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Former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Dies at 68

Li Keqiang died on October 27, 2023 seven months after retiring from his post as Premier and China’s No. 2 official. He was 68 and the cause of death has been reported as a heart attack. 

When Li became China’s premier in 2013, his ties to known reformers and friendship with pro-democracy advocates during his days as a law student at the Peking University gave rise to hope that he would be an advocate for change and help turn China away from the current authoritarian and ideologically-driven system. However, he ended up in the views of many experts as one the weakest Chinese Premier under the Chinese Communist Party. This was because his term in office coincided with the rise of Xi Jinping, his rival. He was marginalized and sidelined as Xi consolidated power and began laying the groundwork for an unprecedented third term in office. 

Li, according to most observers, failed to prevent Xi Jinping and his loyalists from shifting the power from the government to the party as more and more government ministries were incorporated into the Communist party system and the state became clearly subservient to the party. However, Li appears to have been well liked by many in China as he was seen as more of a technocrat than an ideologue and as someone more accessible and empathetic. His death was widely mourned on Chinese social media with many expressing shock and grief.

However, there is little sorrow for Li Keqiang’s death amongst Tibetans, Uyghurs and others fighting for their rights from China. When it came to repressing these communities, the deceased Premier was no different from other Chinese leaders. The Uyghurs believe that Li Keqiang played a pivotal role in the Chinese government’s crackdown on their community in East Turkistan. During a rare visit to Lhasa, Tibet in July 2018, Li said Tibet was an inseparable part of China and urged Tibetan religious figures to promote national unity and ethnic harmony.