Chinese Authorities Increased Security Measures to Discourage Tributes to Li Keqiang

Chinese Authorities Increased Security Measures to Discourage Tributes to Li Keqiang
A man places flowers in front of the former house of former Chinese premier Li Keqiang in Dingyuan county, Chuzhou city, in China's eastern Anhui Province on Oct. 27, 2023. (Rebecca Bailey/AFP via Getty Images)
Jessica Mao

During the Qingming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day), Chinese authorities heightened vigilance to discourage tributes to Li Keqiang, the late former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) premier. Political observers suggest that public tributes to Mr. Li have fueled the concerns of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who fears that such expressions of grief could undermine his authority. Therefore, strict measures have been taken to curb any public expressions of grief.

On April 4, the Qingming Festival, a significant outpouring of tributes to Mr. Li from across China overwhelmed the authorities. Mr. Li had served as the governor and Party chief of Henan Province. A video on social media showed a heavy presence of police and plainclothes officers at Qianxi Plaza in Henan’s capital, Zhengzhou, to thwart public commemorations. Zhengzhou also saw an extensive police deployment around Ruyi Lake and surveillance in office buildings, reflecting official fears of potential mass gatherings reminiscent of those that followed Mr. Li’s death in October 2023, when people flooded Ruyi Lake with floral tributes.

Reports from netizens indicated that Mr. Li’s childhood home on Hongxing Road in Hefei City, Anhui Province, was also under strict surveillance during the Qingming Festival. With a substantial police presence, some netizens said that they didn’t even dare to take pictures.

Additionally, there were instances where flower delivery services by Meituan, one of the country’s largest delivery services, were temporarily unable to process orders to Mr. Li’s former residence, further suggesting interventions by authorities to prevent commemorative gestures.

A notable security measure was also observed on April 2 at Bianhe Bridge in Suzhou City, Anhui Province, where police were stationed every ten meters (32 feet)  to preempt mourning activities during the festival.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is in the closing session of the Chinese rubber stamp legislature conference in Beijing, China, on May 27, 2020. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is in the closing session of the Chinese rubber stamp legislature conference in Beijing, China, on May 27, 2020. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

Less than eight months after Mr. Li stepped down, Beijing announced that he had died of sudden heart failure on Oct. 27, 2023, at the age of 68, after all efforts to save him proved unsuccessful. The news shocked everyone. Especially since the authorities hastily cremated his body, many believe he died under suspicious circumstances.

Mr. Li had encouraged the “street vendor economy,” saying that during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which wreaked havoc, the street vendor business model could provide a basic way of life for people affected by the crisis. However, street vendors were severely repressed by the Chinese Communist authorities, leading to widespread speculation that there was a major difference in economic views between Mr. Li and Xi.

Mr. Li was also known for some of his candid remarks, which were rare among high-ranking CCP officials. He once said, “There are 600 million people in China whose monthly income is only 1,000 yuan (about $141),” which was a slap in the face to Xi, who had previously claimed that the entire country had won the battle against poverty.

Moreover, he made comments that would be considered ironic for the CCP’s top leader. Upon leaving office, he said, “The Yellow River and the Yangtze River will never flow backward,” a figurative way of saying that China will never reverse reform and opening up, and that “Heaven watches what people do. The sky has eyes.”

Xi Jinping’s Fear

Wang Juntao, chairman of the National Committee of the China Democratic Party, was Mr. Li’s personal friend when both were college students at Peking University. Mr. Wang said in an interview with The Epoch Times on April 5 that Mr. Li is in marked contrast to Xi in all aspects.

“I’ve had interactions with Li Keqiang, and he has no political ambition to replace Xi,” he said. “The problem is that many of Xi’s opponents have expectations of Li Keqiang. Before the 20th National Congress, the saying ‘Xi down, Li up’ was widely circulated, which reflected public opinion.”

Mr. Wang continued to say that for a dictator, he has to stay on top and has to suppress others. If another person has a higher reputation, he will certainly feel uncomfortable.

“Xi Jinping is also aware that he is seated at the crater of a volcano, and there are many forces that want him to step down. If that were the case, Li Keqiang would be expected to replace him. The mystery of how Li Keqiang died may never be solved, but it is widely believed that he was killed by Xi Jinping. Therefore, people’s mourning for Li Keqiang is actually a protest against Xi Jinping,” Mr. Wang said.

He further pointed out that the public’s mourning sentiment for Mr. Li did not subside with his death but accumulated, which made Xi feel more worried and fearful.

“That’s why he’s taking precautions to make sure that mourning for Li doesn’t become a trend in China,“ he said. “Mourning Li Keqiang means dissatisfaction with the regime, and that threatens the security of Xi’s rule.”

Lai Jianming, a former Beijing lawyer and chairman of the Civil Human Rights Front of Canada, also told The Epoch Times that Xi’s one-man dictatorship and perverse policies have led to seething discontent and grievances inside China, and the CCP’s autocratic regime is experiencing an unprecedented crisis in its rule.

“Xi Jinping is afraid of a repeat of the Tiananmen student movement, so he can only strengthen the mechanism for maintaining stability and social control, as well as tightly monitoring and preventing civil activities in commemoration of Li Keqiang,” Mr. Lai said.

Retired High-Ranking Officials Live Under Surveillance

Recently, Fan Changlong, former vice chairman of the CCP Military Commission, revealed that every time he leaves Beijing, he has to report his travel plans to Xi, and the maximum time he could be away from Beijing is 45 days.
According to an Internet video, Mr. Fan attended a gathering of his high school classmates in his hometown of Dandong, Liaoning Province, on Feb. 15. During the meeting, Mr. Fan talked about his retirement, saying that if he wanted to leave Beijing, he had to ask Xi for a leave of absence in advance and that he could not be away from Beijing for more than a month and a half.

According to Mr. Wang, senior cadres of the CCP must report their departure to Beijing’s top leaders, which is the usual practice for these cadres.

“People at Fan Changlong’s level may have to get approval before they can travel,” he said. “And it’s not just a simple report. If you have a car assigned to you, you have to use that car for your trip; otherwise, you have to report which other car you will use.”

Mr. Wang said that the CCP claims that these measures are intended to take good care of the safety of high-ranking officials, but in reality, the CCP’s top leaders are worried that these high-ranking cadres might leak secrets after being kidnapped, or that they might meet and conspire in secret, or even escape directly. Therefore, it is very difficult to stage a coup or military coup under the CCP because of the omnipresence of its intelligence system.

Mr. Lai also said that Xi exercises strict control over the senior cadres and isolates them from each other because Xi is worried that they might engage in secret collusion or private meetings.

“These retired senior officials are effectively living in a prison without walls, which fully illustrates that from the party to the masses, no one can be trusted by the Xi administration,” he said.

Mr. Wang added that for each senior official, everyone who provides personal services to him, including civil servants, security guards, cooks, drivers, and even secretaries, could be a secret agent.

“If the senior official leaves Beijing, it may be his only chance to escape surveillance,” he said.

Xin Ning contributed to this report.
Jessica Mao is a writer for The Epoch Times with a focus on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2009.