Eighty-nine percent of the Amazon reviews of Dr. Li’s memoir of Mao earned 4 and 5-star reviews giving the book a 4.5 out of 5-star average. Before reviewing the book, it would have helped if the readers knew more about Dr. Li’s life.
Dr. Li Zhisui (1919 – 1995), attended West China Union University in Chengdu now known as Sichuan University that’s 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 war and he ended up working as a ship’s surgeon out of Sydney, Australia.
In 1949, The Lecturn reports, “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…”
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 mentioned in Part 1 of this five part series, where the doctor 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.”
Mao held power in China for twenty-seven years but Dr. Li spent only eight of those years with Mao (less than 34-percent). 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, two years before the British gave Hong Kong back to China, a Chinese language book was published in Hong Kong. It was called Lishi de Zhenshi: Mao Zedong Shenbian Gongzuo Renyuan de Zhengyan. Translated that means The Truth of History: Testimony of the personnel who had worked with Mao Zedong.
Three people who had known Mao personally wrote that book. One was his personal secretary Lin Ke. The second person was his personal doctor from 1953 to 1957, Xu Tao, and the third person was his chief nurse from 1953 to 1974, Wu Xujun.
The three authors argued in this Chinese language book that Dr. Li didn’t know Mao that well, and Li presented an inaccurate picture of Mao in his obviously flawed memoir. The trio attacked Li’s claim that he had been Mao’s personal physician in 1954 and presented copies of a document from Mao’s medical record showing that Li only took on the responsibility of caring for Mao on June 3, 1957.
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