China asks universities to avoid private memorials for ex-premier Li as people mourn his sudden death

NewsDrum Desk
28 Oct 2023

Beijing, Oct 28 (PTI) In a bid to avoid possible social turmoil, China has reportedly asked student bodies in some universities not to organise private commemoration activities for former premier Li Keqiang whose sudden death shocked the country, according to media reports on Saturday.


Li, an acclaimed economist who was once a strong contender against Chinese President Xi Jinping for the country's top leadership role, died on Friday of a heart attack. He was 68.

The Chinese government has not yet announced details of his funeral arrangements.

Hundreds of people are seen lined up near Li's childhood residence with bouquets of flowers to mourn his death in videos emerging on Chinese social media from Hefei, the capital of the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, which is the birthplace of the former premier.


Emotional scenes were witnessed as some people cried expressing sorrow over his death.

Medical experts tending to Li had done everything in their power to revive him, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported on Saturday.

Quoting two sources based in Shanghai, the report said Li suffered a heart attack on Thursday after swimming at the Dong Jiao State Guest Hotel, where he was staying. He was rushed to nearby Shuguang Hospital by his security and healthcare team, a comprehensive support system provided for former senior leaders.


The Post also reported that some Chinese universities have told students not to organise private commemoration activities for Li in an apparent bid to avoid social turmoil.

Li had a reputation as a moderate reformist and won the admiration of the Chinese people for managing the economy which was in a slowdown mode during his 10-year tenure.

Though ranked number two in the ruling Chinese Communist Party hierarchy, Li was side-lined and mostly spent his years in the government focusing on the management of the economy, while Xi has emerged as the most powerful leader after Party founder Mao Zedong, heading the party, the military and the Presidency.


Li's death after his retirement in March this year has shocked the nation, with many paying tribute to him online after the news emerged, the Post report said.

Some universities have told student counsellors and leaders not to arrange memorial activities, fearing that they could potentially turn into protests.

One student counsellor at a top university in Beijing said they had been told to work with student leaders to ensure that no memorials were held for now, the Post report said.


“It is not that we will not commemorate former premier Li Keqiang. I think we need to wait for the party’s central leadership to announce details of the national mourning, so the university can follow this properly,” said the counsellor, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

“We don’t want students to organise their own mourning events. They could get overly emotional and cause unnecessary turbulence like what happened 30-plus years ago,” the counsellor said.

In the past, the Chinese government had reportedly taken precautionary measures to avoid similar student protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, following the death of popular moderate Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang. Thousands were reportedly killed during the mass protests.


The Post report also said the Chinese government was taken by surprise by the sudden death of Li.

State-run Xinhua news agency announced his death early hours on Friday with one-line news, which was only updated after several hours.

Chen Daoyin, a political commentator and former professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, told the Post that Beijing seemed underprepared in its messaging.

“I think Li’s death was a total surprise to Beijing’s top leaders, as the state media obviously did not prepare his full obituary, unlike what they will do in the case of party leaders who are known to be very ill,” he said.

About the brief first official message, Chen said Beijing chose to announce Li’s passing “as soon as possible, because it wants to curb all the conspiracy theories that might arise from this”.

Deng Yuwen, former deputy editor of Study Times -- the official newspaper of the Central Party School where party cadres are trained, said funeral arrangements of former state leaders had to be endorsed by the party’s top decision-making Politburo.

Li is among very few retired Chinese leaders to have died before reaching the age of 70. Most stay healthy and live well beyond 90, or even 100, their longevity attributed to the comprehensive medical care and security privileges provided to party and state leaders even after retirement, the Post report said.

Former executive vice-premier Huang Ju, like Li, was only 68 when he died in 2007. At that time too, official media released a short announcement on the day of his death, with a full obituary published later, it said. PTI KJV SCY AKJ SCY