Chinese state media has announced that the late former Premier Li Keqiang, who died in Shanghai last Friday of a sudden heart attack, will be cremated in Beijing on Thursday, November 2. He will not be given a state funeral, but flags will be flown at half-mast at Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People, the Chinese foreign ministry, seats of local governments across the country, and overseas diplomatic missions.
Li, who retired last fall, was largely overshadowed and politically sidelined by Xi Jinping while in office, yet his death has sparked an outpouring of emotional online and offline tributes among the Chinese public. Many of the mourners remember Li fondly for his pragmatism, ideological moderation, and humane concern, particularly for those living in poverty. (In 2020, he famously noted to reporters that 600 million people in China were still living on less than 1,000 yuan ($137) per month, adding that that amount was “not even enough to rent a room in a medium[-sized] Chinese city.”)
Despite intense censorship, Chinese websites and social media—including the Weibo “Wailing Wall” devoted to the late COVID-whistleblower Li Wenliang (no relation)—have been filled with tributes to Li Keqiang. A leaked censorship directive, translated by CDT, seemed intended to mute some of the public’s enthusiasm for Li Keqiang’s life and career. It cautioned content moderators to “pay particular attention to overly effusive comments and assessments.” Reporting on the muted official- and state-media coverage of Li’s death, China Media Project’s David Bandurski described how, even in death, Li Keqiang is being shunted aside.
This has not deterred many mourners from leaving bouquets of flowers and handwritten notes at various locations associated with Li, including his hometown of Hefei, Anhui province, and Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, where he formerly served as governor and later as provincial party secretary. One reveler at Shanghai’s Halloween celebration wore a costume commemorating Li, and a runner at the Zhengzhou marathon displayed a banner in bold tribute to the late premier. These elaborate grassroots mourning displays, which can be read as expressions of dissent and oblique criticisms of Xi Jinping, present a potential challenge to the Chinese government.
On X (formerly Twitter), @whyyoutouzhele (李老师不是你老师, Li laoshi bu shi ni laoshi) has posted about handwritten cards and notes attached to bouquets being checked for politically sensitive content, and about small commemorative displays popping up in a wide range of locales: Ruzhou, Henan province; Guang’an, Sichuan province; Jieyang and Foshan, Guangdong province; Tianjin; Suzhou’s Renmin Road; Taiyuan University of Technology; King’s Cross station and SOAS in London; Amsterdam; and at the Chinese Embassy and Consulate in Germany. There have also been reports of blue-uniformed guards forming lines for crowd control at a memorial site in Hefei.
Zhou Fengsuo (周锋锁, @ZhouFengSuo) posted images of the thousands upon thousands of flower bouquets and personal messages left by mourners at Qianxi Square in Zhengzhou. One of the bouquets contained the following poem in Li Keqiang’s memory:
Right Now, I Need a Drink
(by “an anonymous nobody”)
Some people are alive
Why isn’t he dead yet?
Some people have died
Why did he leave us so soon?
As I was wrapping up at work
the boss said, let’s call it a day
but if you can stay on a bit
let’s have a drink, and raise
a toast in his memory
I stopped the taxi
but my passenger didn’t get out
He glanced at me
and I could see the tears in his eyes
What’s wrong, brother? I asked
He played me the news on his phone
and for a long while, he and I were silent
Then I said don’t worry about the fare, brother
If you’re not busy, let me treat you to a drink
and we’ll toast his memory together
It’s late autumn and it’s cold
up here in Heilongjiang
it won’t be long before it snows
The cabbage harvest was good this year
and prices haven’t changed much
I remember someone saying
hundreds of millions of people in this country
live on less than 1,000 yuan per month
I’m one of them, and I can’t afford
to get sick or grow old
or take a break from my farmwork
but today is an exception
I don’t want to do anything
but go home and drink
a farewell toast to him,
(October 27, 2023) [Chinese]