Li Ao at Fayuan Temple, 2005. Fayuansi is a temple in Beijing, as well as the main scene in his first novel, Martyr's Shrine.
25 April 1935 |
|Alma mater||National Taichung First Senior High School
|Spouse(s)||Hu Yin-meng 胡因夢 (m.1980)
Wang Zhihui 王志慧 (m.1992)
|Children||Hedy Wen Li 李文, born on
22 September 1964 |
Li Kan 李戡, born on 3 August 1992
Li Chen 李諶, born on 23 November 1994
|Parents||Li Dingyi 李鼎彝
Zhang Kuichen 張桂貞
He is considered by many to be one of the most important modern Chinese essayists today, although some critics have termed him as an intellectual narcissist. His political inclinations are more controversial; he is a very vocal critic of both the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party and their many politicians, including Chiang Kai-shek, Ma Ying-jeou and Chen Shui-bian. Although he favors unification, especially under "One Country, Two Systems", Li refuses to call himself a "Pan-Blue" due to its association with the Kuomintang. He firmly believes in Chinese nationalism and is given much media exposure in Taiwan due to his popularity as a writer.
Li was born in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province to Li Dingyi (李鼎彝), a professor of Chinese, and Zhang Kuichen (張桂貞). His family has ancestry in Wei County (modern-day Weifang), Shandong Province, and Fuyu County, Jilin Province. The entire Li family, except for two children, moved to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
Li was credited for his contributions to the democratic movement in Taiwan between the 1960s and 1980s. In the 1960s, he was the editor-in-chief of Wenxing (文星), a magazine that promoted democracy and personal freedom. He was jailed by the Kuomintang government for more than five years (from 1972 to 1976, and again from 1981 to 1982) for helping a pro-Taiwan independence political prisoner, Peng Ming-min, escape to Japan in 1963. Ironically, Li had a long history of being an advocate of reunification.
Throughout the 1970s, Li received much international attention for his imprisonment. He was highlighted by Amnesty International as one of the three most important political prisoners in Taiwan in 1974.
After his release, Li continued to publish articles in magazines and newspapers, criticizing the Kuomintang government. Ninety-six of his books were banned in Taiwan until 1991. In the 1980s he also sponsored numerous anti-Kuomintang magazines.
His novel Mountaintop Love (《上山．上山．愛》), about a mother and a daughter who fall in love with the same man, though several years apart, established Li's status as a prominent novelist. His novel Martyrs' Shrine: The Story of the Reform Movement of 1898 in China (北京法源寺), is about the beginning and the failure of the Hundred Days' Reform. Li also published his autobiography in 2001, revealing more than ten of his romantic affairs. The bulk of his work, however, is non-fiction and consists mainly of essays and historical commentaries.
Entry into politics
Li strongly supports the idea of "One country, two systems" proposed by Deng Xiaoping. He believes that the unification of China is inevitable and at one point advocated immediate surrender of Taiwan to the PRC. He thinks that an immediate reunification is more beneficial for Taiwan. This, combined with his past as a political dissident and his witty writing style, has made him a popular figure among the supporters of Chinese reunification. It has also made him an unpopular figure among the supporters of Taiwan independence.
Li participated in the presidential election in 2000 as a candidate for the New Party. Li usually plays the role of a political gadfly, and his campaign was largely symbolic. He took the election as an opportunity to "educate" the people of Taiwan. Both Li and his party publicly encouraged people to vote for James Soong. During the presidential debates, Li even stated that he was not planning to vote for himself and that people should vote for Soong.
Since the 2000 presidential election, Li has bitterly spoken out against pro-independence Nobel laureate Yuan T. Lee, who publicly supported Chen Shui-bian. He has also accused former President Lee Teng-hui of corruption. In October 2004, Li ran in the December 11 legislative election as a non-partisan candidate of the South Taipei constituency, and was subsequently elected to be the last winning place. He took office as an independent legislator on February 1, 2005.
In February 2005, Li held a press conference, accusing the PFP leader, James Soong of having changed his opposition towards military weapons purchase from the United States under the influence of people of pro-American inclination, people with CIA backgrounds and arms traders who would receive kick-backs. Li threatened Soong that he would reveal the names of the people with CIA backgrounds, who were influencing Soong, to the general public unless Soong reverted to his previous opposition position. PFP legislators dismissed the accusation and responded that Li Ao should reveal his evidence to support his story.
Later that year, in June, Li claimed to the Taiwanese press that he had exclusive information from the CIA concerning the 3-19 shooting incident. He alleged that the real motive of the killer was to assassinate the Vice-President Annette Lu in order to garner sympathy votes for Chen Shui-bian, and that the killer had been condoned by the governing party for ulterior political reasons. After flashing several allegedly CIA-endorsed documents to reporters, he mailed them to Annette Lu, claiming that she needed to know the truth about the assassination attempt to the full extent.
On September 19, 2005, Li returned to Mainland China for the first time in 56 years. He was invited to give speeches at Peking University, Tsinghua University and Fudan University where he was warmly received, and the trip was claimed to have had significant impact on observers of Cross-Strait relations. His speech at Peking University was particularly noteworthy as Li publicly urged the Chinese Communist Party to protect the freedom of speech as laid down in the constitution of the PRC. He also praised the achievement of the CCP in bringing economic progress and prosperity; at one point he even alluded to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and took it as an example to sustain his point that freedom should be obtained through "cleverer" means, rather than mass revolutions that could result in numerous deaths.
Li was a candidate for the 2006 Taipei Mayoral election, and is currently a candidate for the 2012 Legislative Yuan elections, campaigning in Taipei City District 8 under the People First Party (PFP) banner.Li also satirized Mao Zedong's Little Red Book in his article.
In 2010 Li Ao showed his opinion about motorsport when he got interviewed by Yang Lan: 'auto racing began in the U.S. in 1911, aiming at testing the American automotive industry. The Americans took auto racing further to commemorate the dead soldiers who killed American Indians, Spanishes, Filipinos, Chinese and Japanese.'
Family life and trivia
Li is known for his quick wits and energetic vocal style. Although not primarily a novelist, he has released two novels to date.
Li has had many tempestuous love affairs. His eldest daughter by his first wife, Li Wen, is an Asian American who now teaches in Beijing. He had a very short-lived marriage to Taiwanese movie star Hu Yin-meng in 1980; they divorced after 4 months, 22 days. His present wife, 29 years his junior, was accosted at the streets of Taipei. They have a son and daughter.
Li is known for generally appearing in public wearing a Fred Rogers-like cardigan sweater. He also has a habit of taking pictures of the audience at public events where the media is present because he believes that it is only fair to take pictures of the people who are taking pictures of him.
On October 24, 2006, Li sprayed tear gas and wielded a stun gun during a Legislative Yuan National Defense Committee meeting, forcing several members of the parliament to flee. He was attempting to stop debate on purchasing attack submarines and Patriot anti-aircraft missiles for $16 billion from the U.S. He was also wearing the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta.
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- China Lectured by Taiwan Ally, New York Times, September 23, 2005
- Gadfly Taiwan writer calls for more academic freedom in address to mainland students, Associated Press, September 21, 2005
- Li Ao's Speech At Beijing University, English translation
- BBC News: Taiwan MP in 'tear gas' protest
- News.163.com: Li Ao wears gas mask and sprays tear gas in Legislative Yuan (Chinese)