Peng Di, veteran foreign correspondent

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 July, 2012, 12:00am

Veteran Xinhua journalist Peng Di, the first China correspondent to open a bureau in Washington after the United States established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979, died on Sunday, his family said. He was 91.

Peng's daughter, Qian Hong, said he died of respiratory failure in a Beijing hospital. He was admitted to the hospital early last month after a long period of gastro-intestinal problems.

As a young man in the 1940s, Peng was appalled by the Kuomintang's corrupt rule and attracted by the underground Communist Party's early advocacy of democratic ideals such as social equality, freedom and its toleration of different voices. But in later life, disillusioned by its broken promises on democracy and freedom, he criticised the party he loved.

Peng's time in Washington saw him forge friendships with then US president Jimmy Carter, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, and the late Katharine Graham, who owned The Washington Post. He also accompanied late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on his ground-breaking visit to the United States in 1979.

His career as a foreign correspondent spanned half a century. He became Xinhua's first correspondent based in London in 1956 and was also stationed in Jakarta, Warsaw, Ottawa, Havana, Geneva and Vienna.

In 1944 and newly graduated in history from Beijing's elite Yenching University, the 24-year-old Peng took the radical step of going to the party's remote rural base at Yanan to become a member. He changed his name from Peng Qixin to Peng Di to avoid getting his family into trouble. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Qian Xing, who later became his wife. Their admission into the party was said to have been endorsed by party elder Zhou Enlai , who wanted recruits with English language skills who understood America.

In Yanan, they joined the Xinhua news agency. With their language skills, they specialised in international affairs and Peng later became head of international news and deputy chief editor.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post last year, Peng said he felt let down by the party because it had not honoured promises on freedom of the press, speech, publication, assembly and association.

'Mao Zedong changed after the Communist Party defeated the Kuomintang,' Peng said. 'The party itself became a dictatorship.

'They need to go back to the Communist Party founders' noble ideals ... you have to respect people's wishes and listen to different voices.'

Among the many essays Peng penned, one written with his wife in 2008 called on the government to honour universal values such as equality, freedom, democracy and human rights. 'In his later years, he was particularly anxious about the country and its future - he always wanted steps towards democracy to move faster,' Peng's daughter said.

His funeral was held yesterday at Beijing's Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery.

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