Life and love of Li Sha

Li Sha (right), Li Lisan and their daughter Li Yingnan in 1946

She fell in love with an early Chinese labor movement leader in Moscow. She survived the strife and turmoil of China’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) simply because of her love and desire to see her husband. She obtained Chinese citizenship after approval of then Premier Zhou Enlai in 1964.

Now she is enjoying her Indian summer in Beijing with her children and grandchildren.

She is Elisabeth Kishkina and her Chinese name is Li Sha (李莎).

In love with a revolutionary

Li Sha’s Chinese connection began with an encounter with Li Lisan (李立三), an early Chinese communist leader and a labor movement pioneer who was selected as one of the five Standing Committee members of the CPC Politburo in 1928.

But his political career went downhill after being convicted of a tactical mistake. He was sent to Moscow in 1930 for confession and repentance for upholding an armed uprising in the cities and the extension of the revolution to the whole China, which was later known as Li Lisan line.

For the following 15 years, he endured constant reprimand and prosecution. The blessing in disguise was that he met Lisa Kishkina at a friend’s gathering.

Li Sha falls in love with Li Lisan.

Dennis Roudenko (李张鲁), grandson of Li Sha, told the that his grandma fell in love with Lisan the man and not the leader.

“When my grandma married grandpa, she was only in her early 20’s. At that time in the Soviet Union people were less informed about Li Lisan’s activities in China. As a result, she did not know that much about my grandpa. She loved him simply as a man, like any other loving woman,” said Roudenko who is a capital analyst at China Growth Capital in Beijing.

“When they first met, grandpa as most communists abroad was using another name Li Ming (one of his many alias), and before they started dating, she got to know that he was Li Lisan but still she had almost no clue who he exactly was, as they talked nothing about the occupation of grandpa,” Roudenko said.

The 24-year-old analyst said that his grandpa was a very gentle and hardworking man who spoke fluent Russian and was more attractive than his peers.

“I do think that his humility, honesty and sense of responsibility were the foundation of their love. He was brave in actions and in shouldering responsibility. He was one of the few who had not blamed and backstabbed others during his career. All these qualities earned him good name and respect in the CPC, and for sure these features brought him his love.”

No one to blame for Cultural Revolution

Li Sha moved to China in 1946 after her husband was reelected as member of the CPC Central Committee, but unaware of the fate the happy family was going to meet.

As the tension between China and Soviet Union escalated in the 1950s, Li Sha was naturalized as a Chinese national in order to stay in China with her husband.

“Chinese citizenship was indeed a compromise. But at least, it spared the family and grandma’s family members in Moscow lot of trouble,” said Roudenko.

However, this was nothing compared to the Cultural Revolution which wreaked havoc on the family. Lisan was vilified as a spy and suffered deadly persecution and torture before dying for unknown reasons in 1967.

Li Sha survived the calamity thanks to her optimistic and steady character, and her desire to see Lisan and daughters again acted as crucial support.

“No one is to blame for this mess in history. It’s just a course of history. People are like a crowd, sometimes go out of control. But even if it was a misfortune for the family, it was still fortunate that the Cultural Revolution happened at that time, and not later. Otherwise it could have been even worse. It's hard to image China without reforms and opening-up policy,” Li Sha said at her home in Beijing.

In 1982, she became a member of the CPPCC, China’s political advisory body and finished her career as a language teacher at the Beijing Foreign Studies University in 1998 only after she had heart attack during a lecture.

“My grandma is a kind, noble and devoted (to teaching career) lady. Even she is now at the age of 99, she is still really healthy compared to her peers (even though she has experienced two heart attacks). She still has a clear mind, and reads very actively,” Roudenko said of his grandma.


Li Sha and her grandson Dennis Roudenko


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