Re­mem­ber­ing Li Wen, gen­tle­man ed­i­tor

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA - By HO MANLI and JOHN B. WOOD

Li Wen, the found­ing busi­ness ed­i­tor of China Daily, China’s na­tional English-lan­guage news­pa­per, died fol­low­ing a short ill­ness in Saratoga, Cal­i­for­nia, on Jan 13, less than three weeks shy of his 93rd birth­day.

Li was born on Feb 1, 1924, in Dali, Yun­nan prov­ince. A mem­ber of the Bai mi­nor­ity na­tion­al­ity, he came from a fam­ily of mod­est means. He was the first in his fam­ily to at­tend col­lege and stud­ied journalism at Na­tional Chengchi Uni­ver­sity in Nan­jing.

Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he be­gan his ca­reer as a Chi­nese-lan­guage ra­dio broad­caster at All In­dia Ra­dio in New Delhi. In June 1954, he be­came vice-chair­man and di­rec­tor of the Delhi Overseas Chi­nese Fed­er­a­tion and was on hand to wel­come Premier Zhou En­lai on his visit to In­dia that month.

In 1962, Li re­turned to China and was as­signed by the gov­ern­ment’s Overseas Chi­nese Af­fairs Com­mis­sion to teach English in the For­eign Lan­guages De­part­ment of Yun­nan Uni­ver­sity. Dur­ing the tur­moil of the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-1976), Li was ac­cused of be­ing a spy for the In­dian gov­ern­ment and was locked in soli­tary con­fine­ment for eight months.

At the end of the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion”, Li re­turned to teach­ing at Yun­nan Uni­ver­sity, un­til 1980, when he was re­cruited by the late jour­nal­ist Guan Zai­han to help launch China Daily.

When China Daily be­gan pub­li­ca­tion the fol­low­ing year, Li was put in charge of Page Two, the busi­ness page. Al­ready in his late 50s, he over­saw a group of young re­porters whom he men­tored with a gen­tle hand. One of them was Zhu Ling, the cur­rent pub­lisher and ed­i­tor-in-chief of China Daily.

With his care­fully slicked­back hair and im­pec­ca­ble dress, even in the drab cot­ton blues and grays of those spar­tan days, Li cut a gen­tle­manly fig­ure.

“Treat peo­ple with re­spect and you will re­ceive re­spect in re­turn. No­tice more of other peo­ple’s strong points than pick at their weak points,” he once wrote.

Li prac­ticed what he preached. Even in ques­tion­ing or crit­i­ciz­ing, he was un­fail­ingly po­lite and calm.

Qin Xiaoli, one of his young re­porters, re­called that in 1983, when she had just re­turned to China Daily af­ter ob­tain­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree in Journalism from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity, she was as­signed a story about the in­crease in taxi fares in Bei­jing.

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and taxi driv­ers, she turned in her story.

Li read it and asked her gen­tly: “You have just re­turned from ( journalism school in) the United States. Why would you write a story that is lop­sided? Why did you not ask pas­sen­gers what they think about the fare in­crease?”

Li was equally metic­u­lous with the “for­eign ex­perts” – jour­nal­ists from abroad who helped in the ed­i­to­rial process.

John B. Wood, who was re­spon­si­ble for edit­ing and “polishing” sto­ries for the busi­ness page, re­called that Li of­ten asked es­o­teric, gram­mat­i­cal ques­tions, such as: the use of the past sub­junc­tive or plu­per­fect verb tenses. An English ma­jor from Yale Uni­ver­sity, Wood was un­fazed; how­ever, some of his Bri­tish col­leagues were not and called Li “pedan­tic” be­hind his back.

An­other hall­mark of Li was his work ethic. Huo Zhongyi, an­other young Page Two staffer, re­called that af­ter putting in a full day of work, Li would spend ex­tra hours at night in the pas­teup room, proof­read­ing the page be­fore it went to print.

“He spent hours check­ing and dou­ble-check­ing the page for many nights run­ning un­til one night he passed out from ex­haus­tion. Be­ing a con­sci­en­tious and re­spon­si­ble ed­i­tor, he just could not let any mis­takes go, no mat­ter how small,” Huo said.

“Fi­nally, (man­ag­ing ed­i­tor) Feng Xil­iang or­dered him to go home to rest. To en­sure that he did, Feng as­signed two of us to keep an eye on him un­til he re­cu­per­ated fully,” he added.

Li’s ded­i­ca­tion ex­tended even to hol­i­days, ac­cord­ing to Li Baokuan, a China Daily col­league who went on a hol­i­day to Hangzhou with Li in 1984.

Ev­ery day, Li Wen would file a re­port, which Li Baokuan would type up on a type­writer. They would then take the hard copy to the post of­fice to send back to the pa­per by Telex.

“We didn’t have smart­phones or com­put­ers, so it wasn’t so easy to file a story back then. We were on hol­i­day for 10 days, and Li Wen wrote 10 re­ports,” Li Baokuan re­called.

In 1989, Li re­tired from China Daily and moved to the United States to be with his fam­ily.

As ded­i­cated as he was to his work, Li was equally de­voted to a healthy lifestyle. He was well into his 80s when he wrote: “My present phys­i­cal con­di­tion is wor­thy of singing a song: I have no heart trou­ble, nor does my blood pres­sure go be­yond the near-per­fect range: high nor­mally around 120 and low sel­dom over 80.

“I can stand straight like a lamp­post and can walk as fast as a whirl­wind. I have no aches or pains any­where on or in my body. What else do you want for your old age? But all this can be achieved only if you choose to have a healthy lifestyle”, which he de­fined as a healthy diet, daily ex­er­cise and a re­laxed men­tal at­ti­tude.

Be­ing a “weak­ling” in child­hood and un­der­weight his en­tire life, Li de­vel­oped a life­long ex­er­cise reg­i­men, one he prac­ticed daily. He ran rain or shine, hold­ing an um­brella on the rainy days. When his soli­tary con­fine­ment dur­ing the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” pre­cluded him from his daily run, he per­formed calisthenics twice a day in his cell.

His health regime stood him in good stead. In 2002, when a fall caused a hematoma in his brain, he un­der­went two brain surg­eries and made a full re­cov­ery. Even af­ter suf­fer­ing a stroke in 2009, Li con­tin­ued to ex­er­cise, do­ing stand­ing pushups against his walker.

“Li Wen em­bod­ied the mean­ing of his name “wen”. He was a re­fined, lit­er­ary and courtly gen­tle­man,” re­called Dai Bei­hua, who worked on the copy desk in China Daily’s early days.

“For those of us who were young and green start­ing out at China Daily, he was like a cool drink of wa­ter – calm­ing, steady and up­lift­ing,” Dai said.

Ed­i­tor-in- Chief Zhu Ling praised Li “as one of the first gen­er­a­tion of China Daily fore­run­ners who laid a solid foun­da­tion for the coun­try’s first English-lan­guage news­pa­per”.

“China Daily has grown into a global news­pa­per in tan­dem with China’s de­vel­op­ment. It owes what it is today to the high stan­dards that Li Wen and his col­leagues set early on,” he said.

Li is sur­vived by his chil­dren: son Li Gan and daugh­ter Li Mei of Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton, son Li Yi of Vi­enna, Aus­tria, daugh­ter Li Wei of Los Gatos, Cal­i­for­nia, and six grand­chil­dren.

John B. Wood and Ho Manli worked as for­eign edi­tors at the found­ing of China Daily and have done so in­ter­mit­tently since then.


Left: Li Wen, China Daily’s found­ing busi­ness, died on Jan 13 in Saratoga, Cal­i­for­nia, three weeks be­fore his 93rd birth­day, af­ter a short for­mer China Daily col­leagues and friends, Feb. 1, 2014, at his 90th birth­day. ill­ness. Right: Li Wen (third from left) with fam­ily and

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