|Premier of the People's Republic of China|
25 March 1988 – 17 March 1998
acting from 24 November 1987
|Preceded by||Zhao Ziyang|
|Succeeded by||Zhu Rongji|
|Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress|
15 March 1998 – 15 March 2003
|Preceded by||Qiao Shi|
|Succeeded by||Wu Bangguo|
|Member of the 13th, 14th, 15th CPC Politburo Standing Committee|
2 November 1987 – 15 November 2002
|General Secretary||Zhao Ziyang
|Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China|
6 June 1983 – 24 November 1987
Serving with Wan Li, Yao Yilin, Tian Jiyun
|Member of the
National People's Congress
25 March 1988 – 5 March 2003
20 October 1928 |
Shanghai, Republic of China
|Political party||Communist Party of China|
|Alma mater||Moscow Power Engineering Institute|
Li Peng (born 20 October 1928) served as the fourth Premier of the People's Republic of China, between 1987 and 1998, and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, from 1998 to 2003. For much of the 1990s Li was ranked second in the Communist Party of China (CPC) hierarchy behind then Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin. He retained his seat on the CPC Politburo Standing Committee until 2002.
As Premier, Li was the most visible representative of China's government who backed the use of force to quell the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. During the Tiananmen protests of 1989, Li used his authority as Premier to declare martial law, and in cooperation with Deng Xiaoping, who was the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, to order the June 1989 military crackdown against student pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Li also advocated for a largely conservative approach with Chinese economic reform, which placed him at odds with General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who fell out of favour after 1989. As Premier, Li oversaw a rapidly growing economy, and attempted to decentralize and downsize the Chinese bureaucracy, to varying degrees of success. He was at the helm of the controversial Three Gorges Dam project.
Li was born in Shanghai, but with ancestral roots in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province. He is a Hakka, the son of writer Li Shuoxun, one of the earliest CPC revolutionaries, who was the political commissar of the Twentieth Division during the Nanchang Uprising. In 1931 Li was orphaned at age three when his father was executed by the Kuomintang for treason and for support of armed splittism. It was generally believed that Li was adopted by Zhou Enlai and Deng Yingchao, but this was refuted by Li himself in 2014 in his own memoirs. According to Li, he met Deng in Chengdu in 1939, who then took him to Changchun to meet Zhou. Zhou was in the Communist base of Yan'an, and they did not meet until late 1940. In 1941, when Li was twelve, Zhou sent Li to Yan'an, where Li studied until 1945. As a seventeen-year-old, in 1945, Li joined the Communist Party of China.
Like other Communist Party cadres of the third generation, Li gained a technical background. In 1941 he began studying at the Institute of Natural Science (the former Beijing Institute of Technology) in Yan'an. In 1948 he was sent to study at the Moscow Power Engineering Institute, majoring in hydroelectric engineering. A year later, in 1949, Zhou Enlai became Premier of the newly declared People's Republic of China. Li graduated in 1954. During his time in the USSR, Li was the Chairman of the Chinese Students Association in the Soviet Union.
When Li returned to China in 1955, the country was firmly under the control of the Communist Party. From the time of his return until 1979, Li engineered and managed a number of major power projects across China, beginning his career in Manchuria. Li survived the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution unscathed, due largely to his placement as director and Party secretary of the powerful and influential Beijing Electric Power Administration (from 1966–1980), and due to his family contacts in powerful Communist circles.
Li advanced politically after the ascent of Deng Xiaoping, and served as the Vice-Minister and Minister of Power between 1979 and 1983. In 1982–1983 Li served as the vice-minister of Water Conservancy and Power. Much of Li's rapid political promotion was due to the support of Party elder Chen Yun.
Li joined the Central Committee at the Twelfth National Congress in 1982. In 1985 he was named minister of the State Education Commission, and was elected to the Politburo and the Party Secretariat. In 1987 Li became a member of the powerful Standing Committee.
Defender of state control
In 1988 Deng Xiaoping raised Li to the role of Premier of State Council. As Premier, Li succeeded Zhao Ziyang, who had been promoted from Premier to become the Communist Party's General Secretary. Shortly after this promotion, Li would play a major role in ending Zhao's career, after Zhao publicly supported demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. At the time of his promotion, Li seemed like an unusual choice for Premier because he did not seem to share Deng's enthusiasm for introducing market reforms. Li was raised to the position of Premier thanks partially to the departure of Hu Yaobang, who was forced to resign as General Secretary after the Party blamed him for a series of student-led protests in 1987.
Throughout the 1980s, political dissent and social problems, including inflation, urban migration, and school overcrowding, became great problems in China. Despite these acute challenges, Li shifted his focus away from the day-to-day concerns of energy, communications, and raw materials allocation, and took a more active role in the ongoing intra-party debate on the pace of market reforms. Politically, Li opposed the modern economic reforms pioneered by Zhao Ziyang throughout Zhao's years of public service. While students and intellectuals urged greater reforms, some party elders increasingly feared that the instability opened up by any significant reforms would threaten to undermine the authority of the Communist Party, which Li had spent his career attempting to strengthen.
After Zhao became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, his proposals in May 1988 to expand free enterprise led to popular complaints (which some suggest were politically inspired) about inflation fears. Public fears about the negative effects of market reforms gave conservatives (including Li Peng) the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influences, especially opposing further expansion of Zhao's more free enterprise-oriented approach. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988–1989.
The Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 began with the mass mourning over the death of former General secretary Hu Yaobang, widely perceived to have been purged for his support of political liberalization. On the eve of Hu's funeral, 100,000 people gathered at Tiananmen Square. Beijing students began the demonstrations to encourage continued economic reform and liberalization, and these demonstrations soon evolved into a mass movement for political reform. From Tiananmen Square, the protesters later expanded into the surrounding streets. Non-violent protests also occurred in cities throughout China, including Shanghai and Wuhan. Looting and rioting occurred in various locations throughout China, including Xi'an and Changsha.
The Tiananmen protests were partially protests against the affluence of the children of high-ranking Communist Party officials, and the perception that second-generation officials had received their fortunes through exploiting their parents' influence. Li, whose family has often been at the center of corruption allegations within the Chinese power industry, was vulnerable to these charges.
In an editorial published in the People's Daily on 26 April, Deng Xiaoping denounced the demonstrations as "premeditated and organized turmoil with anti-Party and anti-socialist motives". This article had the effect of worsening the demonstrations by angering its leaders, who then made their demands more extreme. Zhao Ziyang later wrote in his autobiography that, although Deng had stated many of these sentiments in a private conversation with Li Peng shortly before the editorial was written, Li had these comments disseminated to Party members and published as the editorial without Deng's knowledge or consent.
Li strictly refused to negotiate with the Tiananmen protesters out of principle, and became one of the officials most objected to by protesters. One of the protest's key leaders, Wang Dan, during a hunger strike, publicly scolded Li on National Television for ignoring the needs of the people. Some observers say that Wang's statements insulted Li personally, hardening his resolve to end the protest by violent means.
Among the other senior members of the central government, Li became the one who most strongly favored violence. After winning the support of most of his colleagues, including Deng Xiaoping, Li officially declared martial law in Beijing on 20 May 1989 and the protests were crushed by the military on June 3-4. Most estimates of the dead range from several hundred to several thousand people. Li later described the crackdown as a historic victory for Communism, and wrote that he feared the protests would be as potentially damaging to China as the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) had been.
Although the Tiananmen crackdown was an "international public relations disaster for China", it ensured that Li would have a long and productive career. He remained powerful, even though he had been one of the main targets of protesters, partially because the leadership believed that limiting Li's career would be the same as admitting that they had made mistakes by suppressing the 1989 protests. By keeping Li at the upper levels of the Party, China's leaders communicated to the world that the country remained stable and united.
In the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen protests, Li took a leading role in a national austerity program, intended to slow economic growth and inflation and re-centralize the economy. Li worked to increase taxes on agriculture and export-industries, and increased salaries to less-efficient industries owned by the government. Li directed a tight monetary policy, implementing price controls on many commodities, supporting higher interest rates, and cutting off state loans to private and cooperative sectors in attempts to reduce inflation.
Li suffered a heart attack in 1993, and began to lose influence within the Party to vice-premier Zhu Rongji, a strong advocate for economic liberalization. In that year, when Li made his annual work report to the Politburo, he was forced to make over seventy changes in order to make the plans acceptable to Deng. Perhaps realizing that opposition to the market reforms would be poorly received by Deng and other Party elders, Li publicly supported Deng's economic reforms. Li was reappointed Premier in 1993, despite a large protest vote for Zhu. Zhu Rongji eventually succeeded Li when Li's second term expired, in 1998.
Li began two megaprojects when he was the Premier. He initiated the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on 14 December 1994, and later began preparations for the Shenzhou Manned Space Program. Both programs were subject to much controversy within China and abroad. The Shenzhou program was especially criticized due to its extraordinary cost (tens of billions of dollars) in a country that sometimes referred to itself as a Third World nation. Many economists and humanitarians suggested that those billions in capital might be better invested in helping the Chinese population deal with economic hardships and improvement in the China's education, health services, and legal system.
Chairmanship of the National People's Congress
Li remained premier until 1998, when he was constitutionally limited to two terms. After his second term expired, he became the chairman of the National People's Congress. Support for Li for the largely ceremonial position was low, as he only received less than 90% of the vote at the 1998 National People's Congress, where he was the only candidate. He spent much of his time monitoring what he considers his life's work, the Three Gorges Dam. Li's interest in the Dam reflects his earlier career as a hydraulic engineer, and he spent much of his career presiding over a vast and growing power industry while in office. He considers himself a builder and a modernizer.
Although retired, Li retains some influence in the PSC. The former Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China member Luo Gan, is considered to be his protégé. Since the 17th Party Congress, Li's influence has considerably waned and he is no longer active on China's political scene due to the corruption issues that plague him and his family as well as the Communist Party attempting to distance itself from politicians who had a dominant role of the cracking down on the Tiananmen protests.
Li spent much of the 1990s expanding and managing an energy monopoly, State Power Corp. Because the company was staffed by Li's relatives, Li's management effectively transformed China's energy industry into a "family fiefdom". At its height, Li's power company controlled 72% of all energy-producing assets in China, and was ranked as the sixtieth-largest company in the world by US magazine Fortune. After Li's departure from government, Li's energy monopoly was split into five smaller companies by the Chinese government.
In the Western media, Li is generally viewed as "widely hated" for his dominant role in endorsing the bloody crackdown on dissidents following the Tiananmen protests. He is generally unpopular in China, where he "has long been a figure of scorn and suspicion".
In 2010, Li's autobiographical book, The Critical Moment – Li Peng Diaries, was published by New Century Press. The Critical Moment covers Li's activities during the period of the Tiananmen Square protests, and was published on the protests' twenty-first anniversary. The Critical Moment had been available to publishers since 2004, when it was to be published on the protests' fifteenth anniversary, but was delayed due to legal reasons. New Century Press is run by Bao Pu, the son of Bao Tong, who was an aide to Li's rival, Zhao Ziyang. Bao Pu was also an editor for Zhao's autobiography, Prisoner of the State. Bao stated that he initially had some doubts about the book's authenticity, but that these were mostly resolved by the time of the book's publication. The book was initially published only in Chinese.
Li Peng is married to Zhu Lin (朱琳), a deputy manager in "a large firm in the south of China". Li and Zhu have 3 children: Li's elder son, Li Xiaopeng; Li's daughter, Li Xiaolin; and, Li's younger son, Li Xiaoyong. Li Xiaoyong is married to Ye Xiaoyan, the daughter of Communist veteran Ye Ting's second son, Ye Zhengming.
Li's family benefited from Li's high position during the 1980s and 1990s. Two of Li's children, Li Xiaopeng and Li Xiaolin, inherited and ran two of China's electrical monopolies. State-run Chinese media have publicly questioned whether it is in China's long-term interest to preserve the "new class of monopoly state capitalists" that Li's family represents. Li Xiaopeng became the Vice-Governor of Shanxi in 2008, and was named the governor of that province in 2012.
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He Dongchang (Minister of Education)
|Chairman of the State Education Commission
|Premier of the People's Republic of China
|Chairmen of the Standing Committee of the NPC