Hundreds of people have gathered near a state funeral home in China as former premier Li Keqiang was being laid to rest.
Police, both in plain clothes and uniforms, were stationed along the road to the funeral home. They were preventing traffic and instructing individuals to keep moving while also keeping an eye out for any unauthorized or foreign media.
The funeral was attended by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, and his wife, Peng Liyuan, as well as six other members of the Politburo standing committee, according to Xinhua. Xinhua also reported that former president Hu Jintao sent a wreath to express his condolences.
The government has tightly regulated public displays of tribute to Li in order to avoid a potential increase in grieving that could lead to unrest.
However, even though there were attempts to censor comments and gatherings deemed too expressive, in Hefei, Li’s hometown in Anhui province, hundreds of people paid their respects by laying flowers for one of their influential fellow citizens over the weekend.
Weibo, a social media platform, replaced the like button with a chrysanthemum flower on posts related to Li, as a symbol of mourning. The three most popular topics on Weibo were centered around Li’s life and funeral.
The passing of Zhou Enlai, a former premier, in 1976 and Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the CCP, in 1989 sparked widespread expressions of sadness which eventually turned into demonstrations.
In recent times, the passing of Covid whistleblower Li Wenliang in 2020 and a fatal apartment fire in Xinjiang in 2022 have led to displays of mourning from the general public. The latter incident sparked the “white paper” demonstrations that took place in multiple cities.
In honor of Li, flags at Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing were lowered to half-staff, as well as at governmental and party buildings throughout China and at foreign embassies and consulates.
CCTV reported that flags were lowered to half-mast at Tiananmen Square in honor of Li Keqiang, with a photo showing the flag being lowered in front of the monumental gate during a foggy grey morning.
Li died last Friday of a heart attack at age 68. State media had said he would be cremated on Thursday but did not mention funeral plans. According to precedent, retired high-level officials usually lie in state briefly as top leaders pass the body and offer wreaths of white flowers, the traditional colour of mourning.
Li played a significant role in steering China’s economy for ten years until being removed from the Communist Party’s influential politburo standing committee in October 2022. Despite being two years younger than the unwritten retirement age of 70, he stepped down from his position in March 2023.
Despite facing various challenges during his tenure, such as the Covid-19 outbreak, he was viewed as a viable option to the growing authoritarian rule of Xi Jinping. Li took on the role of premier, the second highest position in China’s government, in 2013 with the promise of promoting private enterprise and fostering a thriving free market.
However, Li’s authority was significantly diminished after Xi established himself as the most influential leader in China in many years and increased his grip on the country’s economy and society.
Xi awarded himself a third five-year term as party leader and filled the top party ranks with loyalists. The role of premier was given to Li Qiang, the party secretary for Shanghai, who lacked Li Keqiang’s national level experience and later told reporters that his job was to do whatever Xi decided.
– With the Associated Press