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Education advocator receives Legion of Honor

By Sun Ye | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-15 13:55

Education advocator receives Legion of Honor

Elisabeth Kichkine (Li Sha), 99, with French Ambassador Sylvie-Agnes Bermann (left) and her two daughters Li Yingnan and Li Yalan (right). Provided to China Daily

Elisabeth Kichkine, better known in China as Li Sha and wife of the late Communist Party leader Li Lisan, was credited the French title Legion of Honor for her spirit of freedom and universal love on Monday. She is 99.

"You witnessed the best and the worst of the past century," said French Ambassador Sylvie-Agnes Bermann, who acted on behalf of the French president at the ceremony in Beijing Friendship Hospital. "You have always been courageous, loving and helped others in turbulent times. You're the epitome of good virtues."

Li Sha was born in Russia but became a Chinese national after her marriage to Li, who gave her a Chinese name.

She taught French in rural Russia during World War II, and married Li Lisan, leader of China's early Communists' revolutions in 1936. Li stood by her husband during the Great Purge (1936-39), joined the Chinese Liberation War (1946-49) and was present at the founding ceremony of the nation on Tian'anmen Square.

Education advocator receives Legion of Honor

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She was a pioneer in educating in-coming Vietnamese students in French and worked briefly as a French interpreter.

During the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), Li was put behind bars in the Qincheng prison in Beijing for eight years and survived her husband.

She later became a professor of Russian language in Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Li Sha was also a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and has been a vocal advocator for women's education rights in rural areas.

The frail woman said through her daughter Li Yingnan that she had always treasured French culture and literature, and had never stopped reading French poems and novels while residing in Russia and China - both considered as her "motherlands". Her favorites were works by Guy de Maupassant.

Her "lifelong wish" to visit Paris was realized in 1994.

Yuri A. Metelev, the cultural and education counselor of the Russian embassy, said Li Sha's noble spirit and love for others is rare in today's society. "She does everything out of her great personal character."

Patrick Lescot, who spent weeks interviewing Li Sha to write about her and her husband's life of upheavals, said: "I admire her so much for her capacity to love her husband, daughters and others, as well as her immense courage under duress."

"We salute your life of bravery, honesty and humanity," said Bermann, the French ambassador. "Your love and spirit of freedom shines."

Li Sha is one of a few outstanding Chinese to be accorded the title in recent years. Kong Quan, the Chinese ambassador to France received the title in May for his contribution to the bilateral relationship. Chen Zhu, the molecular biology scientist and chief of the Ministry of Health was honored in 2012.