The Mystery of Li Ao's Tsinghua University Speech

At the first level, the mystery relates to political agenda-setting by the western media.  In the post Li Ao's Speech At Beijing University, I cited these western media reports:

Look at the headlines and you have to wonder if these people are reporting on the same event.  Please be mindful that I have not even included anything from inside China, but then why would anyone look at that?  But people do what they have to do.

It would seem that Li Ao's second speech delivered at Tsinghua University upset that agenda, and therefore no one covered it.  The only report that I can find is this:

(CNA via Taipei Times)  Li Ao says China in 'halcyon days'.  September 24, 2005.

Writer, TV commentator, political gadfly and independent Legislator Li Ao (李敖) claimed yesterday that today's China is in its halcyon days that have not been seen since the Han (206 BC-AD 220) and Tang dynasties (AD 618-907).  Li, in his second speech in China to Tsinghua University faculty and students, lauded the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) several times, saying that while China was bullied by Western powers in its modern history, "no-one dares to bully China any more" and "only one party could have achieved that, which is the CCP."  He also claimed that after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) fled to Taiwan after being defeated by the CCP in 1949, it took "all the money" to Taiwan and left 3 million "bad elements" behind.

He said that after 1949, China was stripped and in poverty, and yet it has managed to stand up for itself.  He referred to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China during his speech, claiming that it lists all kinds of freedoms to which the people are entitled.  "If we are serious about them, then the stipulations in the Constitution are bona fide," he said without elaborating.

Perhaps you can see why all those who wrote about the Beijing speech are suddenly stranded.  If they reported the Tsinghua speech as is, then their readers are going to question the sanity of the reporter if they had any trace memory of what they had been told before about the Beijing University speech.

Ah, but there exists a completely different level.  The hypothesis is this: what if Li Ao was called on the carpet by the Chinese authorities about the Beijing University talk?  He might have been given a dressing down.  At the personal level, Li Ao would not give a flying f*ck about that.  After all, he had spent eight years of his life rotting in a stinking jail in Taiwan for his own freedom of speech.  What was the Chinese government going to do?  Throw a 70-year-old esteemed guest intellectual into Qincheng prison?  Frankly, this man couldn't care less.  Besides, it would have affirmed his legend in contemporary Chinese history.  However, he may have other considerations.  He is a good friend with Liu Changle, the head honcho at Phoenix TV.  This Hong Kong-based television operation is the only non-China-based media entity operating on mainland China right now (note: Walt Disney, Time Warner and Rupert Murdoch have zero presence there).  Does he want to destroy his friend's career?  Does he want to put all the Phoenix TV workers out of their jobs?  That is a tough decision.

But what is the actual evidence?

I am going to go through everything that I can find.

Case study number zero (United News Net via Yahoo! News)

When Li Ao was interviewed in the morning on the day before the Tsinghua speech, he said that Tsinghua had contacted Phoenix TV to discuss the content of the speech.  In reply to this demand, Li Ao said, "There is no draft of that speech!"

Case study number one (TVBS from Yahoo! News (Taiwan)):

(李文直說老爸真的承受了一些壓力)  (translation)  [Li Ao's daughter] Li Wen said that her dad really came under some pressure.

We have no idea what pressure and from whom.

Case study number two (China Times via Yahoo! News (Taiwan)):

(演講結束後李敖走出會場,面對記者詢問他沒有回答,只豎起大拇指。他的女兒李文表示,表現的確溫和了一點,希望大家不要給他這麼大的壓力,最重要的是希望他的話能夠被聽到了,事實上她父親也巧妙的點出了許多問題的重點,「父親表現得不錯」。)  (translation)  After the speech, Li Ao left the auditorium.  He did not respond to the reporters.  He only raised his big thumb.  His daughter Li Wen said that his presentation was definitely more gentle and she hoped that people would not give him so much pressure.  The most important thing is for his words to be heard.  Actually, her father had deftly pointed out the crucial points of the problems.  "My dad's performance was not bad."

From whom is Li Wen asking for relief?  The Chinese government?  The Central Propaganda Department?  The National Security Bureau?  The Internet opinion makers?  Or the media paparazzi?  We don't know.

Case study number three (Xici Hutong).  Please note that this is a forum post (cross-posted from some unidentified source) and is therefore not accorded MSM status or credibility:





Although  the speech was still humorous and easy-going, Li Ao communicated certain discontent and worries.  After the "warm-up" of about 15 minutes in duration during which the audience did not seem enthusiastic, Li Ao made fun of Liu Changle (note: the owner of Phoenix TV): "Reporting to Boss Liu.  Is this report safe so far?"  This caused a great deal of mirth and applause from the audience.

The reason behind the change in style at Tsinghua University was hinted by Li Ao was hinted: "The rumor was that I am finished with Phoenix TV.  I want to tell people that this is rubbish.  I have an eternal relationship with Phoenix TV, right?"

He then revealed: "Today I came to Tsinghua.  I finally arrived.  What do I mean by finally arrived?  I did not want to come there.  The reason was that I felt that some of my speech will not be appreciated by certain people and that might affect Phoenix TV.  Therefore, I wanted to withdraw.  The Tsinghua speech would be cancelled.  Later, the boss Liu Changle, the deputy boss Wang Jieyan and one of my mysterious elder brothers told me that the propagation of ideas was more important.  They lectured me about the greater good.  Therefore, I am here."

Wow!  Isn't that awesome and definitive?  Except the first two paragraphs can be found in the Tsinghua speech whereas the third and critical paragraph is unsourced.  If Li Ao said that to the Tsinghua University audience, then it has been deleted from the official Phoenix TV transcript.  But surely the hundreds of spectators as well as the more than 50 media organizations would have noted it.  But there has not been a thing said about the third paragraph in relation to the Tsinghua speech.  Certainly, if that paragraph had been deleted from the transcript, the world deserves to know because it would have changed everything.  Simply put, it was DYNAMITE.  Absent that, I must take it that it never happened inside the Tsinghua University auditorium, and the forum poster owes us a better explanation about the source of the quotation.  In any case, he may be guilty of misleading people that Li Ao uttered those words at Tsinghua University.

Case study number four (SCMP).  The story is titled "Taiwanese legislator bows to pressure" by Irene Wang on September 24, 2005.

Under pressure from mainland authorities, sharp-tongued Taiwanese writer-turned-legislator Li Ao significantly toned down his characteristic forthright style in a speech to Tsinghua University students yesterday, shying away from the call for free speech he made earlier in the week.  Instead, Mr Li urged his audience to find practical solutions for China's challenges, a message that students applauded for its patriotism.

The address was a major departure from the outspoken and satirical speech Mr Li gave on Wednesday at Peking University, the home of modern Chinese student movements. In it, he called for freedom of speech and for students to embrace the Communist Party. Borrowing a phrase from late chairman Mao Zedong , he said the party was doomed to ruin.

Mr Li said he had planned to cancel his appearance at Tsinghua, but the organiser of his trip, Phoenix TV, and "a mysterious pal" persuaded him to deliver an address.  In the speech, he repeatedly joked and asked Phoenix chairman Liu Changle : "Is it still safe?"  ...

Mr Li's daughter, Hedy Lee, said yesterday's address was much more conservative than the one he made at Peking University, and she preferred the latter.  "He was under great pressure from mainland authorities after the speech at Peking University," Ms Lee said. "He was well prepared for this speech, but still came across censorship. He was not happy and said he may lose his talk show programme [which can be viewed on the mainland]."

Do you see the problems here?  Irene Wang apparently has two worldwide exclusives.  First, she has the personal description of the decision-making process from Li Ao, and it is similar to the forum post above.  Nobody else has mentioned that (no western media, no Hong Kong media, no Taiwan media and no mainland Chinese media (but that one is expected)).  Was this a personal disclosure from Li Ao to Irene Wang alone, or was there some other media around?  If some other media were around, then why didn't anyone else say anything?  Second, she has the definitive description from the daughter Hedy Lee (aka Li Wen) about the censorship.  Again, nobody else in the world has that information and the Taiwan media have a much milder version.  If Irene Wang really had these worldwide exclusive interviews, you would think that she will trumpet that fact.

Case study number five (Christian Science Monitor, by Robert Marquand, September 26, 2005).

Li speaks at Fudan University Monday in Shanghai after confirming to reporters that authorities asked him to eliminate political content from his talk. He refused to say if he would do so.

Case study number six.  When Li Ao arrived at Fudan University, he got on the podium and said (see Li Ao's speech at Fudan University, September 27, 2005)

Someone told Li Ao that when you get to Beijing, you will get a kick out of criticizing the Communist Party.  Someone else also told Li that when you get to Beijing, you will get a kick out of praising the Communist Party.  Am I, Li Ao, going to be played by you!? (laughs)  I was just telling Boss Liu Changle in the car.  The heavens run in their regular way and a person must have principles.  (天行有常,立身有本)  Someone like me will say what I want to say.  If I have to say right, I will say right.  If I have to say wrong, I will say wrong.

Case study number seven (South China Morning Post, "I haven't been silenced, author says"  September 28, 2005)

Outspoken Taiwanese author-turned-lawmaker Li Ao wrapped up a visit to the mainland yesterday denying that the authorities had tried to muzzle him. ... He joked that if there was any "trouble", the mainland should go after Liu Changle, chairman of Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television, which helped arranged his visit.

Case study number eight (Li Weiyi, spokesperson of the Taiwan Affairs of the State Council of China, interviewed in Hong Kong on September 28, 2005, via Phoenix TV)

Q: Li Ao used different tones in his speeches on the mainland over the few days.  I heard that someone called up Mr. Liu Changle.  I want to know if that is the case.

A: On the first question, Mr. Li Ao had clearly answered it.  There are many rumors outside.  Mr. Li Ao had answered it clearly.  Mr. Liu Changle is also quite clear in what he said.  There were no telephone calls.  Mr. Li Ao had said: "Who is going to change the thoughts of Li Ao?"

Case study number nine (Li Ao's press conference in Hong Kong, via Phoenix TV):

Q: I am a TVBS reporter.  I want to know if you have anything to say to mainland China, now that you are in Hong Kong?  The other t hing is that even though you said that you did not come under any pressure during your three speeches, your best friend Chen Wenxi said that  you are scared.  Later, she felt that your speeches did not seem to be so pungent and stinging.  What do you have to say to Chen Wenxi?

A: I must tell you, there is no 'tiger mouth' or not.  That was my joke.  I dared to enter the tiger's den, so why should I be glad to escape from the tiger's mouth?  For me, there is no such thing as a tiger or not.  Let me tell you how former US president Eisenhower got a man named Wilson to become his Secretary of Defense.  When President Eisenhower selected him, the US Senate still had to approve him.  They wanted him to sell all his stocks.  He said, "I've already sold them."  They said, "If the American defense department and the company whose stocks you have just sold should have a conflict, which side will you be on?"  Wilson said, "Anything that is good for General Motors is good for Ameria.  The converse is true as well."  Today, people say that I misunderstand, that I am being critical and that I am attacking the Beijing government.  No such thing!  Let me tell you, what happens to the Beijing government is related to I and Liu Changle and all you people ... So I clarify to you today -- there is no tiger's mouth and there is no issue of being hard first and soft later.

What is really going on here?  I report, you decide.

(Reminder:  Please do not shoot the messenger.  I am just someone who reads very broadly and I only have questions, not the answers.)

Relevant link: Li Ao's YZZK Interview