Mao Zedong's ex-bodyguard settles down to become 'commander of the cattle'

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A retired colonel who served as Chairman Mao Zedong's bodyguard for 19 years has a new title - "commander of the cattle".

Li Liangqing, who used to be Chairman Mao Zedong's bodyguard, now raises cattle in his home village. Photo provided to China Daily

Li Liangqing, who used to be Chairman Mao Zedong's bodyguard, now raises cattle in his home village. Photo provided to China Daily

Seven years ago, at the age of 76, Li Lianqing surprised his army friends by giving up a comfortable life in Beijing to return to his home village in a remote, rural part of Guangdong province.

Now, standing in the sunset glow, he gazes with a satisfied smile at a hillside where a group of cattle is moving toward a cowshed.

"Once I ring the bell, the cattle will know it's time to come back home to have dinner. That's why I am called 'commander of cattle'," he said with pride.

Ringing the bell involves striking the cowshed's iron-lined wall with a wooden stick. It is one of the 83-year-old's greatest pleasures.

The move came after a woman from the village where he was born told him that the ancestral hall, where families gather to honor their ancestors, and his former residence were dilapidated. He returned to Helu in the city of Gaoyao to take a look.

He then spent his life savings of 1.2 million yuan ($193,300) and loans of more than 100,000 yuan on repairing the buildings and improving the village by mending roads and dredging ditches.

After transforming his home village, Li crossed the Xijiang River in 2010 to set up a cattle farm in Zhuchuan, a village in the city of Yunfu.

The veteran had hung up his gun and picked up the handles of a cart to carry fodder and cow dung.

"Some people, including my army comrades, didn't understand why I would rather stay in a stinking cattle farm than enjoy my retirement receiving good care from the government," Li said. "I told them it is a matter of conscience. People won't be able to make something if they only care for themselves."

On the wall in the farm's office is a portrait of Chairman Mao and photos of Li with Mao and General Ye Jianying. Li joined the army in 1951 and was posted to the chairman's security team six years later, when he was 25. After Mao died in 1976, Li served as the captain of Ye's security squad until Ye's death.

A huge board bearing the words "Serve the people", a well-known saying of Mao's, is pinned to the wall at the entrance to the farm. Next to it, the Chinese flag flies from a pole.

"One should give as much light as possible as long as one lives," Li said. "'Serve the people' is needed everywhere. That's what I learned from Chairman Mao.

"I transformed the village and set up the cattle farm, not for fame, but to do something I think I should do for the country, the Party and the people."

The farm covers 20 hectares and is home to 300 cows and bulls. It provides the villagers of Zhuchuan with 300,000 yuan a year through employment, the leasing of land and the purchase of fodder, according to He Bingquan, the enterprise's co-founder and Li's brother's grandson.

Li and He received investment from entrepreneurs when they were short of startup capital. A local veterinarian volunteers to give regular checkups to the cattle, and nearby factories send workers to help on the farm.

"Thanks to the farm, the land in our village does not go to waste," He said. "It is admirable that Li, a senior military veteran, stays in a mountain village at such an age."

He once visited Li's apartment in Beijing, which measures more than 200 square meters, and said it contrasted sharply with Li's simple, 10 sq m room at the farm.

During their first two years at the farm, Li and He had to share a shabby wooden double-deck bed that made Li's daughter cry when she visited.

In a previous interview with Southern Metropolis Daily, Li said his wife called him "smelly cow dung" when he returned to his home in Beijing.

Li wakes at 5 am and starts the day with 100 push-ups and 10 minutes of kung fu practice. After making breakfast for the farm's workers, he turns on the TV to watch Man and Nature, one of his favorite programs.

Li retains some of the habits he acquired in the army.

"Li stresses discipline and a sense of responsibility," farmworker He Zhiming said. "Li will criticize us harshly if we leave the tools and fodder in a mess, but his temper usually doesn't last long."

Li said the farm helped to educate people, adding, "including myself".

Li used to help his father to herd cattle as a child, but learning to manage a large, modern farm was a major challenge. Now, he can even tell when a cow is about to give birth.

"I haven't thought about what people will say about me after I die," he said. "But I'm sure that someone will carry forward what I'm doing."

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