The following are translated excerpts from a 11-page letter and the complete translation of a poem that Bo Xilai, a fallen Chinese official and son of a Communist leader, wrote to Li Danyu, a military doctor who is the daughter of a senior Communist Party official. The letter is dated July 14, 1975, and is written in the form of an "eight-legged essay," used in imperial exams. The Cultural Revolution was waning in 1975, and the two started a love affair that year. They lived in different cities. Ms. Li said they wrote each other every three days. The two were married in September 1976 and had a son the next year. They separated under bitter circumstances four years later, and Mr. Bo eventually married Gu Kailai, the daughter of an army general. Ms. Gu was given a suspended death sentence on Aug. 20 after being convicted of poisoning a British businessman, Neil Heywood. Last month, the Communist Party announced that Mr. Bo was being expelled from the party and would be prosecuted on criminal charges. In an interview, Ms. Li said: "Bo Xilai was a hard-working young man with a lot of ideals and talent. I feel a lot of sympathy for him because of the way his political career ended. He is an old man now. I only hope he can have a quiet old age."
From the letter:
"I, your little brother"
First off, I must say something. I write with very large characters not because I'm lazy or feel like I need to fill space. It's because I'm used to writing with big characters, and this is more comfortable for me. When you see how much ink I've spent on this letter, you'll realize how diligent I've been.
I'm writing you so much today because this is a very rare opportunity. I need to fully take advantage of it. Right now it is 11:20. Before writing this, I was reading your letter over and over again. I closely examined a picture of me that I'm going to send you. I was ordered to take the picture on my birthday when my head was shaved bare. I look terrible. Feeling inferior is not good though, so regardless of how bad I look, I'll send it to you. Go ahead and poke fun at me. In the following lines I'm going to discuss my views on a number of questions; we can discuss them together. I've written it in the form of an eight-legged essay.
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"The question of image"
From your letter, I can tell that you are the kind of person who loves carving and refining images of people in your mind. This is very similar to Nasser [纳赛尔]. He frequently places a photograph on his desk and then spends half an hour just gazing at it. I've heard that by doing this one can obtain a basic impression of a person that is very accurate. I don't think this is entirely false, and I find it very interesting. Perhaps you've been influenced by him. Images of people actually objectively exist, and on some levels they reflect the people's innermost worlds, including their thoughts, qualities and personalities.
Though some people's actions do not match their words, I think this can be controlled. These people can hide their feelings. But hypocrites who perform as upright people aren't very convincing. In the end, the fakeness will be peeled off. No wonder Dzerzhinsky [捷尔任斯基] always loved attentively gazing at "images" with his pair of sharp eyes. In interactions with friends, we all care about examining each other's images, and we carefully emphasize the images that we present to our friends. The closer one is with someone, the more we care about this. People never want to feel insignificant in the eyes of someone else, unless we despise this person and want them to quickly forget us.
Concerning your image in my mind, sometimes I can recall you with perfect contentment. I particularly remember the two things you said to me as we parted. I was extremely moved. I can even clearly remember my exact expression and posture at the time. But at other times, your image is more indistinct – does this mean that my love for you is not true enough? Maybe not, because I always wish that I had a clear image of you. Images and emotions are related, but they are not directly proportional. It's true that images are important, but they naturally fade. When one is carefree, images become more comfortable and relaxed.
Though I may not have a lofty image in your mind, and there are some things about me that may even make you uncomfortable, if my image retains its true character, I will be content. I believe that day by day, in a natural manner, we can deepen our understandings of each other. We can establish a true image, one that is no longer subjective. If I conceive of your mind as a theater, perhaps all of the seats are already sold out. Maybe I'm arriving too late, because your mind is already full of medical terms like "coronary heart disease," "arteriosclerosis," "cholesterol," or "electrocardiogram." But all I need is patience, and I'm confident we will both find seats. Disappointment does not befall one with aspirations.
We don't only depend on "images" to arouse passion and excitement in our lives. More important is to have a rational spirit and help each other move forward. After all, "images" are just a means of getting one's foot in the door.
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One should not be inflexible or old-fashioned. Besides studies and work, one should take time to soul-search and think about other things. Life is better with a little romance. Thoughts are better with a bit of vigor. Feelings are better with a bit of depth. Many revolutionary leaps and achievements are accompanied by the colors of romance.
One cannot always walk the conventional path. When we reflect on the masters of revolution, they often allowed rigor and romance to simultaneously be part of their lives.
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"Strictness and Tolerance"
This is my policy towards my friends, and I hope you can always be like this. I received my first lesson on this. I used to think that one always had to be strict with one's friends. If they have a weakness, one must point it out immediately. "Say all you know, and say it without reserve." Nothing should be held back. When there is a contradiction, one must settle it while it is still in the bud. One should not blindly accommodate. At the same time, one must encourage one's friends to strive to be their best; one must watch over them to ensure that they put their plans into action. I am far from being a firm and resolute person, and I do not always abide by the rules, so I especially need this kind of "encouragement" from friends. No matter what you request of me, I will always be able to understand.
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A couple of days ago I was copying the maxims that we had to learn, and I was very excited because I saw that you favored similar maxims. I reflected back on the words of our Chairman: "Smart people often begin with low social status, and they are looked down upon and humiliated by others. Socialist societies are no exception." How insightful!
These days, I have developed a habit -- when I read something good, I need to highlight it so that I can remember it. Otherwise, in the future it will be lost. With time, as these things accumulate, they will become precious. A couple of months later, when I return to these things, they feel fresh, as if I'm meeting an old friend. I hope that I can see the things that you highlight in your life.
I am particularly fond of the maxim that you copied down: "If a person is not tenacious, decisive, and always leaping forward toward their ambitions, then their labor will never result in anything." I find the phrase "leaping forward" fabulous.
Excerpts were translated by The New York Times Beijing bureau.
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From the poem:
The Five Peaks majestic,
The Three Mountains imposing,
Memories cherished with fond hearts.
Mourning heroes and martyrs driven away,
Their blood a crimson spring.
They placed nation before family,
And brushed away hardship.
The Taihang range's deep green pines,
Rolling river and tough grasses,
Awe-inspiring righteousness, proudly overlooking the central plain.
Reading the historical records, I ask China's children,
Who will take over?
Two hegemons have fought for supremacy,
Rousing the four seas, black winds and violent waves.
Don't waste your youth,
like a fire burning hot;
The people's aspirations.
Intimate friend of common virtue,
Our hearts hot as flame,
As we grow gray, our longing will not fade.
Raise the army banner,
and laugh still more, gazing at the red cosmos,
spare no effort to move forward.
Translator's note: The first name of Li Danyu means "red cosmos."
The poem was translated by The New York Times Beijing bureau and Eric Abrahamsen.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.