On the trail of Dr Li Zhisui’s illusive Memories – Part 2/4

Mao’s personal physician, Dr. Li Zhisui (1919 – 1995), attended West China Union University in Chengdu [now called Sichuan University], which is one of the oldest in China.

Soon after graduating from the university as a Western trained medical doctor in his mid twenties, Li fled China in the 1940s to escape the ravages and dangers of the Civil War and ended up working as a ship’s surgeon out of Sydney, Australia.

Then in 1949, “Madly enthusiastic about the Communist victory in 1949, he gives up a promising young career in Australia to take part in the efforts to rebuild China after a century of warfare and internal struggle…” Source: The Lecturn

Since Mao officially declared an end to the Cultural Revolution in 1969 [its active phase lasted until the death of the military leader Lin Bao in 1971], we may assume that Dr. Li returned to Beijing from the destitute village in Zhejiang Province and/or rural Jiangxi Province where he was sent in 1965 as part of the Socialist Education Program.

By this time, Dr. Li may have become a bitter man as we discover when we read his opinions in Around the Bend With Mao Zedong.

“As Dr Li presented it, the Socialist Education Program amounted to an elaborate waste of time … given the disparity between the living standards of the city people and the poor-beyond-all-imagination villagers.”

By now, Mao has held power for twenty years and Dr. Li has only been with him for eight of those years. That does not sound like someone that was with Mao every day he was in power.

How do we know that Li did not become Mao’s doctor until 1957?

“In 1995, a Chinese language book was published in Hong Kong (which at that time was independent from the People’s Republic of China), entitled Lishi de Zhenshi: Mao Zedong Shenbian Gongzuo Renyuan de Zhengyan (meaning The Truth of History: Testimony of the personnel who had worked with Mao Zedong).

Three people who had known Mao personally wrote the book: his personal secretary Lin Ke, his personal doctor from 1953 to 1957, Xu Tao and his chief nurse from 1953 to 1974, Wu Xujun.

The three authors argued in this Chinese language book [I understand this book never saw an English translation in the West] that Dr. Li did not only not know Mao very well, but that he presented an inaccurate picture of him in his book. The trio attack Li’s claim that he had been Mao’s personal physician in 1954, instead presenting copies of a document from Mao’s medical record showing that Li only took on the responsibility for caring for Mao on June 3, 1957.” Source: Wikipedia

Continued on December 16, 2011 in On the trail of Dr Li Zhisui’s illusive Memories – Part 3 or return to Part 1


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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