|Chairman of the CPC Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization|
15 November 2002 – 18 January 2013
|General Secretary||Hu Jintao|
|Preceded by||Ding Guangen|
|Succeeded by||Liu Yunshan|
|Communist Party Secretary of Guangdong|
March 1998 – November 2002
|Preceded by||Xie Fei|
|Succeeded by||Zhang Dejiang|
|Born||February 1944 (age 71–72)
|Political party||Communist Party of China|
|Alma mater||Harbin Institute of Technology|
Li Changchun (born February 1944) is a retired Chinese politician and a former major leader of the Communist Party of China. He served on the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party's top leadership council, and as the top official in charge of propaganda, between 2002 and 2012. He also served as Chairman of the CPC Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization, de facto head of propaganda and media relations. Li had a widely varying political career spanning three provinces, first as Governor of Liaoning, then Party Secretary of Henan, and then Party Secretary of Guangdong, before being promoted to the national leadership in 2002. He retired in 2012.
Early life and career
Li Changchun was born in February 1944 in modern-day Dalian, Liaoning, then administered by the Empire of Japan as "Dairen", Kwantung Leased Territory. He joined the Communist Party of China in 1965 and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the Harbin Institute of Technology in 1966. In 1983, at age 39, he became the youngest mayor and Party secretary of a major city, of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning. In 1982, he was also made an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China at the age of 38, the youngest member of the body at the time. In 1987, he became governor of Liaoning province, a post he kept until 1990. As governor, mainland China's first expressway was built in the province, linking the cities of Shenyang and Dalian. In addition, Li pushed for the reform of state-owned enterprises, aiming to decrease state involvement in their operations.
After Zhao Ziyang was purged from the party leadership in 1989 during the fallout from the Tiananmen Square protests that same year, Li was initially also thought to have been removed from the leadership because he was a supporter of Zhao. Li's appearance on state television weeks later showed that this was not the case. Li served briefly as the Party chief in the agricultural province of Henan in the 1990s, but his tenure was seen as mediocre. Rural incomes remained stagnant during his term, and his government was also blamed in a scandal involving tainted blood which led to the spread of AIDS in the province.
Li was promoted to the Politburo of the Communist Party of China in 1997, largely due to having secured the patronage of Jiang Zemin. In 1998, Jiang dispatched Li to serve as Guangdong Party Secretary. It was said that Jiang wanted to use Li as a counterbalance to the entrenched local political establishment composed mostly of people native to the province. In Guangdong, Li cracked down on corruption to "put the house in order." In the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, Li set up a special task force to evaluate what to do with non-performing loans owed by two of the province's largest financial companies. He appointed former central bank deputy governor Wang Qishan to oversee the task force. Li shook up the local banking sector and closed a plethora of local credit unions and agencies. He also increased access to the legal aid system for the poor in the province. His tenure in Guangdong was seen as largely successful, having averted the brunt of the Asian Financial Crisis and also bringing Guangdong back to the political control of the central leadership under Jiang Zemin.
Li's tenure in Guangdong made him one of Jiang's favourites and as such Jiang was preparing to groom him for succession for the premiership upon incumbent Premier Zhu Rongji's scheduled retirement in 2003. However, Zhu had been favouring Wen Jiabao for the Premier office, and criticized Li over his handling of an "export rebate fraud" scandal in the coastal city of Shantou in 2000, which took place during Li's term as Guangdong party chief. Li's intention to promote Huang Liman, a female friend of Jiang's who was considered incompetent, to the party chief position in the coastal city of Shenzhen became a sticking point for Jiang's political opponents.
Politburo Standing Committee
As expected, Li was named a member of the Politburo Standing Committee after Jiang's departure as General Secretary in 2002, having secured the position due to Jiang's backing. He was considered one of Jiang's major 'patronage appointments' to the top ruling council along with other staunch Jiang loyalists such as Jia Qinglin and Huang Ju. Li was ranked eighth in the party hierarchy out of the nine members of the new PSC, given the portfolio of supervising the Party organs that dealt with propaganda and ideology while taking on no other official party or state titles.
Li was the first propaganda chief to preside over the growth of the internet in China, and as a result was largely seen as having been the forerunner in developing the internet censorship regime that became increasingly extensive over the course of his tenure. In October 2007, at the 17th Party Congress, it was announced that Li, then aged 63 (below the unofficial age of retirement for PSC members, 67), would serve another term as propaganda chief. In addition, Li was elevated from eight position in the protocol sequence to fifth, in front of Hu Jintao's putative successor Xi Jinping.
There were high hopes among some in media circles that Li would signal a more liberal change from the strictures of former propaganda chief Ding Guangen. Li had made a major speech advocating that media stay "close to the public" and to real events, "instead of mechanically following Party directives." In addition, Li was also seen as a leading reformer due to his legacy in Guangdong, where he was not afraid to take on entrenched interests and introduce further market economic reforms. The hopes were short-lived however, though, after the Central Propaganda Department began closing newspapers, firing journalists, and would not allow foreign companies to produce content for TV stations in China. Many editors were punished and Li Changchun "started sounding and acting like another Ding Guangen."
In his position as China's propaganda chief from 2002 to 2012, Li was said to have contributed heavily to China's censorship campaign and frequently ordered media to downplay or not report on certain events. In 2006, he told the members of the All-China Journalists Association to "closely encircle the overall work of the party and state". Li approved the construction of the National Museum in 2006 after a series of disputes and delays about the building of the museum. He was the guest of honor at the opening of the National Center for the Performing Arts.
Li has put his support behind a number of creative projects that might otherwise have been censored by the government. He supported Zen Shaolin, a music, dance and martial arts show intended to increase tourism that opened in 2007 in Henan, despite the producers concerns that a celebration of religion and sacred music would be opposed by the government. Li allowed a 2009 movie Nanking! Nanking! by Lu Chuan to continue running in theaters in the face of strong pressure from nationalists who objected to the sympathetic characterization in the film of a Japanese soldier. The film was one of ten chosen to help commemorate 60 years of Communist rule.
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