Liberal Reformer, Former Secretary to Mao Zedong Dies in Beijing

image.jpg File photo of Li Rui, former personal secretary to late Chinese supreme leader Mao Zedong, who died aged 101 in a Beijing hospital following a long illness on Feb. 16, 2019.was 101.

Li Rui, former personal secretary to late Chinese supreme leader Mao Zedong, has died in a Beijing hospital following a long illness. He was 101.

Li died in the Beijing Hospital at around 8.00 p.m. on Saturday evening, his U.S.-based daughter Li Nanyang said.

She said she wouldn't be attending his funeral, as it will take place with full revolutionary honors at the Babaoshan cemetery on Wednesday, contrary to his wishes.

Li Nanyang told reporters that her father had lost faith in the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and wouldn't have wanted such a ceremony.

"My father once said 'if they insist on saying that Li Rui was a Marxist, that would be pretty comical because Li Rui is an independent thinker and intellectual'," Li Nanyang said. "I believe that my father would be turning in his grave to see them draping him in the party flag, which is soaked in the blood of so many people."

Li was admitted to a Beijing hospital for a pulmonary infection last March, and died of organ failure, Agence France-Presse quoted Li Nanyang as saying.

Following his imprisonment during the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Li became one of the most vocal and high-ranking proponents of constitutional government and political reform in the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

A woman who answered the phone at Li Rui's Beijing home confirmed that the authorities are planning a ceremony at the Babaoshan revolutionary crematorium in the Chinese capital, against Li's stated wishes.

"If [Li Nanyang] doesn't come, then she doesn't come," the woman said. "If she's not coming back [to China], then she can't do much to stop it."

No respect for individuals

A former official who worked under Li said he wouldn't be attending either.

"I have said publicly that I won't be going," the former official, who requested anonymity, told RFA. "I will stand with Li Nanyang, and I won't be going to the memorial ceremony."

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based publisher Bao Pu, whose father is a former top Communist Party aide, said China's leaders have scant respect for the wishes of an individual.

"The Communist Party has no respect for the individual, in particular, the wishes of party members," Bao said. "This has always been the case."

"We will have to find our own ways to commemorate Li Rui," Bao said, adding that Li had made an indelible contribution to historical study of the Mao era. "There's no need to make a fuss about the communist flag [at the ceremony]."

Constitutional scholar Zhang Lifan agreed.

"Once you have joined the party, you belong to them in life and in death," Zhang said. "The party drapes your coffin in its flag because it thinks it has the right to do that."

"There is also a hidden meaning here; namely to make the point that Li Rui's body is in their possession. But they certainly don't possess his spirit," he said. "Li Rui's comments, his writings and his opinions have already made it quite clear what he thought of this regime."

Expelled, jailed and rehabilitated

Li rose to his position alongside Mao in the mid-1950s, but was expelled from the party and jailed for eight years after he criticized the Chairman's Great Leap Forward policy, which ushered in economic chaos and famine across the country from 1959-1961.

Rehabilitated in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping's reform era, Li led the party's powerful Organization Department, before being ousted once more in 1984.

He later advocated political reform and European-style social democracy, and was a critic of President Xi Jinping's amendment to the constitution allowing him to remain in office as president for an indefinite period.

Li hit out at Xi in a statement to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, saying that government censors had banned some of his books in mainland China.

"I believe that China must continue on the path of peaceful development, and should resolutely uphold the reforms and opening up that were set out at the 11th Party Congress [in August 1977]," he wrote. "There is no doubt that this path should be taken."

"The first step should be to heed the words of Comrade Lu Dingyi, and listen to the people, so as to improve public trust in the highest levels of party leadership," Li said.

Reported by Ng Yik-tung and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.