Late premiers Li Peng and Zhou Enlai have come to occupy two very different places in the Chinese consciousness, one hugely controversial, the other a national hero. While Zhou remains a cherished leader to most Chinese, Li will forever be remembered for his controversial role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown – sealed by his appearance on national television on May 20, 1989, angrily declaring martial law in Beijing.
Li’s death, at the age of 90, was reported by China’s official news agency Xinhua on Tuesday. In the official obituary, he was described as “a loyal communist warrior” and “an outstanding leader of the Communist Party and the state”. The statement said that he died of illness in Beijing on Monday.
The obituary heaped lavish praise on the former premier, crediting him for standing firm in 1989 and making a great contribution to China’s reforms despite the country’s isolation after Tiananmen. In describing the 1989 crackdown, the obituary said the premier, who had the support of party elders including paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, had played an “important role”.