The death of Li Keqiang has dominated discussion on the Chinese internet. Censors have tightly controlled all commentary on his death. One directive, published earlier today, instructed media outlets to “pay particular attention to overly effusive comments” about Li. Despite tight censorship, robust—albeit sometimes veiled—conversation on Li’s legacy spread widely online. Many of Li’s mourners flocked to the “Wailing Wall” in the Weibo replies to the late Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang who blew the whistle on that city’s COVID outbreak. Many wrote of the double grief of Li Keqiang’s death, both the fact of his passing and the censorship they were subject to while expressing their pain:
墨尔本之季: Today, it seems another truth-teller with the surname Li has departed.
豹豹环游记·: For mainland internet users, even expressions of grief are censored—I hate it to my core. I love the land beneath my feet more than any other, yet I dream of the chance to escape it.
思花前: He’d only been retired for half a year. A life of toil came to an end without a chance to settle into peace.
男德事务所: They even lock the comment section on remembrances! I guess this country really is beyond saving. We’re walking ever further into darkness, with no end in sight. You can try to put lipstick on a pig, but I still think this country is done for.
狂奔中的小李: 🕯️I made a point of visiting you here, Doctor Li. Please ask after him up there on behalf of us, the ordinary people. Your Weibo account is the only wailing wall we Chinese people have.
On Weibo, many referred to Li by the euphemism “wall breaker” (破壁者 pòbìzhě), a reference to a 2014 profile of Li by the magazine Boke Tianxia. The profile hailed Li as “the market economy’s drummer,” willing to break down barriers between China and the world—a marked contrast with the perception of Xi Jinping’s legacy in some corners. Others shared an iconic Li quote, “the Yellow River and the Yangtze River will not flow backward,” a pledge to continue Reform and Opening he gave while standing in front of Deng Xiaoping’s statue in Zhenzhen, just months before stepping down as premier.
Censors targeted comments intimating that it was Xi Jinping, not Li, who should have passed away. A number of people shared the Malaysian singer Fish Leong’s song “Too Bad It Wasn’t You.” (The same thing happened after Shinzo Abe’s assassination.) Censors deleted most posts related to Fish Leong and the song, and restricted search results for the terms to “Blue V” accounts affiliated with official organization accounts run by the government, media, schools, business, or other registered websites. The hashtag “The one who should die hasn’t” was also censored. A number of universities sent directives to students instructing them not to post about Li’s death to their personal social media accounts. Censors also took down a WeChat article intimating that Li’s death was caused by improper care, namely his rumored treatment at a hospital affiliated with Chinese medicine rather than one of Shanghai’s top cardiac care hospitals.