by Frank Li
My father Li Dexin (pictured below) passed away on April 17, 2012, at age 88.
His last significant job was the CPC (Communist Party of China) Secretary in the city of Hangzhou in the 1980s. So he was somebody in China, as evidenced by the following news:
Here is an excerpt from the news above: “Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and former Premier Zhu Rongji sent their condolences and best wishes to the family.” This was above and beyond the regular CPC protocol. So my father was not just somebody in China, he was special …
1. Overview of my father’s life
My father was born in 1924 into a family of a “rich peasant” (better than a landlord, but worse than a peasant, in communist terms). He left home in 1942 to fight against the Japanese and joined the CPC in 1943. After Japan was defeated in 1945, he fought against the Nationalists, who escaped to Taiwan in 1949.
In 1949, as part of the CPC takeover, my father settled down in Zhejiang province. He rose steadily along the CPC ranks until 1966 (i.e. the beginning of the Cultural Revolution), when he was purged, together with tens of thousands of other CPC cadres.
From 1949 to 1966, he did not really know what he was doing, other than following Chairman Mao, a brilliant man proven to him throughout his life by then. He obviously did not know that Mao’s talent was limited to military strategies.
Dad was a good writer and wrote quite a few significant articles for the CPC, especially for its leaders in Zhejiang. Some of them were really good (e.g. “Turning Hangzhou into Geneva of the East”), but some of them were totally wrong, in my view today, of course.
This was the period of the Cultural Revolution. He spent the bulk of this period in a re-education camp and did hard labor. His faith in Mao was totally shaken and he started thinking in a new direction. As a result, he became a better man, older and wiser.
Mao died in 1976 and China changed. Many of the purged CPC cadres were called back, including Deng Xiaoping at the top and my father in the middle.
Dad got his first big career break to be an executive of some kind: He was named the CPC Secretary in Jinhua District. He led the economic reforms in the countryside big time. It was so big, bold, and controversial that it got the attention of Wan Li, China’s First Vice Premier and a top reformer at the time. Wan not only supported him, but also spread his countryside reform model widely in China.
In 1983, Dad was promoted to be the CPC Secretary in Hangzhou. This gave him a big chance to carry out his economic reforms in a big city, especially towards realizing his early dream of “Turning Hangzhou into Geneva of the East”. Again, it was big, bold, and controversial. Again, he had the support from the top guns like Wan.
Dad served out his first 5-year term hugely successfully, but he was ineligible for “re-election” for a second 5-year term because of the age limit (i.e. finishing the term at that level before age 65). He retired into a ceremonial role in 1988.
After the Tiananmen Square thing on June 4, 1989, China swung to the left. Zhao Ziyang was purged and Dad was “investigated”. The left-wing politicians who hated his reforms finally got a chance to get him. Luckily, he got away with a reprimand only (vs. jail), largely because he stayed clean economically, which has been the graveyard for many Chinese politicians.
Dad officially retired in 1994, when he reached 70 (again, because of the age limit).
Dad stayed active for the remainder of his life. He published many articles and books. His most significant contribution was the proposal of an “ocean economy”, which laid the foundation for the development of Ningbo, Zhoushan, and the longest sea-crossing bridge.
2. My father and me
I was born in 1959. Life was generally good for me from 1959 to 1966, as both my parents were CPC cadres. However, everything turned bad after 1966: we were forced to move from a nice 5-room cottage to a 2-room dorm and lived there, without the parents around (as they were sent to different re-education camps), until late 1971. Worse yet, I was badly bullied not only in school, but also by the neighborhood kids. Miserable, totally!
Both my parents were fully back at work in 1977. By then I was a grown man. I was determined to leave China, and I did, in 1982 (My American Dream Has Come True).
In 1994, I invited my parents to America. They spent six months with us and saw a lot of America, as I took them everywhere (e.g. Niagara Falls, Yellowstone, Disney World, Washington D.C., and NY City). Dad kept a diary throughout this period and published it in China after he went back, helping many Chinese understand America better.
Among all my siblings, I lived the least amount of time with my parents. To make up the lost time, I have been visiting China twice a year since 2005, spending some quality times with them.
As I get older, I find myself more and more resembling to my father. Two examples:
- The interest in world politics.
- The passion for writing.
Thanks, Dad, for the good genes!
On April 11, 2012, I flew from Chicago to Shanghai and arrived at home in Hangzhou on the evening of April 12. As always, I rushed to the hospital to see my parents, who have been there for the past few years. Although physically weak, mentally, Dad was as sharp as he was 30 years ago. We had a good talk for more than one hour and parted happily. However, about six hours later, we got an emergency call from the hospital, saying my father was in coma. We rushed to the hospital, only to learn that Dad had a massive internal brain bleeding. He never regained consciousness and passed away on April 17.
In the end, Dad cared about two things:
- As a parent, he cared about the well being of his five children. He was happy about it way before his end.
- As a politician, he cared about how he would be remembered in history. He wasn’t sure about it in the end.
Dad, rest in peace …
About the Author
Frank Li is the Founder and President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action.