Free Zhang Zhan – Speech at the Lin Zhao Freedom Award Ceremony

Yaxue Cao, December 7, 2021

I want to thank ChinaAid for recognizing Zhang Zhan and for allowing me to say a few words in her absence. It’s an honor, and it is also deeply sad that Zhang Zhan is dying in prison as we speak.

On February 1, 2020, Zhang Zhan boarded a high-speed train from Shanghai to Chongqing. She got off part way in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. She was the only passenger getting off the train that night. During her 14 weeks in Wuhan, she hopped from one lodging to another around the city wherever she could find a bed. She subsisted on ramen noodles. In the 122 video clips she posted on YouTube, she spoke to shopkeepers, sanitary workers, and migrant workers, among many others.

She rode a bike all the way to the infamous Wuhan lab on a rainy day. It was locked and deserted. The off-white building of the lab where the gain of function research had supposedly been conducted was shrouded in a haze in the distance.

She visited a cremation facility one night. Standing on the sidewalk, she recorded the eerie blue light on the walls and figures in full protective gear going in and out of the building.

She visited a cemetery where she learned from a woman selling incense and paper money that families who came to bury their loved ones were kept under the strict watch of uniformed and plainclothes police. They were not allowed to make noise and not allowed to whisper to each other as they buried the deceased.

Zhang Zhan went to detention centers looking for the whereabouts of Fang Bin, a local citizen journalist who was detained in February.

Once she asked a security guard questions outside a residential compound, the guard said to her, “I’ll beat you to death.”  

Sometimes she roamed the empty streets of Wuhan, speaking into her camera. She criticized the tyrannical lockdown and mandatory “health pass,” characterizing the relation between the people and the government as “cover-up on one hand and use of force on the other.” Her experience in Wuhan only solidified her beliefs in free speech and transparency.    

The rest of the story we already know. She was arrested in May 2020, and sentenced to four years in prison last December. She has been on hunger strike since June 2020. She has lost half of her body weight, and was tied to bed and force fed. According to what we heard in late October, she could not walk without two people popping her up. She’s dying behind bars in Shanghai Women’s Prison.

Incidentally, Lin Zhao was also imprisoned in Shanghai more than half a century ago where she was executed for opposing the Communist rule.

I confess that I don’t understand Zhang Zhan: I cannot fathom her resolve with which she has protested the unjust persecution against her and what she stands for. For most of us, “to live free or die” seems to have become a slogan, but for Zhang Zhan, it’s practice.  

However, the point is not whether you and I understand Zhang Zhan or not; the point is to ask ourselves this question: if the rest of us have had one tenth of Zhang Zhan’s strength and determination to stand up to the totalitarian regime in China, what difference would we have made? What a different place would we be today?

Finally, I want to make an appeal to President Biden: Please speak to Xi Jinping, and demand that China release Zhang Zhan immediately.

I do wonder: is it too much to ask for the President of the United States to appeal to China for Zhang Zhan’s life and her cause?

Thank you very much. 

自由张展 – 在林昭自由奖颁奖仪式上的发言


At the Lin Zhao Freedom Award ceremony. Front from left to right: Bob Fu, Rep. Chris Smith, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Yaxue Cao, and Amb. Sam Brownback.





当她在一个住宅区外向一名保安提出问题时,她遭到了死亡威胁。 “我打死你,” 保安对她说。

有时她在武汉空荡荡的街道上游荡,对着手机说话。她批评当局实施不人道和暴虐的封锁以及强制性的 “健康证”;她将人民和政府之间的关系描述为“掩盖真相和使用强制力”。她在武汉的经历更加巩固了她对言论自由和政府透明的理念。  








Crisis Demands Action: Standing With Chinese Human Rights Defenders (livestreaming of the event), ChinaAid, December 7, 2021.

Going Around Coronavirus-Stricken Wuhan With Fang Bin, Visiting Hospitals, and Being Visited by Police, on February 1, 2020, China Change, February 3, 2020. [We have had no news of Fang Bin since his detention in February 2020 in Wuhan.]

4 responses to “Free Zhang Zhan – Speech at the Lin Zhao Freedom Award Ceremony”

  1. […] citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (张展), who reported on the scenario in Wuhan firstly of the novel coronavirus pandemic, is close […]

  2. […] citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (张展), who reported on the scenario in Wuhan at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic, is […]

  3. […] citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (张展), who reported on the scenario in Wuhan initially of the novel coronavirus pandemic, is […]

  4. […] citizen journalist Zhang Zhan (张展), who reported on the situation in Wuhan at the beginning of the novel coronavirus […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.