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'A Hero Who Stood Up for Principles of Freedom'
Mary Silver, Epoch Times Atlanta Staff
Yuan "Peter" Li was born in Shaanxi Province, a rural part of western China. His father was a teacher and his mother grew oats and corn. From childhood through college, he helped his mother plant, care for and harvest the grains. He has two younger brothers.
"I remember from the youngest age that I was in a persecuted family," he says. His paternal grandfather was a Buddhist religious leader. "He was caught in the crackdown on counter-revolutionaries in the 1950s. The CCP put him in prison and shot and killed him in front of a group of people."
His mother's father was a student in the 1940's at what is now called Teacher's University. He was about to go to Japan for graduate study. "The CCP caught all his family and divided their wealth, money and land. They jailed him and scattered the family," said Dr. Li. "My grandmother was tied up with her feet and hands in the air. They were afraid if my grandfather got out of jail he would take revenge. They killed him (in jail) and reported it as a suicide."
When he was young, his parents did not want him to go outside and play with other children. They were afraid he would be beaten because of his family history. So he stayed inside and studied. His father had some old books on electronics, which he especially liked. He concentrated and read those books.
He excelled as a teenage student and was strongly interested in science and technology. He credits his father with motivating him to study. "My father said, "If you want to improve your status you have no hope but to study. To get ahead in China we have no chance except to study." The paths to advancement in China require either Party membership or becoming a government official, but those paths could never be open to anyone from a family like his, said Dr. Li. Having a distinguished religious leader as a grandfather and another grandfather from a wealthy family was a political problem, a barrier.
At Tsinghua University, he had an abundance of energy and took extra courses, especially in math, physics, and what was then called "radio-electronics," now called micro-electronics. Every semester he had the top grade in physics. Some of his teachers liked him very much, and recommended him for the China-United States Physics Examination and Application, or CUPEA.
CUPEA was started by scholars in the late 1970's as a way to find gifted Chinese students and send them to the United States for graduate work. At that time, there was no TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or GRE (Graduate Record Examination) available in the mainland, so a physics exam was designed for the program. It was extremely competitive and given in English over two days. The elite few who did very well on the test went to American universities with all expenses paid by the host schools. When the program ended in 1989, only 17 CUPEA students had gone to Princeton, among them Dr. Li.
While he was at Princeton, he went to China to wed a former Tsinghua University classmate. She had to stay behind for one year. The delay was "just paperwork," Dr. Li explained. At that time, college students were required to work in China for one year after graduation. Their two children were born in New Jersey.
Dr. Li has reportedly filed more than twenty patent applications while working as a scientist for Bell Labs. When asked to talk about his technical achievements, Dr. Li said, surprisingly, "I don't remember." He said some patents take years to be granted, and he hasn't followed their progress. Acquaintances often speak of his humility. His manner is self-effacing and gentle. Once when an acquaintance thanked him for helping her and for being kind, he said, "Kindness and helping each other is what it's all about."
Three years ago he brought his considerable gifts to The Epoch Times full time. He was one of the founding members of the paper, helping to start it five years ago. He works for freedom of information for people in China, overseas Chinese, and for everyone. The Epoch Times mission statement that "In our approach and in our content, we uphold universal human values, rights, and freedoms" gains a new resonance from Li Yuan's story.
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