October 13 - 19, 2019: Issue 424



By George Repin

Dr Zhisui Li, Chairman Mao’s personal physician from 1954 to Mao’s death in 1976, was educated at West China Union University Medical School and Peking Union Medical College, both of which were American-run, with American professors and Rockefeller funded.

For a time in 1948 he practised medicine in Sydney and as a ship’s surgeon on trans-Tasman vessels, earning much more than he could in China, but realised that he could not achieve his ambition to be a neurosurgeon under the then White Australia Policy.

When it became apparent that the Communists would gain power his brother, also a doctor, and his mother induced him to return to China. Before long, however, he was disillusioned by what he saw around him.

Through the influence of his brother, who had been a communist since the mid-1930s, Dr Li was assigned to the Zhongnanhai Clinic, a special clinic set up to treat China’s top leaders.  In 1954 his life changed, irrevocably, when his western medical training proved to be a factor in his appointment as the Chairman’s personal physician. His reservations about accepting the appointment were brushed aside when it was made clear to him “there is no room for reconsideration”. He did not meet Mao until 25 April 1955 but ultimately was constantly at his side – and at his beck and call. His 663 page book, The Private Life of Chairman Maopaints an extraordinarily intimate portrait of Mao – his habits, personal behaviour and life style generally.

Following Mao’s death there were recriminations, including a suggestion that the medical team, of which Dr Li had been the leader, was culpable. He was sent to Jiangxi for “re-education” with hard labor for a year, but in 1979 he was appointed Vice-President of the Chinese Medical Association. (The Chinese Medical Association is an organ of government whose President is the Health Minister).

Left: Dr Li and Chairman Mao, Wuhan, July 1966

It was in this capacity that he contacted the Secretary General of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) to send a group of appropriate doctors to visit Chinese hospitals and other health facilities in his country.  His aim was that the team should see the problems and continuing needs resulting from China being cut off from developments in Western medicine during the Cultural Revolution. The AMA would then be able to facilitate the establishment of networks with relevant institutions in Australia. The team travelled extensively in China for three weeks in 1984.

In the following year Dr Li lead a delegation from China to Australia, as guests of the AMA. The delegation visited State Branches of the AMA, hospitals, private practices and government departments in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.  

Right: Dr Zhisui Li, Dr George Repin and Dr Trevor Pickering (President of AMA) Marigold Restaurant, Sydney - September 1985

In Canberra the Secretary General of the AMA accompanied Dr Li to a meeting with the Minister for Health Dr Neal Blewett.

Things did not finish happily for Dr Li.  He and his wife Lillian moved to the USA in 1988 to join their two sons and their wives.  Lillian died in 1989.  In 1992 his home in China was confiscated.  His book, with its devastating account of Mao’s “court” was published in 1994.  

Dr Li wrote “I have paid for this book with my life. My dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon never came to pass, and my hopes for a new China were dashed. My family life was destroyed.”

I devoted my professional life to Mao and China, but now I am stateless and homeless, unwelcome in my own country.

I want (this book) to serve as a reminder of the terrible human consequences of Mao’s dictatorship and of how good and talented people living under his regime were forced to violate their consciences and sacrifice their ideals in order to survive.”


 Copyright George Repin 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

Previous Reflections by George Repin 

The Nineteen Thirties  Remembering Rowe Street  The Sydney Push  Saturday Night at the Movies  Shooting Through Like A Bondi Tram  A Stop On The Road To Canberra  City Department Stores - Gone and Mostly Forgotten  An Australian Icon - thanks to Billy Hughes  Crossing The Pacific in the 1930s  Hill End  The Paragon at Katoomba  Seafood In Sydney  How Far From Sydney?  Cockatoo Island Over The Years  The Seagull at the Melbourne Festival in 1991  Busby's Bore  The Trocadero In Sydney  Cahill's restaurants  Medical Pioneers in Australian Wine Making  Pedal Power and the Royal Flying Doctor Service  Pambula and the Charles Darwin Connection  Gloucester and the Barrington Tops  A Millenium Apart  Have You Stopped to Look?  Gulgong  Il Porcellino  Olympia  Durham Hall  Sargent's Tea Rooms Pie Shops and Street Photographers  The Ballet Russes and Their Friends in Australia  Hotels at Bondi  Alma Ata Conference - 1978 Keukenhof - 1954 The Lands Department Building and Yellowblock Sandstone  The Goroka Show - 1958  A Gem On The Quay  Staffa  The Matson Line and Keepsake Menus Kokeshi Dolls  The Coal Mine At Balmain  The Hyde Park Barracks  The Changing Faces Of Sydney From Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents Nell Tritton and Alexander Kerensky  Making A Difference In Ethiopia William Balmain  J C Bendrodt and Princes Restaurant Azzalin Orlando Romano and Romano's Restaurant  Waldheim  Alcohol in Restaurants Before 1955  King Island Kelp  The Mercury Theatre   Around Angkor - 1963   Angkor Wat 1963  Costumes From the Ballets Russe Clifton at Kirribilli  Chairman Mao's Personal Physician  The Toby Tavern The MoKa at Kings Cross  The Oceaographic  Museum  in Monaco  The Island of Elba  Russian Fairy Tale Plates  Meteora  Souda Bay War Cemetery Barrow, Alaska  Cloisonné  Tripitaka Koreana Minshuku The Third Man Photographs and Memories  Not A Chagall!  Did You Listen? Did You Ask?  Napier (Ahuriri, Maori) New Zealand  Borobudur  Ggantija Temples Plumes and Pearlshells  Murano  University of Padua  Ancient Puebloe Peoples - The Anasazi   Pula  The Gondolas of Venice Cinque Terre  Visiting the Iban David The Living Desert Bryce Canyon National Park   Aphrodisias   The Divine Comedy Caodaism  Sapa and local Hill People  A Few Children  Cappadocia  Symi Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre   Aboriginal Rock Art on Bigge Island    ANZAC Cove (Ari Burnu) 25 April, 1997  Hotere Garden Oputae  Children of the Trobriand Islands  Page Park Market - Rabaul  Rabual   Kotor, Montenegro   Galleries of Photographs I   Lascaux  Galleries of Photographs II   The Cathedral of St. James – Šibenik, Croatia  Ivan Meštrović  - Sculptor   Delphi   Gallery of Photographs III  The Handicrafts of Chiang Mai Raft Point  San Simeon - "Hearst Castle"  Floriade - The Netherlands - 1982  Russian New Year  Mycenae  "Flightseeing" Out Of Anchorage Alaska  The White Pass and Yukon Route  Totem Poles  Tivkin Cemetery  Krka National Park - Croatia  Tavistock Square and the BMA  Orthodox Easter  Wieliczka Salt Mine  A Walk on Santorini  Indonesian Snapshots  Ephesus - The Library of Celsus  Ephesus - Some Places Of Interest  Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Valley United Nations Headquarters 1958  A Miscellany of Flower Images  Gardens  Bath St. David's In Wales   Zion National Park Nicholas Himona - Artist  Kraków  Lilianfels  Collonges-La-Rouge  Gingerbread Houses   Cape Sounion   Delos  Wroclaw  Colonial Williamsburg  Gruyères   Strasbourg  Coventry Cathedral  The Roman Theatre at Aspendos  Turkish Carpets The Duomo of Orvieto  Rovinj  The City Walls of Dubrovnik Monaco - Snapshots   Bonifacio, Corsica  Autumn in New England USA  The Great Ocean Road  Pompeii  Didyma  Lawrence Hargrave 1850-1915  The Corinth Canal  Malta  Snapshots of Amsterdam Café Central - Vienna  The Forbidden City - Beijing, China  A Ride on the Jungfrau Railway - 1954   Snapshots in the Highlands of Scotland 1954  Must See Sights in Paris - 1954  Corfu  Reflections On the Nineteen Thirties The Gold Souk in Dubai  Stromboli   Ha Long Bay - Vietnam  Lake Argyle The Bungle Bungle Range Langgi Inlet, W.A.  White Cliffs, NSW - 1990  Sturt National Park - May, 1990 A Few Statues and Water Spouts  The Dodecanese Archipelago  Rhodes  Lindos The Church on Spilled Blood - 2005 Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad Repin's In "Ladies In Black"  Signs of the Times at Sydney Museum: Repin Inns

Copyright George Repin 2019. All Rights Reserved.