The name Li Lili might not be a household name for a Western audience, but – explains Shaun Rein in Forbes – for the Chinese she is a mixture of Julie Roberts and Angelina Jolie. Shaun Rein: “Along with Ruan Lingyu and Butterfly Wu, she ruled China’s box offices in the 1930s and ’40s.” Rein re-called how nervous he was meeting her, since she would become his grandmother-in-law.
“Sometimes you need to swim against the current,” she told me. “Even if everyone is going in one direction in a bad way, you do what is right and moral. Even if that means going against everyone else.. Never forget that.”
He retells her suffering from the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and her special relationship with former colleague and now Mao’s wife Jiang Qing.
Not only did Li Lili teach me always to stay optimistic and never to sacrifice morality despite facing evil; she also taught me to make sure to give back to one’s homeland and to take care of the poor. Although she and her husband spent several years in the U.S. and Europe in the 1940s, she returned to China after the founding of the People’s Republic, at Zhou Enlai’s behest, to help rebuild the film industry…
Although Li Lili is most famous for her acting, I remember her for far more. She taught me never to sacrifice ideals and morality, even when the world around is crazy and evil reigns. If she could maintain her resolve to do the right thing and help people through torture and tragedy, then anyone can do so in less trying circumstances. It is our duty.