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Lilia Huiying Li (June 14, 1932–November 7, 2004)

Journalist Lilia Huiying Li promoted peace and friendship between China and the U.S. Well known in the diplomatic corps, she was honored for her efforts by the East Asian Studies Center, where she served as a fellow since 1974.

November 17, 2004
This was originally published by USC News on November 17, 2004.

Li was well known nationally in the Chinese-American community and by the Chinese government and diplomatic corps.

Lilia Huiying Li, a journalist, writer and fellow in USC’s East Asian Studies Center, died of cancer Nov. 7, at the Santa Monica Pavilion for Assisted Living in Los Angeles. She was 72.

Li was an active peace and friendship promoter – particularly in relations between China and the United States – on matters such as the peaceful return of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan to the mainland.

She was well known nationally in the Chinese-American community and by the Chinese government and diplomatic corps. She was the author of hundreds of articles and seven books in Chinese, as well as articles that have appeared in English, Swedish and Russian.

According to her husband, George Oakley Totten III, distinguished professor emeritus in political science in USC College, Li was one of the few people in America who had had personal discussions with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, among others.

Totten, the first director of the EASC, served from 1974 to 1976.

In 2001, Li was honored with a special award for her endeavors by the East Asian Studies Center, where she had served as a fellow since 1974. In 2002 and 2004, she donated $150,000 and $300,000, respectively, to USC to be used for increasing Americans’ understanding of China.

From 1985 to 2004, she served as founder and president of the China Seminar, a forum to discuss the questions of peace across the Taiwan Straits from all points of view.

Her books in Chinese included: “Unforgettable Journey”; “Thirty-Three Days on a Commune”; “Nine Women and Other Writings” ; “Li Huiying’s Writings”; “Sidelights on World Affairs”; “Expanded Edition of Collected Writings”; and “Farewell, 20th Century!”

Li was born in Hunan, China. She graduated from Yanjing University, moved to Hong Kong in 1947 and entered the British-run Hong Kong University, achieving the equivalency of an M.A. in Chinese history and literature.

She married a Hong Kong physician and had one daughter, Blanche.

In 1956, at a time when Hong Kong had cut off communication with Communist China, Li was chosen to lead a group of Hong Kong businesswomen to Beijing because of her knowledge of Mandarin. This led to a meeting with Chairman Mao, who reportedly told her to report only what she saw and verified with her own eyes. The meeting led to a book about life on a Chinese commune, which established her journalism career in Hong Kong.

After the death of her husband in 1963, she became a reporter at the United Nations. She was in the Chinese delegation to the first International Women’s Conference in Mexico City in 1975. Later that year, she attended the U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association’s meeting in Chicago, where she met Totten, who specialized in China, Japan and Korea.

Totten, a widower, married Li in 1976.

Li’s last public appearance was in September at a celebration to honor her life and achievements.

Li is survived by her husband George, a daughter, Blanche Lemes and a sister, Qunying Sun.

Donations in Li’s memory may be made to any organization promoting international peace and friendship.

The photo above of Li and Totten is from the Los Angeles-Guangzhou Sister City newsletter.