Key Figures on Campus: Lord Michael Lindsay – The economics lecturer who helped Mao rise to power

In our “key figures on campus” series we ask alumni to share some of their memories of key members of staff who influenced them as students, and to undertake a bit of research to find out more about some of the remarkable untold stories behind important figures in the University’s history. In this instalment, we learn about a figure who is largely unknown in the UK, but who was commended by China’s President, Xi Jinping, in the speech he gave to parliament during the 2015 state visit to the UK. Lord Michael Lindsay, lecturer in Economics at Hull between 1948 and 1950, was commended during the address as one of those who history will remember forever for dedicating themselves to building relations between China and the UK.

Outraged by the atrocities committed during the Japanese invasion of China during the Second World War, Lord Lindsay joined the Chinese people’s resistance against the Japanese army, smuggling supplies to help the guerrilla fighters, and helped China develop their radio communications.

Alumnus John Gilbert (Economics, 1952) who studied at Hull under Lord Lindsay, shares his recollections and thoughts on this remarkable key figure on campus.

The Hon Michael Lindsay (died February 1994) with his wife Hsiao
The Hon Michael Lindsay, left, (died February 1994) with his wife Hsiao Li (died April 2010) and their children, L to R, Erica Lindsay and James Lindsay. Michael later became 2nd Lord Lindsay of Birker and James became 3rd Lord Lindsay of Birker on the death of his father in 1994. Lady Birker became Britain’s first chinese peeress .

Lord Michael Lindsay, my lecturer in economics at Hull University College 1948-1951. On his father’s death in 1952 he became Lord Lindsay. Twice a week he was my lecturer and tutor in business administration. He was a young Oxford academic. His new students had no idea of his previous travel and adventures in China. He was firstly at Peking (now Beijing) University where he met and married his wife who was one of his students. Somehow we managed at almost every lecture to divert him from his chosen subject to tell us about his 4 year journey to “Mao ” Headquarters.

This is the fascinating love story of Lord Lindsay and his Chinese wife Hsiao Li Lindsay.

We had little knowledge of China and its history, many of his stories are in his wife’s book ‘Bold Plum’ (I think Plum was her nickname) all about their experiences from 1942-1945 with the guerrillas in China’s war against Japan.

Three years later at our graduation we were well aware of the long war in China from 1931-1945. The Republican government of Chiang Kai-Shek and the Communist guerrillas lead by a man named Mao Zedong. Little did we know he would become the leader of a nation that would become so powerful that it would rival the USA.

Hsiao Li, Michael Lindsay’s wife started writing her book in 1947 while they were still in the USA (at Harvard University). When they moved to the UK (Hull University College) she tried to have Bold Plum’ published but to no avail. The reason was that their association with Mao meant that they must be communists.

The Lindsays always denied this; they were never members of any political party. During his lectures he never discussed politics. By 1958 relations between the West (especially the USA) and China had deteriorated so badly that when Michael made some critical remarks about the Chinese communists his entry permit to China was cancelled.

In the 50s and 60s anti-communism reached fever point and in the USA ‘McCarthyism’ was rife. It was defined as ‘the practice of making accusation of treason without proper regard of evidence’. In this environment no one would publish Hsiao’s book. Not until nearly 50 years later her son James (who now lives in Australia) succeeded in publishing it.

I firmly believe they were never communists, but because of what they witnessed there was the overwhelming desire to help the Chinese people. Michael’s contributions to Mao’s victory was his great expertise in radio communications, vital to any army and his help in getting medical supplies throughput his network of international friends.

His adventures behind enemy lines are in his wife’s book Bold Plum.

It was in Yenan, Mao’s headquarters that illustrates the closeness of their relationship. In 1945, 2 days before the Lindsays left Yenan for the UK Mao hosted a dinner in honour of the Lindsays in gratitude for Michael’s work and his wife’s bravery. Dinner was just for the three of them.

Mao said ‘Mr Lindsay, you know better than any other foreigner that we, the Chinese communists do not want any more fighting. We have had enough of war, we had enough before the Japanese invasion and after 8 years of anti-Japanese war we have had more than enough.’

What a tragedy that the West (especially the USA) did not hear his words or at least consider them.

The consequences of this cold war between China and the USA has been the Korean and Vietnam wars (could they have been prevented if Michael’s knowledge of Mao been understood?).

Commentators have written that Bold Plum should be made into a film. I can picture a blockbuster film, landscape surely rivalling the USA’s West. Mao, Emporer of Japan, Churchill, Roosevelt, Chiang Kai Check and Stalin. Heroic victories, terror and atrocities.

The main theme however needs to be about the great love story between Michael and Hsiao, their epic journey and their 2 children born behind enemy lines. A 2 year, 500 mile walk, where the Japanese controlled the cities and urban areas, the railways and main roads. The Japanese had their forts in the countryside but they didn’t have the manpower to control the vast areas. They tried to control the population through terror and atrocities.

Now in 2018, the 500 miles from Beijing  to Yenan takes approximately 2 hours via China’s bullet train.

In 1951 the Lindsays left Hull and emigrated to Australia where their son now lives. James, his son is aware of my efforts to gain recognition for his parents by Hull University.

In 1980 when Den Xiaoping became leader, all friendships were renewed and they regularly returned to China. By then some of their friends held very senior positions in the Chinese government.

After the death of her husband and daughter Erica, Hsiao Li returned to Beijing and lived in an apartment loaned to her by the government in gratitude for their work during the war.

The Hon Michael Lindsay (died February 1994) with his wife Hsiao

2 thoughts on “Key Figures on Campus: Lord Michael Lindsay – The economics lecturer who helped Mao rise to power

  1. Fascinating account of bravery and principle from a different age, which, as stated, has remained largely unknown. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


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