Nelson Mandela. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Martin Luther King Jr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. When we think of 20th-century political dissidents who were people of faith, these are the names that spring to mind. And for good reason: These men left an indelible mark on humanity with their resolve and fortitude, their eloquent words, and their profound wrestling with what it meant to oppose injustice. Now, thanks to the research of historian Lian Xi, we have a new name to add to the list: Lin Zhao, the only Chinese citizen known to have openly and steadfastly opposed communism under Mao Zedong.
Lian Xi, a professor of world Christianity at Duke Divinity School, has written extensively about China’s modern encounter with Christianity. His first book, The Conversion of Missionaries (1997), is a critical study of American Protestant missions in early 20th-century China. His second book, Redeemed by Fire: The Rise of Popular Christianity in Modern China (2010), examines the transformation of missionary Christianity into a lively, indigenous Chinese faith. Lian began researching the life of Lin Zhao in 2012, and he received a copy of her prison writings the following year. The resulting book, Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China, draws from those prison writings, years of interviews and correspondence with those who knew Lin Zhao intimately, and extensive field research in Suzhou and Beijing.
Lin Zhao’s story is not easy to read. It has few glimpses of hope and far more despair than triumph. Doubtless, Lian bears secondary trauma from living with it for so many years. Yet knowing Lin Zhao’s story feels essential for anyone who wants to understand the true cost—to mind, body, and ...1