Li, who was China’s top economic official for ten years, died last Friday of a heart attack at the age of 68.
“The remains of Comrade Li Keqiang…were cremated at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing on Thursday,” Xinhua News Agency reported.
State television footage showed President Xi Jinping, accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, bowing before Li’s body, which was surrounded by greenery and covered with a Communist Party flag.
Xi was followed by the other six members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee.
“Li has been praised as an excellent member (of the Communist Party), a loyal, time-tested communist soldier, an outstanding proletarian revolutionary, a statesman and a leader of the Party and the state,” Xinhua said, repeating language used earlier in his speech. Short obituary.
A champion of private business who promised market-oriented reforms, Lee helped lead the world’s second-largest economy through challenges such as rising tensions with the United States and the Covid-19 pandemic. But he has little power left after Xi made himself the most powerful Chinese leader in decades by scrapping presidential term limits and tightening control over the economy and society.
In front of the funeral home, plainclothes and uniformed policemen lined the road for hundreds of metres, blocking traffic and telling people to move. Police also moved people away from the subway station near the cemetery, where state funerals are held and many senior leaders are buried.
A forest of phone cameras appeared as the convoy of several buses passed.
Large crowds also gathered in the city of Hefei in central Anhui province, where a steady stream of people, some dressed in black, were allowed to walk down Hongxing Road to add and pay for small bouquets of white and yellow tulips to a huge U-shaped mound. Pay their respects in front of the three-story store where Lee spent his childhood.
The scene was similar to the one immediately after Li’s death was announced, when a much longer line stretched for kilometers, according to Liu Xiaoqiang, an Anhui resident, who said he waited in line for five hours to place flowers.
“Honestly, we were shocked when we saw the news,” Liu said. “So we all, everyone, not just me personally, but all the people of Hefei, including our families, all brought our children, and went to Hongxing Road where he lived. We only went there to remember our beloved Prime Minister.”
Some saw the large turnout as a protest against Li’s political marginalization by the increasingly authoritarian President Xi.
Such spontaneous gatherings are almost never allowed in China, but authorities appear to be taking a relatively light-hearted approach, perhaps to avoid provoking a larger incident.
However, the small street was closed to traffic, and visitors continued their walk under the watch of a large team of people in blue jackets, who ordered the crowds not to wander around. AP journalists were followed by unknown persons who monitored their interviews and in some cases attempted to record them.
“The death was very sudden and we came here to say goodbye to him,” said Liu Ying, a Hefei resident, who brought her 7-year-old son and met a friend who brought her daughter so they could lay flowers together.
Liu said her son only vaguely knows who Lee is. She added: “He doesn’t understand now, but he will understand when he grows up.”
Another woman said she traveled with two friends, dressed in black, on Wednesday from neighboring Jiangsu province and laid out flower bouquets three times. She described Lee as “a good prime minister who is loved by the people.”
Li was dropped from the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo in October 2022. He left his post in March, although he was two years short of the unofficial retirement age of 70.
“He did tangible things for people,” said the woman, who was unable to give her name before she was accompanied by part of the entourage of men and women in blue jackets who covered the area.
A delivery boy wearing a motorcycle helmet and carrying a bunch of flower bouquets sent from Jiangsu was stopped and questioned before being allowed to proceed down the street.
By noon, the pile of flowers was more than a meter high and several meters wide. Hundreds of bystanders watched and took videos on their phones.
Flags were flown at half-mast in government and party offices across the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad.
Li rose from relatively humble roots to attend the prestigious Peking University following the end of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution and steadily rose through the ranks, holding several senior regional posts before being transferred to Beijing. At one point, he was favored for first place before being overtaken by Xi, a member of the prestigious “princes” class, as the descendants of prominent Communist figures are known.
At the 2022 party congress, Xi gave himself a third five-year term as party leader and filled the party’s top positions with loyalists. Second place was given to Li Qiang, Party Secretary of Shanghai, who lacked Li Keqiang’s experience at the national level, and later told reporters that his job was to implement whatever Xi decided.
Bodin reported from Taipei, Taiwan.