Renowned Taiwan writer Li Ao dies, aged 83

Writer Li Ao died of brain cancer yesterday. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in July 2015, after having recovered from prostrate cancer in 2003.
Writer Li Ao died of brain cancer yesterday. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour in July 2015, after having recovered from prostrate cancer in 2003. PHOTO: LI AO/ FACEBOOK

TAIPEI • Taiwan's famous writer and political commentator Li Ao yesterday died of brain cancer at the age of 83.

Li Ao, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in July 2015, died peacefully in hospital, doctors said. He had recovered from prostrate cancer in 2003, but told reporters recently that he knew he would not have much time left, reported Taiwanese media.

In an open letter released in June last year, he wrote: "In my lifetime, I've scolded many people, hurt many people and made countless enemies. I do not have many friends."

He added that he would like to meet all his family members, friends and enemies one last time to bid them goodbye.

"Maybe we've had many bloody fights. Or maybe we've had many good memories. Whatever it is I hope we could meet again so that we have no regrets," he wrote.

Li Ao was a controversial figure in Taiwan and was well known for his acerbic, no-holds-barred remarks on politics and contemporary Chinese culture.

Born in 1935 in Harbin, capital of China's north-eastern Heilongjiang province, Li Ao was brought up in Beijing until the age of 14.

He left for Taiwan with his family in 1949 and studied history there. In the 1960s, he was editor-in-chief of Wenxing magazine which promoted democracy and personal freedom. He spent a number of years in jail in the 1970s for his political views against the Kuomintang government.

After his release, he continued to publish magazines and newspapers that were critical of the government. Ninety-six of his books were banned in Taiwan before 1991.

His historical novel The Fayuan Temple Of Beijing, which revolved around the Qing Dynasty's failed 100-day reform movement, was short-listed for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000.

That same year, he took part in Taiwan's presidential election as the candidate for the pro-reunification New Party - even though he openly admitted he had no chance of winning. He said he wanted to use the campaign to publicise his views, reported BBC News.

He had always argued that reunification with the mainland was inevitable but Taiwan should be equal, not subordinate, to China.

China's official news agency Xinhua, in its dispatch on the writer's death, said Li Ao opposed "Taiwan independence" and was a supporter of reunification.

In China, the hashtag "Li Ao passed away due to disease" garnered more than 75 million views in just a few hours, leaping to the top of the most-searched topics on Sina Weibo.

Li Ao stirred controversy in 2005 when he said at a press conference in Hong Kong: "Taiwanese are still better. They're scoundrels but they're lovable. Hong Kongers are craftier. Singaporeans are stupider. The Chinese are more unfathomable."

The popular talkshow host also made headlines with his colourful private life: He married popular Taiwanese movie actress Terry Hu but the union lasted only three months; he had two affairs with married women; and he got married for a second time to a woman 30 years his junior.

Li Ao is survived by his wife, a son and two daughters. His son Li Kan said there would be no public funeral, in accordance with his father's wishes.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline Renowned Taiwan writer Li Ao dies, aged 83. Subscribe