In solitary confinement in Tilanqiao Prison, Lin Zhao wrote: “I’d rather die free / than a slave in prison be.” What makes such harrowing words all the more disturbing is that they were marked on the cell walls in her own blood. She wrote tens of thousands of vicious letters and poems condemning Communist dictatorship, which have been largely forgotten. She was impatient for change. Too impatient, perhaps: she was executed in 1968 at age 35.
“In Search of Lin Zhao’s Soul,” preserves her memory. Sponsored by the Film Studies Program and the Council on East Asian Studies, the documentary was screened on Tuesday, followed by a question and answer period with its director, Hu Jie.
It is a documentary in the truest, most essential, sense of the term. Editing and camera work are raw and elemental, giving it the feeling of a manuscript. But what it archives is so real that nothing seems omissible.
The film paints China’s past in less radiant colors than official histories. We learn from interviews with former classmates that Lin was a poet at Beijing University. After being labeled a rightist in 1958, she was sentenced to prison for 20 years.
Self-funded and working in secret, its director has emerged as a serious voice for reform. Through the use of footage of historical events incorporated into the narrative, Hu places Lin’s story in context, connecting the atrocities wrought by the CCP on millions to one very human victim.
Hu commented to a small audience that he made the film so today’s generation will better understand the “cruel history” of the past to avoid disaster in the future.
The end of “In Search of Lin Zhao’s Soul” poses the question: “Will our history enter our memory?” For her vehement defense of human dignity against oppression, Lin enters our memory, remaining there indelibly. For the same reasons, Hu Jie does as well.
The Film Studies Center is currently collecting Hu’s films.