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Li Wen: A gentleman editor

Updated:2017-02-03 09:15:58   China Daily

Li Wen, China Daily's founding business editor, died on Jan 13 in Saratoga, California, three weeks before his 93rd birthday, after a short illness. Photos Provided to China Daily

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 slicked-back 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.

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.

Keyword:   gentleman editor
Editor: 王世学