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Li’s legacy tarnished by crazy, grim reality

(Global Times)

11:20, February 05, 2013

Illustration: Peter C. Espina (GT)

Li Yang's divorce case came to an end on Sunday, with the Crazy English founder and exposed wife beater ordered to pay Kim Lee 12 million yuan ($1.9 million) in property division. Lee, his American ex-wife, was also awarded full custody of the couple's three daughters.

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The case had four hearings since October 2011, with the verdict handed down almost one-and-a-half years after Lee uploaded photos online of the abuse she suffered at the hands of Li.

Li's violence not only hurt his ex-wife and children, but also affected millions of Chinese who learned English from the enigmatic education guru.

Emerging during in the mid-1990s when there were few private English-language training centers in China, loudmouthed Li's Crazy English soon dominated the market. He made several national tours around this time to promote his eccentric methods that included shouting to memorize the language.

English-language classes were only introduced to Chinese middle schools in second- and third-tier cities 20 years ago. For many children nationwide, it was Li who introduced them to the magical world of English.

I still remember the day Li delivered a speech at my primary school at the end of the 1990s; his enthusiasm immediately stirred my interest in learning English. He gestured vigorously while shouting English words loudly, his mouth opened comically wide.

My parents viewed him as a respectable role model for me after hearing of the difficulties Li overcame to achieve good scores in English at university before becoming a teacher.

Crazy English didn't have a training center in my hometown, so my parents bought me its books and DVDs, urging me to read and watch them daily even though I didn't know a single English word at the time.

I practiced before I went to middle school and then downloaded his classes during high school because most Chinese high schools at the time didn't teach English at a very high standard.

In some of the lessons I downloaded, Li's then-wife Lee participated as a guest or conversation partner to help listeners memorize and understand phrases. The couple complemented each other perfectly in classes.

That was a decade ago, when hundreds of thousands of young students and adults admired Li and treasured his lessons.

Cultural puzzlements[Special]

In recent years, China's English-language learning market has been dominated by giants such as New Oriental and Wall Street English, but Li is still regarded as a pioneer in the hearts of many.

So, how did Li's earliest students react when they learned of his abusive ways?

"I feel like something I believed in for years had suddenly turned out to be a big lie," one of my childhood friends told me.

As a young mother, she has decided not to let her son learn from Crazy English because "a bad person can't make a good teacher."

Many of Li's former students condemned him after he was exposed for his violence, Lee told me in a two-hour interview in 2011.

Indeed, since 2009 all media coverage about Li has been about his abuse rather than his Crazy English empire.

It seems the only person still promoting Crazy English is Li himself, but his reputation is beyond repair. It's obviously a "crazy" choice for today's Chinese students to learn English from the brand Li built from scratch.

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