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China restricts mourning for former premier

Li Keqiang led China for a decade through challenges such as rising political, economic and military tensions with the US

Former Chinese premier Li Keqiang has died after a heart attack, state media reported on Oct. 27

Former Chinese premier Li Keqiang has died after a heart attack, state media reported on Oct. 27. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 30, 2023 11:30 AM GMT

Updated: October 31, 2023 04:32 AM GMT

Chinese authorities are throttling the public display of condolences for the country’s former premier Li Keqiang, who died early Oct. 27 of a heart attack.

The sudden death of 68-year-old Li has shocked many people, who took to social media sites to pay glowing tributes to the leader, who promised market reforms but was politically sidelined, media reports said.

Chinese censors have removed online tributes such as those hailing him as "the people's premier," Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

Li was China’s top economic official for a decade helping navigate the world’s second-largest economy through challenges such as rising political, economic and military tensions with the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic, Associated Press said in a report.

The tributes hailing Li reflected public dissatisfaction towards Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) more than anything else, according to Si Ling, a current affairs commentator.

Si said Li’s death had “become a symbol and an excuse for people to vent serious dissatisfaction with the status quo.”

Only government-approved comments allowed

There were also comments from users such as "rest in peace,” and "a good premier whose political career shouldn't have ended the way it did,” among others on the Chinese social media platforms.

According to RFA, most of the condolences were removed by Friday night and only state media and official statements were available among the search results for "Li Keqiang" and related keywords.   

The messages on the official state television report on Li's sudden death appeared to be limited to "wishing you a good journey," the Chinese equivalent of "rest in peace," RFA reported.

The official government handle on the Chinese social media platform Weibo showed that there were tens of thousands of likes and reposts, but no user comments, suggesting that the comments function was turned off for the post.

Reportedly, the government censorship was not limited to online media.

Universities and colleges urge for self-censorship

Public gatherings were also banned.

A citizen journalist account named "Mr. Li is not your teacher" on X, formerly Twitter posted photos of notices banning any kind of public gathering at universities in Shanghai, Hainan, and Guizhou.

According to the notices, the university authorities had instructed its students and personnel to refrain from posting anything “political” online and to not use words to describe Li that were not already “approved” by state media.

The students were also advised not to hold gatherings or engage in any kind of public mourning online or offline.

The students have also been barred from talking to the media, the citizen journalist account on X reported.

Fears of a second Tiananmen

Si alleged that the indiscriminate ban on the public expressing their condolences to Li is out of comparison with the death of Hu Yaobang in 1989 and the events that the Chinese government believes to have led to the 1989 Tiananmen protests and crackdown.

“A series of personnel changes at the highest levels of the Chinese government have reminded people that the current era is one of... turmoil,” Si said.

"[Hu] also handed over the reins of power and then died shortly after leaving office. People started to hold public memorials, which led to the 1989 democracy movement, throwing the Chinese government into turmoil for a long time to come," Si added.

"Any chance that history might repeat itself will be completely nipped in the bud," Si lamented.

Students in Beijing at that time mourned Hu Yaobang as a reformist and criticized government corruption. They gathered at Tiananmen Square seeking a dialogue with the government in a bid to achieve democratic reforms.

A military crackdown on the student protesters in Tiananmen allegedly killed thousands.

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