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Rediscovering a Chinese legend: The untold wartime tale of Dr Li Linsi

By Taylor Wong | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2017-07-07 13:50

China's Mahatma Gandhi

The Shanghai socialite's life went sharply downhill after the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, when Japanese invaders occupied the British and American controlled parts of the city in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Li’s family lived in misery and was eventually separated from him due to his refusal to work for the Japanese occupiers.

After the fall of the Shanghai International Settlement, the Jinan National University relocated out of Shanghai, but Li stayed. Known as China's Mahatma Gandhi, Li then began to lead Shanghai intellectuals to fight Japanese invaders in a non-violent manner.

Because he was a prominent public figure who served as a high-ranking education official, and had experience studying in Japan, the Japanese occupiers attempted to lure Li to their side, promising to appoint him as the Minister of Education or Minister of Examination if he agreed to work for them.

Facing both temptation and intimidation, Li tried to find various excuses and refused in a mild yet determined manner. He had made up his mind that he would never work for the Japanese invaders. He believed China would be the final winner in this war.

Li’s non-violent strategy proved practical, particularly for the Chinese intellectuals.

He deemed the non-violent approach did not mean to succumb to the invaders' power. Li said true powers did not come from violence, but from non-violence. It was the thoughts from within that held the true power, he said.

Li was not a Gandhian who completely followed the non-violent resistance philosophy of Gandhi. He believed Gandhi's ideologies about non-violence protest were partly the result of a specific historical circumstance and cultural background; his law of success didn't necessarily apply to any nation at any time.

Li’s non-violent resistance philosophy originated from Gandhi, but was distinct from it. It was a theory which better fitted in with China's situation at the time. He believed a non-violent approach should be an option only when one does not have enough capability for armed resistance. Li did not oppose the idea of fighting the invaders with armed forces, and he even deemed it essential, in many cases, to resist the outside aggression by force. However, he always insisted that a violent approach was an inappropriate option for Chinese intellectuals. Li said they should develop their own strength and play to their advantage, and added employing an indirect strategy and combating the Japanese invaders in a non-violent manner would be a wiser choice.

During this period, Li quietly did extensive research on Japanese and German military works. His research played an important role in China's anti-Japanese war.

Li’s philosophy inspired a vast crowd, not only the Chinese cultural elites, but also a new generation of students, as well as the Chinese masses and people from the international community.

Li also highlighted China should not fight the Japanese army alone, but unite all forces possible, especially with Russia, England and the United States. With this, China's victory over Japan would be inevitable.

History has proved him right. In August 1945, Japan surrendered. A new chapter unfolded.

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