• Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Li Hehe: a humble Chinese princeling

Staff Reporter 2012-01-22 12:42 (GMT+8)
Li Hehe, the son of former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, is well liked for not taking advantage of his privileged birth. (Internet Photo)

Li Hehe, the son of former Chinese foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, is well liked for not taking advantage of his privileged birth. (Internet Photo)

Among China's princelings, the offspring of senior officials, Li Hehe, the son of former foreign minister born in 1978 is often compared to Bo Guagua, the son of the Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai. Both are handsome and tall, have the same political family and background of studying overseas and are both regarded as young men's idols on the internet.

But while Bo Guagua has been criticized for taking advantage of his privileged birth, Li Hehe is rather low-key in his private life. Polite and softly-spoken, he has been raised not to be rude or display bad manners. When the younger Li was studying in the United States, he made his own living and paid his own tuition fees, taking part-time jobs including carrying bottles of beer. Far from taking advantage of his father's position, he occasionally made appearances at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, but few people knew that he is the son of the man who was China's foreign minister between 2003 and 2007.

In 2001, Li Hehe graduated top of his class at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he joined the software company Oracle but was laid off in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is this experience that has attracted sympathy for him from the Chinese public. He then entered Harvard Business School and obtained a dual degree. Again, instead of relying on his father's connections and money, he used his own savings and bank loans to pay for his living costs and tuition fees. His integrity has won Li a good deal of plaudits back home, where, in contrast to many of the country's overprivileged princelings, he is admired and adored by netizens.

As a perennial diplomat, Li Zhaoxing and his wife Qin Xiaomei, gave birth to Li Hehe rather late. It is even rumored that Li Hehe is Li Zhaoxing's adopted son, possibly the son of the former foreign minister's sister.

Li Hehe became increasingly independent after entering high school, like many teenagers who want to break free from the dominance of their parents. When his father said he hoped Li Hehe would inherit his diplomatic career, his son replied, "I'll make my own decisions regarding my own affairs."

Li Zhaoxing subsequently held a family meeting where he announced that he and his wife would fully respect his son's personal space and his right to choose — what he wants to study, where he will go in the future, would be decided by himself from now on. "But he must be responsible for his own choices — when facing difficulties, he should not use his parents' resources to solve his problems." The younger Li accepted his father's proposal.

Much like western parents, the older Li and his wife would never touch their son's belongings or clean his room, simply giving him a reminder to tidy his things if they noticed his room was a mess.

In 2007, when Li Zhaoxing retired from public service, Li Hehe felt it was the right time for him to return to China as he could establish his own business without attracting any attention. In the same year he established the website 99 Dormitory Net, then in 2009 he married Yan Jingjing, the daughter of Yan Weiwen, a well-known singer and director of the Chinese Musicians Association.

Li Hehe's wife also studied abroad and maintains a similar low-key private life — so much so that China's notoriously tenacious netizens cannot even find a photo of her on the internet.

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