Li Ao shocks CCP hosts with “acid speech”

Posted by Martyn

Li Ao, the outspoken Taiwanese legislator, acclaimed writer, social commentator, historian, talk show host, democracy advocate, ex-political dissident and supporter of unification and the One Country-Two Systems policy, delivered a no-holds-barred “acid” speech at Peking University this week in which he, shockingly, berated the Chinese Communist Party. Full of wry humour, he called for the party to accept criticism, serve the people and allow greater freedoms to its citizens, as Reuters reports:

Li Ao riled China on Wednesday by giving millions of Internet surfers and television viewers a taste of the self-ruled island’s freewheeling democracy.

Li championed freedom of speech and took repeated swipes at the Communist Party in a no-holds-barred question-and-answer session at Peking University televised live by Hong Kong’s Phoenix cable network which is seen by millions across China.

The Communist Party’s propaganda mandarins were furious and ordered newspapers and Web sites not to give publicity to Li’s speech, a Chinese media industry source told Reuters.

Some choice excerpts from his speech:

“Currently, all government rulers in the world possess machineguns and tanks. Hence, I say the people must be smart and rely on wisdom when striving for freedom of speech. Today, I talk about freedom of speech. They are afraid. What is there to be afraid of?”

“Statistics in Sweden show that the number of rapists fell by 16 percent and the number of peeping Toms dropped by 80 percent. When everybody watches A rated movies all day, it becomes normal. Freedom of speech is the same.”

Li Ao’s witty oratory, full of explosive comments and delivered in a wildly gesticulating style drew frequent applause and laughter from the Peking University audience who are more used to dull, heavily-scripted speeches filled with gushing praise for the CCP.

While foreign media organisations have reported the speech in full, the official Chinese media, not surprisingly, ignored his controversial comments and only covered the parts in which he offered praise and thanks to the CCP, as in this latest Xinhua report:

Famous Taiwan writer and cultural figure Li Ao, who is visiting the Chinese mainland, said thanks to the Communist Party of China for the country’s prosperity.

He said in that time, many Chinese people had difficulty in getting enough to eat. To keep their children from starving, some of the farmers sold their children to urban families.

China had experienced such poor conditions in the past,” said Li. “But the situation now is truly much better. I thank the Communist Party of China.”

However, the English language edition of Chinese web portal reproduced this AP article which covered the controversial aspects of Li’s speech – including mention of the TSM.

Peking University’s website, despite publishing an article on Monday publicising Li’s visit and speech still remains silent on the issue.

UPDATE: HK blogger Tom Daai Tou Laam follows up with a report about how Li Ao’s speech was censored and the subsequent reaction of Chinese netizens. TPD commenter Derrick also gets a mention.

The Discussion: 27 Comments

wow. xinhua couldn’t tell Lee was be sarcastic? how dumb are they?

September 22, 2005 @ 3:45 pm | Comment

Is that why Phoenix Channesl was blacked out yesterday?

September 22, 2005 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Was it really blacked out? The ccp might be preventing the channel covering Li Ao and his ‘colorful’ speech!?!

Ccp, censorship? Surely not.

September 22, 2005 @ 6:11 pm | Comment

I just noticed at the end of the post, published the associated press article?!?

That’s a mistake surely. Either has suddenly become a bastion of free speech and all that is good in China or the so-called English speaking editors made a total cock-up.

September 22, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

Phoenix TV wasn’t blocked where I am… unfortunately… and there was no reason for them to be blocked because they followed the exact party line in reporting on the speech. How would Phoenix dare to bite the hand that feeds them? Real coverage of the speech was available on Taiwanese channels like TVBS, etc.

September 22, 2005 @ 7:43 pm | Comment

just to clarify, first comment on this thread is not me.

September 22, 2005 @ 7:50 pm | Comment

Li is visiting my school today. I will sure have a look see.
After his lecture yesterday, students are commenting on tsinghua BBS that the talk show by him called ‘li ao has something to say’ on Phinix TVshould be devided into ” prebeijing” section and “postbeijing”section.

My classmates in Pekin university gushed that this speech is a success as well as a failure, success that Li Ao spoke out the things that we want to hear, need to hear, but most of the time dare not to hear; failure as that it is not nationally broadcasted, and only this many people can hear his speech and draw inspirations from it

As to ” June Fourth” and “Tian’an men”, he didn’t even mention these words but criticised fiercely about 1989 as the mistake of the communist party. Li Ao’s prudence.
He also quoted lots of little doctrines from Mao’s book, which somehow made his speech only more powerful and cynical as the the end of the CCP. Even if this hurts the feelings of the his mainland conterparts who might had expected something different, CCP may just as well take it as heritages from their great ancestor?

Another comment, after his pekin speech, came out that what Li Ao wanted is “graduate revolution”, for one thing he is much aware that if he wants his voice heard in mainland china, he should plant the thoughts of freedom and democracy slowly in to the brains of the chinese people. as my classmate commented, for the youth, these two terms are so very familiar and admired but for the old it’s sometimes not an easy thing to accept. So li ao tells us what democracy should be like when he is actually attacking taiwan government, so that he gets publicity in mainland without hurting the feelings of the chinese people, so that he made his way to beijing university, which used to be the center of free speech before 1949, and even so in the 1980s, so that he once again provoked another round of profound questionings and seekings.

anyway, i personally don’t like this guy. Maybe he would be remembered by history, not as a fighter, but as a provoker.

September 22, 2005 @ 8:35 pm | Comment

Fishling, I really appreciate your comment and I am hoping you can give us a report on Li’s visit to your school. (If you want, you can even write a post about it for my site.)

You wrote above:
So li ao tells us what democracy should be like when he is
actually attacking taiwan government, so that he gets publicity in mainland
without hurting the feelings of the chinese people, so that he made his
way to beijing university, which used to be the center of free speech
before 1949, and even so in the 1980s, so that he once again provoked
another round of profound questionings and seekings.

Don’t you see all of this as good? It’s okay to attack Taiwan’s government while defending democracy — the two are not one and the same thing. All democracies have their faults, and I attack my own government all the time. That’s part of what makes a democracy so good, the freedom to point out what is wrong, and to promote change. Do you agree?

September 22, 2005 @ 9:04 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 23rd September

How many Maos does it take to change a nation? Mickey Mao – is China being Disney-fied or is Disney being China-fied? The logic and research behind Hong Kong Disneyland. China is targeting Latin America. Kate Moss loses another sponsor. Taiwan’s Li Ao…

September 22, 2005 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

Although as I understand his speech at Tsinghua is over by now…

September 22, 2005 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

I am glad to see Martyn picked up on Li Ao’s visit.

I call Li Ao, the “Don Rickles” of Taiwan. he makes a loose cannon seem tied down.

From what we pick up in Taiwan, his second speech was a little toned down, perhaps because he wanted to make sure they would let him get to Shanghai, but he must be a refreshing breath of “fresh air” to China after the “two toadies” that we sent (?) over there.

I thought one student gave a good critique in saying, “all he does is scold people” but that is Li Ao. He seldom provides positive solutions, but when he is in the zone, he can be funny. You don’t know what is going to come out; you just hope he doesn’t talk about you.

Actually at this time, I think he is probably one of the best persons to go talk there. Like the court jester, he can say things that other people could not get away with.

September 23, 2005 @ 12:11 am | Comment

Damn, I wish I had heard about this earlier, maybe I could have listened to him in Tsinghua ! 😛

September 23, 2005 @ 12:23 am | Comment

His talk was a sensation at China Daily, where ironically they published a lame article highlighting his praise for the CPC. All the editors gathered round the TV to watch his speech, and it was the big talk of the day. See the pic here:

September 23, 2005 @ 4:55 am | Comment

Li Ao certainly has a colourful past. The fact that he’s a strong opponent of Taidu and supporter of unification (I believe he even once advocated surrender to the Mainland in order to fully exploit the economic opportunities) got him to China in the first place. However, I doubt that the CCP fully appreciated just what they were getting themselves into.

He’s a huge supporter of freedom and democracy – actually imprisoned for 8 years during the KMT authoritarian years. He also edited the famous Wenxing dissendent magazine.

As Jerome says, Li Ao has such a cantankerous style that he can probably get away with a whole load of things that less charismatic people (Lian Zhan springs to mind) wouldn’t be able to pull off.

It’s a true pity that the CCP didn’t embrace the contents of the speech, which were after all, not VERY controversial. I mean, you can’t take someone THAT seriously when they compare freedom of speech with porn (!). It would have been a nice gesture by the CCP. Perhaps I’m dreaming but Hu Jintao could have done his reformer reputation the power of good had he allowed full coverage.

Such a shame that his speech was treated in the traditional “dangerous ideas” way.

September 23, 2005 @ 8:40 am | Comment

Also, such a breathe of fresh air from the staid and ho-hum visits by Lian and Song.

Lian Zhan spent the entire Mainland trip on his knees. Enough said. A traitor to the KMT cause. 95 years of history ignored in order to kowtow, and kowtow he did, to the communist leaders. What a waste of space.

Song Chuyu did show a bit of backbone by (gasp) mentioning the word ‘d3m0cracy’ several times in one of his earlier speeches. This horrendous act caused his offical state press corps to be slashed and all further TV coverage of him was put on a time-delay. Such were his appaulling crimes!

September 23, 2005 @ 8:46 am | Comment

I was about to make a joke about China now abolishing live TV broadcasts…looks like China beat me to it.

September 23, 2005 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

Could someone give a link to a full transcript of the speech? Thanks

September 23, 2005 @ 6:28 pm | Comment


If you understand Chinese, far better to go to QQ and download the video.

Otherwise, here is the text in Chinese.

And here is ESWN’s translation in English.

September 23, 2005 @ 6:44 pm | Comment

Will all that do you?!

September 23, 2005 @ 6:45 pm | Comment

Thanks for the rather encouraging words. Many of my classmates and I believe in the freedom of speech, of voting and many other so called “western human rights”. But to attack we need a shield first, which is in itself the freedom of speech, or a law that protects this freedom. But living here with a constitution easily changeable as some traffic regulations, most of the time we only think quietly here, though independently. But if there is a chance, we launch little guerrilla warfare too, not aiming at fighting, but not forgetting how to fight.
When I got to the lecture hall yesterday, Li’s lecture was almost over. From what I heard Li was much low-toned in his speech this time. What interesting is though, at the end of his speech Tsinghua sent him a T-shirt with Tsinghua’s motto on. My fellow schoolmates and I all think it as a disgrace to give such a cheap t-shirt to such a well-known scholar as a gift (you can by it for 30 kuai at the tsinghua gift shop). However, the comparison in treatments before and after his Peking university lecture is exposed quietly but dramatically here.

September 23, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

Li Ao’s speech should be framed under the context of saturated lies and bullshit, gracefully drawn into a lovely adaptable piece of propaganda, filled with criticisms and half-truths and ardently appealing to youth.
I think his speech was pathetic, and I think his rhetoric is downright provocative, and frankly, he yelps like an old xenophobic red guard.

As long as windbags like him are ingratiated with making public appearances, I really question China’s true development and its awareness of being a part of the modern global world. He epitomizes exactly why China is progressing very little–or hopefully I got it all wrong, and I hope so, and I hope most Chinese see Li Ao for what he really is–a bullshit artist, filled with easy propagandized criticisms, and never really offering viable solutions, and always harping about China’s victimization as if any power play by China is totally rational and justified.

Somebody get a cane and get this buffoon off the stage!

September 23, 2005 @ 9:05 pm | Comment

Home Boy are confusing li ao’s second speech with his first?

September 24, 2005 @ 12:13 am | Comment

OOPS! I am. Should have move this comment to the ESWN english translation thread. Mucho Apologies!

September 24, 2005 @ 12:17 am | Comment

It’s my mistake, I wrongly linked to the Tsinghua speech instead of the Peking University one. Now fixed with both links available.

September 24, 2005 @ 12:37 am | Comment

Li’s speeches were really an interesting mixture, but very conventional. He reviewed the usual shibboleths of China’s “humiliation” in history, thus establishing himself as a real Chinese, sucked up to the Communist Party, made a few dumb jokes, and left.

The sad part was that he could have really left them with a few insights about their lives, the world, and the way their culture and history have been constructed for them. But he doesn’t strike me as having that kind of reflective ability and depth. But he’s no Noam Chomsky; merely Don Rickles.


September 25, 2005 @ 3:56 am | Comment

Li Ao’s speech in Beijing was nothing earthshatting by itself. Even more so to someone nurtured in the western world. But considering the high profile stage he delivered it at and coming from him, I think it was a stunning piece. I watched it via telecast, btw.

Freedom is like old shoes – you tend to forget you even have them on. To those still hungry to see a crack in the system, in a place you fight tooth and nail for the right to visit some websites, you can’t say it is not inspirational. Say what you want about Li Ao, his satirical style, his unchecked ego and what not. For one thing, he is fiercely independent. He doesn’t back down. Just look at his tattered past in Taiwan, he has been at this for half a century and is just barely stirring up the pot now in China. He is a straight shooter. It takes gut to say what he said. Never mind the frivolous stuff in the speech, Li lay out what he thinks is the rightful relationship between the ruler and the ruled, brushed upon some sensitive issues along the way, some were skirted around (yes, even for a straight shooter). A sentence here and there, you almost have to construct the unspoken part to get it. To me, he seemed to be saying it is not as important whether CCP will vanish or last 1000 years, a government needs to be control by its people and serve its people. That’s what counts. China has finally has gotten it right as far as building up power and prosperity. Don’t ruin it but strive for individual freedom by changing the current system.

It almost become secondary whether you agree with his messages or not, when you realize his action along set the bar for countless intellectuals in China – to speak one’s mind and having no fear, which is impossibly high if you don’t know. This was not someone speaking out in exile. This was delivered in one of most listened to speeches in China. No small feat if you ask me.

September 28, 2005 @ 4:21 pm | Comment

I thought the most important lesson of Li Ao’s speech at Beijing is that every government will send in tanks and soldiers when they feel threatened. Therefore in the pursue of freedom you must use your cunning.

The English press had failed to report on the most important message of his speech, and that is the Bonus March incident of 1932 in Washington D.C.. The English language press has a tendency to degrade other cultures and hide their own shameful past.

The example is important because there Li Ao is telling the Beijing students who started the Tiananmen incident that it is not only the Communist party that will send tanks when threatened, but even the United States will send in tanks when threatened.

October 7, 2005 @ 11:24 pm | Comment

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