Will Grief for Li Keqiang Turn Against Chinese Government? Posts About Former Premier’s Death Restricted on Weibo

Ichiro Ohara / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Mourners offer flowers in front of the childhood home of former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Hefei, Anhui Province, on Saturday.

HEFEI, Anhui Province / BEIJING — More than 10,000 people visited the residence where former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang spent his childhood in Hefei, Anhui Province, to offer prayers and flowers on Saturday, following Li’s sudden death on the previous day.

It is unusual for so many mourners to voluntarily pay their respects to a deceased Chinese leader. The administration of Chinese President Xi Jinping is wary that this mourning could turn into criticism against the government.

On Saturday evening, local residents and others holding bouquets of roses and chrysanthemums formed a 500-meter-long line leading to Li’s former residence. Bouquets were piled more than 2 meters high, some bearing messages such as “I will miss you forever.” More than 100 police officers and public safety volunteers are believed to have been mobilized to the site by authorities to control traffic.

Among the mourners, a 30-year-old local educator offered flowers and praised Li as “the pride of Anhui Province.”

Plainclothes police officers also kept an eye on passersby. The Chinese authorities appear to be concerned about possibly growing sympathy for Li, who reportedly was at odds with Xi.

Posting comments about Li’s death has been restricted on Weibo, China’s major social media platform. Chinese news agency Xinhua has posted an obituary of Li on its official Weibo account, and about 140,000 comments have been made, but only about 30 of them are viewable. The news agency is believed to have responded to the wishes of the authorities in this respect.

The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, carried Li’s obituary on the front page of Saturday’s issue. This is the same treatment as for former Chinese Premier Li Peng, who died in July 2019.

Following Li’s death on Friday, firework and music events have been canceled in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, and Guiyang, Guizhou Province.