Son of legendary thinker builds his own name with charged criticism of separatists

By Li Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/18 23:53:45

Li Kan promotes his father Li Ao's autobiography during a visit to Shenyang, Northeast China's Liaoning Province, on August 25, 2018. Photo: VCG

Li Kan is known in both the Chinese mainland and Taiwan for many reasons - turning down a top Taiwan college to attend Peking University in 2010, publishing a book full of criticism against Taiwan's education system at 18 years of age, going to Cambridge for PhD studies - yet the most conspicuous label on him so far is still "the only son of Li Ao."

Li Ao was a legendary thinker, writer and historian, among many other titles in the Chinese-speaking sphere. He witnessed the change in the political landscape across the Taiwan straits for more than half a century, with himself being part of the process.

After Li Ao passed away this March, Li Kan, now 26, became more visible on Chinese social media. He started more frequently sharing his views and even criticism on cross-Straits issues, all contributing to creating his own brand.

Both Li Kan and his father have been steadfast supporters of the one-China principle, despite the rise of separatist forces in Taiwan in recent years.

Li Kan said his deep-rooted recognition of the Chinese nation was inherited from his father.

"He taught me when I was very young that I am Chinese and should never forget about our origin in the Northeast. So I have had a strong spiritual connection with the Northeast since then," he told the Global Times.

Li Ao was born in Harbin, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, and moved to Taiwan in 1949.

"It's the hometown feeling … especially strong among those who arrived in Taiwan in 1949," Li Kan said. In August, Li visited Harbin and his ancestral home.

He said his father maintained close relations with the Northeasterners' circle in Taiwan until it faded away in old age.

Locked in controversy

This firm supporter of the reunification of the mainland and Taiwan has recently been involved in an online controversy over the best way of promoting reunification.

He reposted a video on Weibo in which some Taiwan residents play the Chinese national anthem in public and wave the national flag on the streets of the island. While many people praised their patriotism and courage, Li criticized them for what he considered to be only trying to garner attention for themselves and failing to effectively communicate the unification message in Taiwan.

Li said one of the people he criticized only came up with the idea of playing the national anthem loudly to draw media attention from both Taiwan and the mainland in order to solve a housing ownership legal dispute.

Such actions harm the ideal of reunification, Li said. As the media tend to exaggerate the political influence of such behavior, it misleads the people in the mainland from acquiring true knowledge of Taiwanese society. In Taiwan, Li said, such activities would only tarnish the image of pro-unification people.

But against the backdrop of an increasingly challenging environment for reunification proponents under an independence-prone administration, many people gave a thumb up to patriotic expression in any form.

Li told the Global Times that he feels strongly about exposing the true colors of political forces. "What I do is to help mainlanders truly know about Taiwan."

In doing so, he started young. In 2010, Li published a book focused on disclosing the problems in Taiwan's education system. He saved no effort in attacking the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)'s agenda of manipulating textbooks to alienate support for the Chinese mainland and instill pro-independence sentiment among young people.

He is especially concerned about many young people in Taiwan who have been "poisoned" by the "independence education."

"I think I am fairly articulate, but I couldn't even talk down my two previous Taiwan girlfriends. They have learned the sophistry from the DPP to defend their distorted ideas," Li said.

This year, the Chinese mainland has rolled out a series of favorable policies to Taiwan youths who come to the mainland for work. This strategy has won support from across the straits and is expected promote mutual understanding and integration.

On the Chinese mainland, Li's criticism has recently targeted what he called foreigners taking advantage of China's hospitable policies toward them.

"Some foreigners are enjoying too many privileges … This would grow out of control if no action is taken," Li said. This position puts Li in line with netizens leaning toward the "leftists," meaning those with a more fundamentalist interpretation of Marxism.

"I wouldn't deny that my position is inclined to the left," he told the Global Times. "My criteria are always truth-based."

Shared ideals

Currently a PhD candidate at Cambridge University, Li said he has a plan to open a publishing house in the future, which is a "shared ideal" with his father.

"He hoped I would open a publishing house to publish history research, and I would start out with his written works over the decades like his criticism on Chiang Kai-shek," Li Kan said.

The publishing house may be opened in Taiwan or Hong Kong, but it is a long-term plan that would be achieved in 10 years time. The immediate task facing Li Kan is to acquire a doctorate degree and then become an associate professor before being able to do the publishing work he desires. Li said he wishes to become a university teacher in the mainland or Hong Kong after graduation.

He also wants to record spoken history from both ordinary people and scholars to take note of the ongoing, changing times.
Newspaper headline: Carrying forward anger

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