China bids farewell to ‘people’s premier’

China bids farewell to ‘people’s premier’

Xi Jinping leads tributes to Li Keqiang at cremation ceremony

The Chinese flag in Tiananmen Square in Beijing flies at half-mast in memory of former premier Li Keqiang on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)
The Chinese flag in Tiananmen Square in Beijing flies at half-mast in memory of former premier Li Keqiang on Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

BEIJING - China lowered the national flag at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Thursday amid an outpouring of grief online as the country cremated former premier Li Keqiang, known as “the people’s premier” for his down-to-earth, hands-on leadership.

Li, a former economist and pro-reform leader who served as the premier for 10 years before retiring in March, died of a heart attack in Shanghai last Friday. He was 68.

“In memory of comrade Li Keqiang, flags were flown at half-mast at Tiananmen Square in the capital,” state media said.

At Li’s funeral at a Beijing cemetery where high-ranking officials and national heroes are laid to rest, President Xi Jinping and his wife, with the six other members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the highest rung of political power in China, as well as Vice President Han Zheng paid their final respects.

The group stood in silence and took three bows, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Former president Hu Jintao sent a wreath to express his condolences over Li’s passing, according to Xinhua.

Messages for the late premier flooded social media platforms as Chinese citizens mourned his death. Many tributes said people would remember Li, while some shared yesteryear photos and videos of Li with his quotes.

On the popular social media platform Weibo, which replaced its “like” button with a chrysanthemum flower symbolising mourning on related posts, tens of thousands of people left comments bidding Li farewell on a Thursday post by China’s national broadcaster.

Li was the top trending topic on Weibo. The hashtag for his mourning drew 430 million views.

A Beijinger surnamed Gao, 39, said Li will be remembered for his contibutions to the country.

“It can be said that he has made a great contribution to people’s lives, to the improvement of living standards. For the past pandemic, the premier always rushed to the front line,” Gao said.

Once viewed as a Communist Party leadership contender, Li was sidelined in recent years, analysts and diplomats said, as Xi tightened his grip on economic policymaking.

“Personally, I still feel a bit unreal (about his death) because I feel like he’s a good premier and suddenly he’s gone. And then I also feel sad for him because he was not yet old,” a 24-year-old Beijing-based lawyer by the surname Wan said.

Shanghai resident Zhang Shijun described Li as down-to-earth.

“It is also obvious that (he has done a lot for) the welfare of the people’s livelihood. (He did) a lot for our people. (He is) very humble and low-key,” the 34-year-old said.

Some businesses such as the international coffee chain Starbucks turned their app interface black and white in mourning for Li.

Newspapers featuring an obituary of former premier Li Keqiang on the front page are displayed at a newsstand in Beijing. (Photo: Reuters)

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