Li Zhaoxing

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Li Zhaoxing

Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) is a Chinese diplomat, best known for his eloquence and sense of humor in speeches and debates when performing his duty of senior spokesman. He is also known for his hobby of writing poems and has therefore been dubbed the ”poetic diplomat.”

Born in 1940 in Jiaonan of Shandong Province, Li grew up in a family of rural farmers. Yet his life did not end up on the fields thanks to his open-minded grandfather who encouraged him to undertake a strenuous academic quest. Li took his advice.

In 1959, he was admitted to the Western Languages School of Peking University despite his desire to study in the Chinese school.

Following in the footsteps of prestigious English educator Xu Guozhang, he graduated with a post in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1964, ushering in his career as a translator and diplomat.

Yet the political route never proves smooth. From 1968 to 1970, he was sent to the Shanxi countryside to do manual labor in the light of China's Cultural Revolution (1967-1977).

But his linguistic abilities did eventually shine through. Fluent in English and well-acquainted with its cultural background, Li soon became a veteran diplomat and appointed translator for the Foreign Ministry's first press conference in 1982. “He would easily understand the dramas of Shakespeare staged in English,” one of his friends recalled.

His enthusiasm for poetry has accompanied him across the world when he was stationed abroad, including in the Republic of Kenya and the Kingdom of Lesotho. Most of his poems written there expressed his feelings towards his son, who was left home alone from a very young age.

From 1985 to 1990 he was the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Three years later, he was promoted to be the standing representative of China in the United Nations (UN) as well as the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary. From 1998 to 2001, he served as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary in the United States. His fierce response to the 1998 U.S. bombing of China's embassy in former Yugoslavia impressed his U.S. counterparts - who were probably getting used to the modesty that Chinese diplomats often display. Nevertheless, Li's style has never lacked a sense of humor.

When an American professor asked for his comments on the eavesdropping scandal with the tiny equipment installed on the seat of the Boeing aircraft which had been purchased from the U.S. for then President Jiang Zemin, Li served him with a witty reply.

Li explained that China as a developing country would not be able to purchase any expensive commodities, yet it would always make sure to pay its dues. In addition, Li quipped that when it comes to those items on which China hasn't spent a penny, there is really no need to hand these out for free.

The professor laughed saying the answer would become a classic textbook case, reported.

His sharp mind and versatile language abilities eventually saw him promoted to the post of minister of foreign affairs in 2003 during Jiang's final five-year tenure. Li was subsequently selected to act as spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC) during Hu Jintao's tenure, until 2012.

In clear disagreement with the so-called poker-faced spokesman theory, Li said a spokesman should always be personal in order to still be perceived as an individual human being.

Li is concurrently acting as president of the Translators Association of China.