On the trail of Dr Li Zhisui’s illusive Memories – Part 3/4

In 1994, a year before his death, Dr. Li Zhisui published his memoir of Mao, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao’s Personal Physician.

Li based the book’s contents upon his own memories of Mao several decades after the actual events, as he had burned all of his personal diaries during the Cultural Revolution in case something he wrote about Mao might get him in trouble with the teenage Red Guard.

In 1988, Dr. Li left China for good with Lillian (his wife), who was suffering from kidney trouble, and joined their sons, Chong and Erchong, and daughter-in-law Mei, near Chicago.

His decision to set down his account of Mao’s private life was not easy since he had destroyed the 40 notebooks of his private diary during the Cultural Revolution—almost thirty years earlier.

It wouldn’t be until after Dr. Li’s wife died of kidney failure in 1989, that he would start writing the memoir. “In her last days in the hospital, before she slipped into a coma,” says Li, “she urged me to write this book…”

One of Li’s collaborators involved in editing and revisions of the memoir, the western historian Anne F. Thurston, noted that because of this, Dr. Li’s claims were “fallible” and might “be wrong”.

One of the many critics of Li’s memoir was Qi Benyu, a former member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China that was connected with the left wing of the Cultural Revolution Group and the red-guard power seizures of 1967.

Qi had no reason to love Mao since he was arrested and imprisoned at Mao’s order in 1968 and stayed in prison until 1986—a decade before Li wrote and published his memoir. Before prison, Qi spent several years near Mao and says he never heard any rumors of Mao having extra-marital affairs despite the fact that other senior Party members were known to have done this. Qi also said that most of the Cultural Revolution part of Li’s memoir consisted of information gleaned from newspapers, journals and other people’s writings.

Continued on December 17, 2011 in  On the trail of Dr Li Zhisui’s illusive Memories – Part 4 or return to Part 2


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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