruling!” Lin Zhao wrote on the back of the verdict the next day, in her own blood. The next year, Lin wrote an appeal to the United Nations asking to testify in person about her torture and about human rights abuses in China. Three years later, she was executed by gunshot within prison yard under specific instructions from Chairman Mao himself.
A hundred years ago, China propagated “Mr Democracy and Mr Science”, progressive modernity has since then been wearing a masculine suit. Lin’s struggle began with the Hundred Flowers Movement in the 50s, long before the Cultural Revolution, but she accurately predicated the direction of personal cult and a Communist China diverged from her earlier, idealistic hopes for communism. Lin did not live to see how two decades later, students of Peking University, her alma mater, marched to Tiananmen Square to make the same democratic demand she once earnestly envisioned in her blood letters. However, thanks to Lin Zhao, we now have our genealogy of dissidents of a regime that took her life and the lives of numerous others. While we remember and commemorate landmark events such as the Tiananmen, it is important to tell lesser-known stories like hers to more people and wider audience. It is also high time for more dialogues on experience and creative, courageous responses from ordinary people, especially less privileged sexes, rather than heroic figures only. Governments are building walls, and yet we still have options and means to dismantle and enable.
“After you died I could not hold a funeral,
And so my life became a funeral.”
“The day I stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of my fellow civilians, staring down the barrels of the soldiers’ guns, the day the bodies of those first two slaughtered were placed in a handcart and pushed at the head of the column, I was startled to discover an absence in side myself: the absence of fear. I remember feeling that it was all right to die; I felt the blood of a hundred thousand hearts surging together into one enormous artery, fresh and clean…the sublime enormity of a single heart, pulsing blood through that vessel and into my own. I dared to feel a part of it.”
“I never let myself forget that every single person I meet is a member of this human race.”
Born in Shanghai, Guo Ting spent her formative years in Scotland studying anthropology and religious studies, and worked for Oxford and Purdue Universities before moving back to Asia. Her doctoral thesis on Alan Turing and being human in the Digital Age won the Edinburgh Innovative Award, and made the cover of Anthropology Today. She is currently turning the thesis into a book, while working on the politics of love in modern China, as a comparative study of secularism and the quest for identity. She writes bilingually, contributes to LA Review of Books, openDemocracy, and has two books forthcoming: Politics of Aesthetics (審美的政治) and An Anthropologist’s Charity and Vintage Life (人類學家的舊物之戀), to be published in Taiwan and mainland China simultaneously. She is currently teaching at the University of Hong Kong. She is a contributor to Cha‘s “Tiananmen Thirty Years On” feature in the June 2019 issue of the journal.
[Guo Ting: A featured reader at “Matches Polished into Lights: Tiananmen Thirty Years On”—a reading jointly organised by Cha and PEN Hong Kong, on Monday 3 June 2019.]