Taiwanese writer, literary critic, and historian Li Ao died of brain cancer on March 18 at the age of 83. Known for his acerbic comments on politics, contemporary culture and other celebrities, Li Ao had gained both fans and haters, many of whom are mourning him on social media and revisiting his most attention-grabbing remarks—the hashtag “Li Ao passes away from disease” has over 32 million views on Weibo at the time of writing.
Born in 1935 in Harbin, Heilongjiang province, Li Ao was brought up in Beijing but moved to Taiwan with his family in 1949 at age 14. In the 1960s, he was editor-in-chief of Wenxing magazine, which promoted democracy and personal freedom, and spent a number of years in prison in the 1970s for his political views against the authoritarian Kuomintang government. It was said that 96 of his books were banned in Taiwan prior to 1991. There’s a popular rumor that he has shortlisted for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, though this was never confirmed.
In an open letter released in June last year, Li confronted his controversial legacy: “In my lifetime, I’ve scolded many people, hurt many people and made countless enemies. I do not have many friends.” He mentioned that he was filming a reality show called “Farewell, Li Ao” to say goodbye to the world. “Maybe we had a lot of fierce fights; Maybe we had a lot of beautiful memories. I hope that through this meeting, we can leave no regrets,” he wrote.
In memory of this celebrated and divisive figure, we present a few of his best known and most archetypal quotes.
Li was very proud of his achievements in literature. He once said, “In the last 50 years and for the next 500 years, the three best writers in vernacular Chinese have been and will be Li Ao, Li Ao and Li Ao.”
In 2000, Li took part in Taiwan’s presidential election as the candidate for the pro-reunification New Party. In 2005, at a political press conference in Hong Kong, Li created a huge uproar by saying: “Taiwanese people are better. They’re scoundrels, but lovable. Hong Kongers are craftier. Singaporeans are stupider. The Chinese are more unfathomable.”
His private life also made lots of headlines. Once when asked about his 1980 divorce—after just three months of marriage—from Taiwanese actress and beauty icon Terry Hu, who was 18 years his junior, he said: “I am a perfectionist. Once I opened the unlocked door of the bathroom, and happened to see her sitting on the toilet, with a hideous expression on her flushed face due to constipation. That was unbearable.” (In 1992, Li married a second time, to a woman 30 years his junior).
A few other classics:
I am a truly healthy, strong, free, rich, and happy intellectual.
If I want to find someone to admire, I will look into a mirror.
Others scold people by saying, “You are an asshole.” But I have a talent—I can prove they are.
My job is kind of like a butcher; we both need to kill a lot of pigs everyday. The difference is that they use a knife; I use a pen.
Most of the weak can’t live well; most of the strong can’t die normally.
Stupid people rarely do anything stupid. The stupidest things are always done by clever people.
There are three types of interpersonal relationships: You and me backbite him; he and you backbite me; and he and I backbite you.
A romantic relationship starts with self-deception and ends in deceiving others; Politics starts with deceiving others but ends in self-deception.
I trust the law, but distrust the judge.
To eliminate an enemy, you rely on friends; to eliminate a friend, you rely on the friend’s wife; to eliminate a friend’s wife, you rely on God.
It’s easier to love your countrymen than your neighbors; It’s more realistic to hate your neighbors than your countrymen.
People who are not enemies are friends—that’s incorrect; people who are not friends are enemies—this is correct.
Gather all the talented people under the heaven and teach them? That’s no fun. Gather all the stupid people in the world and curse them? That’s fun.
Women forced into prostitution are not shameful; they are just selling their body. May I ask, how many men willingly sell their souls? Since souls can be sold, why can’t bodies?
I have two regrets in my life: The first is that I can’t find someone as awesome as Li Ao to be my friend; the second is I can’t sit as audience to listen to one of Li Ao’s speeches.
Cover Image from jianmian