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Li Keqiang

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Li Keqiang
Li in 2019
Premier of China
In office
15 March 2013 – 11 March 2023
PresidentXi Jinping
Vice Premier
Cabinet I
Cabinet II
Preceded byWen Jiabao
Succeeded byLi Qiang
First-ranked Vice Premier of China
In office
17 March 2008 – 15 March 2013
PremierWen Jiabao
Preceded byWu Yi (acting)
Succeeded byZhang Gaoli
Communist Party Secretary of Liaoning
In office
13 December 2004 – 29 October 2007
GovernorZhang Wenyue
Preceded byWen Shizhen
Succeeded byZhang Wenyue
Communist Party Secretary of Henan
In office
30 December 2002 – 13 December 2004
GovernorLi Chengyu
Preceded byChen Kuiyuan
Succeeded byXu Guangchun
First Secretary of the Communist Youth League of China
In office
10 May 1993 – 23 June 1998
Preceded bySong Defu
Succeeded byZhou Qiang
Personal details
Born(1955-07-03)3 July 1955[1]
Hefei, Anhui, China
Died27 October 2023(2023-10-27) (aged 68)
Shanghai, China
Political partyCCP (from 1974)
(m. 1983)
Alma materPeking University (LLB, MEc, PhD)
CabinetLi Keqiang Government
Scientific career
ThesisOn the ternary structure of Chinese economy (1991)
Doctoral advisorLi Yining
Central institution membership
  • 2007–2022: 17th, 18th, 19th Politburo Standing Committee
  • 2007–2022: 17th, 18th, 19th Politburo
  • 1997–2022: Full member, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th Central Committee
  • 1993–1998: Delegate, 8th National People's Congress

Leading group posts

Other offices held
Chinese name
Simplified Chinese李克强
Traditional Chinese李克強

Li Keqiang (Chinese: 李克强; pinyin: Lǐ Kèqiáng; 3 July 1955 – 27 October 2023) was a Chinese economist and politician who served as the premier of China from 2013 to 2023. He was also the second-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 2012 to 2022. Li was a major part of the "fifth generation of Chinese leadership" along with Xi Jinping, the CCP general secretary.

Born in Hefei, Anhui province, in 1955, Li initially rose through the ranks of Chinese politics through his involvement in the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), serving as its first secretary from 1993 to 1998. From 1998 to 2004, Li served as the governor of Henan and the province's party secretary. From 2004 to 2007 he served as the party secretary of Liaoning, the top political office in the province. From 2008 to 2013, Li served as the first-ranked vice premier[note 1] under then-premier Wen Jiabao, overseeing a broad portfolio which included economic development, price controls, finance, climate change, and macroeconomic management.

Initially seen as a candidate for becoming the paramount leader, Li instead assumed the post of premier in 2013, and facilitated the Chinese government's shifting of priorities from export-led growth to a greater focus on internal consumption. During his term Li headed the State Council and was one of the leading figures behind China's Financial and Economic Affairs, Foreign Affairs, National Security and Deepening Reforms. Additionally, Li and his cabinet initiated the Made in China 2025 strategic plan in May 2015.

Given his Youth League experience, Li was generally considered a political ally of former leader Hu Jintao and a member of the Tuanpai faction. Economically seen as advocating reform and liberalization, Li has been described as representing the more pragmatic and technocratic side of China's leadership. Li stepped down from the Politburo Standing Committee in October 2022 and was succeeded as premier by Li Qiang in March 2023. Li died in October 2023 from a heart attack, after leaving office just a few months prior.

Early life and education[edit]

Li Keqiang was born on 3 July 1955 in Dingyuan County of Hefei, Anhui province.[3][1] His father was a local official in Anhui. Li graduated from Hefei No. 8 Senior High School in 1974, during the Cultural Revolution, and was sent for rural labour in an agriculture commune in Fengyang County, Anhui. There, he joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1976 and became the party head of the local production team.[3] He was awarded the honor of Outstanding Individual in the Study of Mao Zedong Thought during this time.[4]

Li refused his father's offer of grooming him for the local county's party leadership and entered Peking University Law School in 1978, where he became the president of the university's student council.[5] He studied under Professor Gong Xiangrui, a well-known British-educated expert on Western political systems.[3] Together with his classmates, he translated important legal works from English to Chinese, including Lord Denning's book The Due Process of Law.[3] He received a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1982.[5]

In 1982, Li became the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) Committee Secretary at Peking University.[6] He entered the top leadership of the national CYLC in 1983 as an alternate member of CYLC Central Committee's Secretariat,[3] and worked closely with future Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who also rose through the ranks of the CYLC. He was appointed as a secretary of the CYLC Secretariat in 1985.[3]

In 1988, he returned to Peking University for graduate studies. He studied economics under prominent economist Li Yining, who was his doctoral advisor.[7] He received a Master of Economics and a Doctor of Philosophy in Economics from Peking University in 1995.[8] At the invitation of Li Yining, Li Keqiang's doctoral dissertation review committee was composed of well-known Chinese economists and researchers. Because of the high academic rigor of the committee, Li Keqiang postponed the defense of his dissertation by half a year.[9] Described as being able to "withstand any kind of inspection" by his doctoral advisor, Li Keqiang's doctoral dissertation, "On the ternary structure of Chinese economy", published in 1991, was awarded the Sun Yefang Prize, China's highest prize in economics, in 1996.[10][11][12]

Li became the CYLC's first secretary in 1993 and served in that role until 1998.[3] In 1993, Li proposed the CYLC's Youth Volunteers Operation, which recruits and channels volunteers intro educational, social, and environmental projects.[13]: 130  It is regarded as an important achievement of his tenure as CYLC first secretary.[13]: 130  Li was a representative member of the first generation to have risen from the CYLC leadership.[citation needed] In 1997, he became a full member of the CCP Central Committee.[3]

Provincial tenures[edit]

Henan (1998–2004)[edit]

Li became the youngest Chinese provincial governor in June 1998 when he was appointed governor of Henan at the age of 43. He also became Henan's Deputy Communist Party Secretary.[3] According to provincial officials working with him at the time, Li refused to participate in any banquets or large fancy events not related to government activities.[14] During his time as governor, a public sense of his "bad luck" grew due to the occurrence of three major fires in the province.[15]

Li was known to be outspoken and led economic development in Henan, transforming the poor inland region into an attractive area for investment.[citation needed] He trekked through all regions of the province trying to search for a comprehensive solution to its growing problems.[citation needed] He was appointed to become Henan's Communist Party secretary in 2002, the province's top political office, and left his post as governor in 2003.[3] Henan jumped in national GDP rankings from 28th in the early 1990s to 18th in 2004, when Li left Henan. However, his government was relatively ineffective at curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was affecting the rural areas of the province.[16]

Liaoning (2004–2007)[edit]

Li was transferred to work as the Party secretary of Liaoning in December 2004.[3] There he was known for the "Five Points and One Line" project, where he linked Dalian, Dandong, and a series of other ports into a comprehensive network to improve trade flow.[17] During his leadership in Liaoning, Li designed the "Li Keqiang index", an unconventional economic indicator that aimed to bypass the often unreliable official provincial GDP numbers, which were often artificially inflated, and thus serve as a better indicator of economic health. Instead of gathering data on total economic output alone, Li used railway cargo volume, electricity consumption, and total loans disbursed by banks to keep tabs on the economy.[18]

Vice Premiership (2008–2013)[edit]

January 2011, Li attends the China-Britain Business Council dinner and delivers a speech.

Li joined the CCP Politburo Standing Committee after the 17th Party Congress held in October 2007 as its 7th-ranking member. He was succeeded in his Liaoning party secretary post by governor Zhang Wenyue. Given his Youth League experience and his association with then paramount leader Hu Jintao, Li was viewed from early on in Hu's term as a contender to succeed Hu when his term as party leader ended in 2012.[19] While Li's political future seemed promising, he was outranked on the Standing Committee by Xi Jinping, who had just left his role as party secretary of Shanghai to join the central leadership ranks in Beijing. This rank order ostensibly signaled that it would be Xi, not Li, who would eventually succeed Hu as party general secretary and president. At the 1st Session of the 11th National People's Congress, Li was elected as the first-ranking vice premier, reinforcing the speculation that Li would become premier and was being groomed to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao.[15]

Li's portfolio as vice premier included economic development, government budgets, land and resources, the environment, and health.[20] He also became the head of central commissions overseeing the Three Gorges Dam and the South–North Water Transfer Project, as well as the leader of steering committees in charge of health care reform, food safety, and AIDS-related work.[citation needed] In addition, Li was the principal lieutenant to premier Wen Jiabao in the broad portfolios of climate change, energy, information technology, northeastern China revitalization, and developing the Chinese far west.[citation needed]

As vice premier, Li was instrumental in pushing through an economic stimulus program in 2008, which was aimed for the economy to rebound from the Sichuan earthquake as well as the Great Recession.[21] Li's appeared at the 2010 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he presented China's long-term vision for development in front of world business and political leaders.[22] In particular, Li briefed the WEF on China's commitment to sustainable development, green energy, decreasing the income gap and modernizing key strategic industries.[22] While reiterating China's commitment to peaceful development and its focus in increasing domestic demand in the face of external pressures during the global financial crisis, Li also warned against protectionism, saying "opening up can be both bilateral and multilateral... in this sense, one plus one is more often than not bigger than two."[23]

In February 2010, Li gave a speech to ministerial and provincial-level leaders about the importance of changing the economic structure of the country in order to be better poised for future growth. The speech was published with minor omissions in the 1 June issue of Qiushi, the Communist Party's political theory publication. Li said that China had come to a critical historical inflection point where a fundamental shift in the structure of the economy must take place in order for the country to continue its path of growth. Li particularly emphasized the need to boost domestic consumption, and emphasized the importance of continued urbanization.[24] Li also emphasized that China should be moving towards a more middle class-oriented society with an "olive"-shaped wealth distribution, with the majority of the country's population and wealth belonging to the middle class.[citation needed] He also reiterated the importance of industrialization, urbanization and agricultural modernization in China in order to improve its competitiveness, food security, energy security, affordable housing, and healthcare.[25]

In August 2011, Li went on an official visit to Hong Kong, including a trip to the University of Hong Kong The political sensitivities and heightened security surrounding the event resulted in the Hong Kong 818 incident, an event that caused controversy in the territory.[26][27]

Premiership (2013–2023)[edit]

Li was elevated to the number two spot on the PSC at the 18th CCP National Congress held in the fall of 2012. As he was expected to become premier, this was a shift from previous convention on the PSC set in 1997 whereby the premier ranked third, after the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, who ranked second. On 15 March 2013, Li Keqiang was elected by the 1st Session of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) as premier, succeeding Wen Jiabao.[28] Of the nearly 3,000 legislators assembled at the Congress, 2,940 voted for him, three against, and six abstained.[28] At the same Congress, Party general secretary Xi Jinping was elected President.[29]

Li with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
July 2015, Li attends the Franco-Chinese economic summit and delivers a speech.

On 16 March, the NPC appointed Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yandong, Wang Yang, and Ma Kai as vice premiers following their respective nominations from Li Keqiang.[30] He gave his first major speech 17 March at the conclusion of the NPC, calling for frugality in government, a fairer distribution of income and continued economic reform. Li focused his attention on China to move towards a consumption based economy instead of relying on export led growth.[31] Li was ranked 14th of the 2013 Forbes list of the World's Most Powerful People, after taking the office of Chinese premier.[32] On 18 March 2018, Li was reappointed premier of China after receiving 2,964 votes in favour and just two against by the NPC.[33]

Economic policy[edit]

March 2015, Li attends the Chinese and foreign press conference.

Li was a firm believer in the use of robust economic data to aid in government decision making. When Li initially entered office, China was facing numerous structural problems inherited from the previous administration, namely the large abundance of non-performing loans that many of the giant infrastructure projects the country had embarked on since the global financial crisis was overloaded with crushing debt, lower than expected revenues, and the increasingly large wealth gap. Under these circumstances, Li was said to have responded with what became known as "Likonomics", a term coined by economists at the investment bank Barclays Capital. Likonomics consisted of a three-prong approach that included the across-the-board reduction of debt, an end to massive stimulus practices of the Wen Jiabao government, and structural reforms.[34] However, by 2014, global economic pressures and a decrease in demand of Chinese exports led to lower than expected economic growth rates. Year-on-year GDP growth amounted to less than 7.5% for the first time since 1989. Li's government then responded with tax cuts for small businesses, renovation projects of poor urban areas, and another round of rail construction, particularly focused on the country's interior.[35]

After the announcement of comprehensive reforms at the Third Plenum in 2013, Li became a leading figure of the government's reform implementation efforts. The Third Plenum called for market forces to play a "decisive" role in the allocation of resources, ostensibly looking to decrease government regulation on the free market. In early 2014, Li said that local governments were still ineffective at following the central government's reform directives, and that some governments meddle in affairs they shouldn't be involved in, and some don't pay attention to things they should be doing. Li emphasized that the success of reforms came down to "execution and implementation", and criticized local governments for failing to act in support of reforms.[36]

Domestic policy[edit]

Li was critical of unnecessary government bureaucracy, particularly at the grassroots level. He stated his belief that many lower-level officials fail to provide services to the public in an effective manner. Regarding his disdain for the matter, Li's many quotable anecdotes have become viral. Li referred to a case in which a citizen filling out a form to travel overseas (normal in the PRC) had to write down an emergency contact (the citizen put down their mother as the contact), and the government official overseeing the matter asked the citizen to provide a notarized document to "prove your mom is your mom."[37] Li called this incident "absolutely preposterous". In another case, he referred to a grassroots civil servant who asked for proof that a one-year old does not have a criminal record in order to deliver a government service.[38] In yet another case, Li referred to a senior citizen applying for welfare benefits being forced by government employees to provide proof that "they are still alive." Regarding the latter two incidents, Li said, "this is not a joke, it's all real!"[38]

From January 2020, Li was in charge of the Chinese government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[39][40] On 27 January, Li visited Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic, to direct outbreak prevention work.[41]

Foreign affairs[edit]

Li Keqiang made his first foreign visit to India on 18 May 2013 in a bid to resolve border disputes and to stimulate economic relations.[42] He said the choice of India as the first international visit highlights Chinese importance in its relations with the country.[43] During prime minister Narendra Modi's visit to China in 2015, Li and Modi took a selfie together at the Temple of Heaven.[citation needed]

During his visit to Pakistan, Li met with the country's top leadership and expressed his views: "As Pakistan's closest friend and brother, we would like to provide as much assistance as we can for the Pakistani side".[44]

Li also visited Switzerland and Germany on his first Europe trip, and met with the two countries' leaders.[45]

United States lieutenant general H. R. McMaster wrote of Li that, "If anyone in the American group had any doubts about China's view of its relationship with the United States, Li's monologue would have removed them. He began with the observation that China, having already developed its industrial and technological base, no longer needed the United States."[46]

Relationship with Xi Jinping[edit]

Xi Jinping (left) and Li Keqiang (right)

There has been speculation that Li may have been sidelined by Xi Jinping's consolidation of power,[47] with some calling him the "weakest premier" since the CCP took power in 1949.[48]

At the Third Plenum of the 18th Central Committee held in the fall of 2013, the CCP announced far-reaching economic and social reforms. However, the document outlining the reforms was drafted under the leadership of Xi, Liu Yunshan and Zhang Gaoli, and Li was ostensibly not involved in preparing the document. This departure from convention (Wen Jiabao was the principal drafter of documents behind the reforms announced at the Third Plenum of 2003) led to speculation that Li was becoming marginalized in the new administration, and that the widely touted "Xi–Li Administration" in fact did not exist, as power was increasingly being centralized under the hands of Xi as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party.[49]

Following the Third Plenum of 2013, Xi amassed a series of leadership roles on four new powerful supra-ministerial bodies overseeing "comprehensively deepening reforms", the internet, military reform, and also the National Security Commission. The "deepening reforms" leading group was said to be encroaching on the affairs in the economic realm normally handled by the premier, and was seen as having the effect of reducing Li's institutional power. However, Li appeared in official press releases as Xi's foremost lieutenant, being named Vice Chairman of the National Security Commission,[50] in addition to becoming the deputy leader of leading groups on "deepening reforms", internet security, and the economy and finance.[51]

Post-premiership (2023)[edit]

On 11 March 2022, Li confirmed that he would be stepping down as premier of China upon the expiry of his second term in March 2023.[52] However, there was speculation that he might continue serving as CCP Politburo Standing Committee member in another post, such as the chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, which were ultimately without foundation.[53] During the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October 2022, Li stepped down from the CCP Central Committee.[54] Li's term officially ended on 11 March 2023, and he was succeeded by Li Qiang, a close ally of Xi.[55] Although it was excluded from the official transcript, his farewell speech included the remark: "While people work, heaven watches. Heaven has eyes."[48]

After Li stepped down as Premier in March 2023, he has visited Mogao Caves in Gansu in August 2023, which is his first public appearance after his retirement and last public appearance before his death.[56]

Li and his wife (far right) with Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte in 2019


Li Keqiang died in Shanghai at 00:10 CST on 27 October 2023 at the age of 68 after a heart attack the previous day.[57][58][59] The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that the heart attack occurred as he swam at Shanghai's Dongjiao State Guest Hotel.[60] The Standard reported that long-term use of anti-rejection drugs following a liver transplant were a contributing factor.[61] SCMP reported that he had also undergone coronary artery bypass surgery.[60]

Li's remains were flown to Beijing on 27 October.[62] On 2 November, a memorial ceremony was held at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery and he was cremated. Attendees of the ceremony included Xi Jinping, his wife Peng Liyuan, Premier Li Qiang, all other members of the 20th Politburo Standing Committee, and Vice President Han Zheng. According to state media, former leader Hu Jintao sent flowers and did not attend.[63] National flags were flown at half-mast at Chinese government buildings, diplomatic missions, and in Hong Kong and Macau.[63][62]

Mourners leaving flowers near Li's childhood residence in Luyang District, Hefei.

Personal life[edit]

Li was married to Cheng Hong, a professor in English Language and Literature (especially American Naturalism) at the Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. His father-in-law was once the deputy secretary of the Communist Youth League Central Committee. He spoke conversational English.[64]

Political views[edit]

Li was generally regarded as advocating economic reform and liberalization.[47] He was described as representing the less ideological and more pragmatic and technocratic side of China's leadership.[65] In August 2022, Li gave a speech in Shenzhen praising Deng Xiaoping and his economic reforms, which was later censored by the Chinese government.[66] Wang Juntao, a Chinese dissident and former colleague of Li during his studies at the Peking University, said that Li was "very interested" in political reform.[67]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • Li, Yining; Meng, Xiaosu; Li, Yuanchao; Li, Keqiang (December 2018). The Strategic Choice for China's Prosperity. Translated by Shi, Guangjun; Jiang, Hongxing (English ed.). Singapore: South Ocean Publishing House.

See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Li's title has been variously translated as "Executive Vice Premier" or "First Vice-Premier", though the practice of making explicit reference to the Vice Premier's rank has gradually been phased out since Deng Xiaoping last assumed the title of "First Vice Premier" during the Cultural Revolution. In state media, Li was almost always been referred to as simply the "Vice Premier".


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