Li Rui’s controversial life reflects diversity of opinion in Chinese society

By Shan Renping Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/17 19:28:39

Photo: AFP

Li Rui, former deputy head of the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, died in Beijing on Saturday. His death grabbed the headlines in many Western media outlets. A report by The New York Times called Li "standard-bearer for liberal values in China." But how to evaluate him divided online public opinion in China. 

Li lived for 101 years. His long life span contributed to his influence.

Li's life was a bumpy ride. He experienced almost all historic events such as the Yan'an Rectification campaign, and himself became the subject of several political movements.

Li was imprisoned once in Yan'an before the founding of the People's Republic of China. In the 20 years after 1959, he was either held in confinement or in labor camps. The experiences were even quite unfortunate in that historical context.

Li's career peaked when he was appointed as the deputy head of the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee after the reform and opening-up. His title as the secretary of Chairman Mao Zedong remains controversial.

In general, his positions had not offered him opportunities to exercise an enormous impact on China. His influence was limited until he retired.

It was after his retirement that Li's influence reached the pinnacle. Since the end of the 1980s, he had made his voice heard constantly and had been labeled the "CPC veteran cadre + CPC critic." 

As a representative figure among veteran outspoken officials, he was hailed among Chinese liberals and Western public opinion. Among his propositions, the most famous was opposing the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.

Looking back on Li's life, the prime of his life was embedded in the wave of the Chinese Revolution and the country's early development; he suffered a lot during that period of time. 

In his later years, he participated in the creation of a special type of "veteran cadre + critic." Stronger opinion was not at all unusual in those years, but the label of a retired official helped increase the gravity of Li's voice and consolidated his stance.

Li's later years were a success from another perspective as well. He had been enjoying a generous pension and lavish benefits after retirement until he died in Beijing Hospital. 

While benefiting from the privileges the state provided, he was also supported by China's domestic anti-establishment forces and some Western powers. He was one of China's least lonely old men and veteran cadres.

It should be noted that Li in his later years became a symbol of the diversification of Chinese society. Considering the meaning of this symbol, different conclusions can be drawn. 

Supporters may hold that he had added a voice and more importantly a "scarce voice," while opponents would argue that he had become a tool for hostile and unfriendly forces to attack the Chinese system.

Li's later years demonstrated a special way of boycotting China's mainstream path. Such a role played by him may reflect various value judgments.

The author is a commentator with the Global Times.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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