A protégé of the Chinese Old Guard who became premier of the People's Republic of China in 1989, Li Peng (born 1928) presided over the massacre in Tiananmen Square two months later.
Li Peng was born in 1928 at Chengtu, Szechwan Province. His father, the writer Li Shouxun, took part in the August 1 Nanchang Uprising against the Kuomintang (KMT) authorities in 1927 and was arrested and executed in Haikou, Guangdong Province, in 1930. In 1938 Li Peng was adopted by his father's friends Chou Enlai (the first premier of the People's Republic of China [PRC]) and Chou's wife, Deng Yingchao. He lived in the liaison office of the 8th Route Army in Chongqing with Chou En-lai and Deng Yingchao for about two years. Then he was sent to study at Yanan Institute of Natural Sciences in 1941 and at the Moscow Power Institute in 1948.
After his return to China in 1955, Li worked as chief engineer and director of two large power plants in northeast China and as deputy chief engineer in the Northeast China Electric Power Administration. After 1966 he became director of the Beijing Electric Power Administration. During the Cultural Revolution Li, unlike many other cadres, was shielded from the leftists' attacks of the Red Guard, thanks to his high-level connections.
A golden boy of China, Li was a protégé of the Old Guard, which included Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and Peng Zhen, and was elevated rapidly beginning in the late 1970s. He was appointed vice-minister of power industry in 1979 and minister in 1981. In March 1982, when the Ministry of Power Industry and the Ministry of Water Conservancy were amalgamated, he was appointed first vice-minister of the newly-established Ministry of Water Conservancy and Electric Power. At the 12th National Party Congress, held in 1982, he became a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee. In 1983 he was appointed vice-premier of the State Council and a member of the leading group under the CCP committee in charge of finance and economy to supervise such industrial sectors as energy, transportation, and raw material supply. In 1985 he served concurrently as chairman of the State Education Commission. He was elevated to the CCP Politburo and the CCP Secretariat at the 5th Plenum of the 12th CCP Congress in September 1985.
Appointment as Premier
After the ouster of Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang in 1987, Li was selected by the Old Guard to succeed Zhao Ziyang first as acting premier and then as premier on April 9, 1989. Because of Li's conservative views, his appointment as premier was widely regarded as a major setback for reformists within the CCP leadership. At the 13th CCP Congress in November 1987, he was elected secondranking member of the Standing Committee of the CCP Politburo.
A technocrat without a vision for China, Li did not register any remarkable achievement in his different positions. He was highly unpopular among the college students because he did a poor job during his tenure as chairman of the State Education Commission. Li was widely seen inside China as an ambitious rising political star who was waiting in the wings to take over the party leadership. Because of his Soviet educational background and career experience, Li was known to favor a centrally-planned economy and to have strong reservations on China's open-door and market-oriented reforms championed by such reform leaders as Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. In his three-hour government report to the National People's Congress in March 1989, although he did not name names, he levelled many harsh criticisms unmistakably directed at Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang.
Escalation of Conflict
His conflict with Zhao escalated in the spring of 1989 as Zhao called for dialogue with pro-democracy students and broad political reforms while Li articulated the hardline position and argued for tough measures to suppress the so-called trouble-makers who allegedly intended to stir up political and social turmoil in China. Li was closely involved in the CCP's decision to use force to crush the pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing on June 4, 1989, and had the dubious honor of being one of the most detested leaders in China (Zhao was ousted as General Secretary on June 24, 1989).
Li visited Moscow in April 1990 to reciprocate President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to Beijing. There was also a Sino-Soviet summit in May 1989 that ended 30 years of bad relations between the two nations. At a press conference ending the first visit in 26 years by a Chinese premier, Li said Soviet ideas of change do not apply to China. He said, "Each country should decide for itself how socialism should be built. We do not have one model to follow." The decision by the Soviet Communist Party to give up its statutory monopoly on power, Li said, was "a choice made by the Communist Party and the people of the Soviet Union, " but he added that China had no desire to emulate it.
Li was named as one of four candidates likely to succeed Deng Xiaoping, described as "the favorite son of the hard-liners." Even though he is not the only person responsible for the Tiananmen disaster, his image remained one of the worst among Chinese leaders in the late 1990s. According to reports, Deng disliked Li's dogmatic concepts, close links to the hard-liners, and lack of professional skills in commanding economic affairs.
In addition to the Soviet Union, Li visited many foreign countries, including the United States, Japan, Canada, Zambia, Mozambique, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Seychelles and the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1995, he met with the Canada-China Business Council in Montreal as leader of a 20-member delegation. He welcomed the prime ministers of Singapore and Russia in 1997. His publications include "Train more personnel for the Socialist modernization" (The People's Daily, June 1, 1986); "Certain questions concerning reform and development of higher education" (The People's Daily, July 17, 1986); and several "Reports on the Government Work" to the National People's Congress.
Li advocated reform, but at a measured pace, because of social stability and inflation. Internally, he called for further improvement of Party discipline and work, and encouraged the development of China's animal husbandry. He urged the world community to assist African nations with their economic problems as well. Li hastened China's television networks to give greater coverage of economic affairs in order to meet the country's growing needs for economic information. He said that economic development had top priority in the central government's work, so television stations should portray it in a "more vivid way".
Li was married to Zhu Lin in 1958. They had two sons and one daughter. He was scheduled to step down in 1997.
Further Reading on Li Peng
Additional information on Li Peng can be found in Parris H. Chang, "The Power Game in Beijing, " in The World & I (October 1989); Francis X. Clines, "Soviet and Chinese Sign Broad Pact" in The New York Times (April 25, 1990); and in "Li Peng Meets the Press in Moscow" in Beijing Review (May 13, 1990). The 1989 massacre is described and analyzed by Lee Feigon in China Rising: The Meaning of Tiananmen (1990).