Li Peng, son of Zhou Enlai, was premier of the PRC from 1988 until 1998. He achieved notoriety for supporting the crackdown during the 1989 Tiananmen protest. Li also took steps to rein in China’s high inflation in the 90s and begin sweeping reforms of state-owned enterprises.

Born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, Li Peng is the orphaned son of a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) worker and was adopted by Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (1898–1976). Li was trained as a hydroelectric power engineer in Moscow from 1948 to 1955. After his return to China he was the director and chief engineer at several power plants from 1956 to 1966 and later held various bureaucratic or party positions relating to power generation. In 1979, partly because of the backing of his stepmother, CCP Central Committee member Deng Yingchao (1904–1997), Li began a swift ascent up the hierarchy, first as deputy minister of power production (1981), then as a member of the Central Committee (1982) and vice premier in charge of energy and communications (1983). In 1985 he became a member of the Standing Committee of the CCP Politburo and in 1988 became premier, a post he held until 1998.

Li achieved his greatest notoriety during the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. Strongly opposed to the student takeover of the square, he was perceived as patronizing during meetings with student leaders and was heckled at a televised meeting with hospitalized hunger strikers. He sided with other hard-liners against Zhao Ziyang (b. 1919), who was removed as party leader. Later news media and students frequently referred to Li as the “butcher of Beijing” for being the first official to publicly support the People’s Liberation Army’s bloody crackdown on students during the night of 3–4 June.

After 1989 Li cooperated with CCP leader Jiang Zemin and economics czar Zhu Rongji to rein in China’s high inflation and begin sweeping reforms of state-owned enterprises. Elected chair of the National People’s Congress despite an unprecedented two hundred negative votes in 1998, Li remains an influential voice in policymaking.

Further Reading

Lam, Willy Wo-Lap. (1999). The era of Jiang Zemin. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Salisbury, H. E. (1992). The new emperors: China in the era of Mao and Deng. Boston: Little, Brown.

Source: Campbell, Joel. (2009). LI Peng. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1316–1316. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

LI Peng (Lǐ Péng 李鹏)|Lǐ Péng 李鹏 (LI Peng)

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