Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin joins Communist Party chiefs at funeral of Tiananmen premier Li Peng

Echo Xie

Former Chinese Premier Li Peng was cremated on Monday after a grand funeral held in Beijing that was attended by top Communist leaders, including former president Jiang Zemin.

Jiang, 92, who was made Communist Party general secretary after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown – an event in which Li was accused of playing a key role – was shown on national television being ushered into the funeral hall by two helpers together with his wife Wang Yeping.

The CCTV report showed Jiang shaking hands with Li’s family members and offering his condolences.

It was a rare public appearance by the former leader who has kept a low profile in recent years because of his advanced age and fragile health.

Xi Jinping shakes hands with a family member of late Chinese leader Li Peng. Photo: Xinhua

Li, who was premier between 1987 and 1998, died in Beijing on July 22 at age 90.

While he was officially praised by the ruling party as a “loyal communist warrior”, human rights activists and dissidents blamed him for playing a crucial role in the bloody suppression of the pro-democracy movement in China in 1989.

Top leaders including President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Li Zhanshu were also shown attending Monday’s funeral.

According to state news agency Xinhua, Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, who was not in Beijing, sent a wreath.

The Xinhua report did not mention if other retired leaders – including former premier Zhu Rongji, who succeeded Li in 1998, and Li Ruihuan, former chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – attended the funeral.

In Beijing, national flags were flown at half-mast at government buildings and venues such as Tiananmen Square on Monday. Similar protocol was followed in Hong Kong and Macau as well.

An official eulogy distributed on Monday at Babaoshan, China’s national cemetery, praised Li for playing an instrumental role in stabilising the country’s economy and defeating Western sanctions after Tiananmen.

“In face of the ‘sanctions’ [imposed on China] by Western countries and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in late 1980s and early 1990s, he … stood firm in defending national sovereignty, security and dignity,” the eulogy said.

“He upheld [our] principles in withstanding the pressure, and organised and took part in a large number of bilateral and multilateral diplomatic activities,” it said.

“As a result, we gradually broke through the ‘sanctions’ and defeated the anti-China conspiracy by Western forces … strengthened our pragmatic and friendly relations with countries around the world and established a new and all-round diplomatic environment for our country.”

A Chinese national flag flies at half-mast in Tiananmen Square. Photo: Xinhua

Chen Daoyin, an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said: “Especially after 1989, Li Peng was widely seen as a conservative and tough political leader … I think the eulogy is meant to give [the] public the impression that he was actually a leader with an open mind.”

Li served as premier between 1987 and 1998 and later as chairman of the parliamentary body, National People’s Congress, from 1998 to 2003.

“He was premier when the West imposed sanctions on China and China has actually become a more open country [after 1989], so I would say this is a fair comment on him,” Chen said.

Li was accused of leading the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Photo: Kyodo

The eulogy also praised Li for living a disciplined life despite widespread criticism that some of his family have amassed huge fortunes by taking advantage of their privileged positions in government or state-owned businesses.

Li is survived by his wife, Zhu Lin, his two sons and a daughter. His daughter, Li Xiaolin, was vice-president of China Datang Corp, one of five large-scale power-generating enterprises in China, until she retired in 2018.

His eldest son, Li Xiaopeng, a rising politician, was appointed transport minister in 2016.

“There were a lot of discussions about his children,” said Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan. “It [the eulogy] might be praise for Li, or a response to the criticism in society.”

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