Lĭ Péng (李鵬) (b. October, 1928) was the Chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 1998 to 2003 and was second ranking in the Communist Party of China behind Jiang Zemin on the Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC until 2002.

He also served as Premier of the People's Republic of China and Chairman of the State Council between 1987 and 1998.

Personal background

Li was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, the son of Li Shuoxun, one of the earliest CPC revolutionaries and a revolutionary martyr. Li was orphaned at age three when his father was executed by the Kuomintang. He became the adopted son of the Zhou Enlai, perhaps the most revered founder of the PRC only behind Mao Zedong. As a teenager in 1945, four years before the party proclaimed the PRC, Li joined the Chinese Communist Party.

Like other Communist Party cadres of his generation, Li has a technical background. Like Jiang Zemin, he acquired his higher education in the former Soviet Union, becoming renowned as a brilliant electricity specialist.

Rise in the power industry

In 1948, one year before the founding of the PRC, he was sent to study at the Moscow Power Institute, majoring in hydroelectric engineering. During the period he was chairman of the Chinese Students Association in the Soviet Union. His intelligence, amiable and approachable personality, and political networking enabled him to steadily advance politically, becoming deputy minister of the state power industry in 1979 and then minister in 1981.

Between 1979 and 1983, he served as vice-minister and minister of Power Industry and secretary of the Party Group of the Ministry of Power Industry, and vice-minister and deputy secretary of the Party group of the Ministry of Water Resources and Power.

Early political career

After Li was elected member of the CPC Central Committee at the Twelfth CPC National Congress in 1982, he rose to the Politburo and the Party Secretariat in 1985, and the standing committee of the Politburo in 1987, when he also became acting premier.

Beginning in 1983, Li Peng served as vice-premier of the State Council, taking charge of the. Beginning in 1985, he served concurrently as minister in charge of the State Education Commission.

At the same time, however, political dissent as well as social problems such as inflation, urban migration, and school overcrowding emerged, eventually forcing the then vice premier to shift his focus from the day-to-day concerns of the energy, communications and raw materials departments to the forefront of the inter-party debate on the pace of market reforms.

While student and intellectuals urged greater reforms, some party elders increasingly feared that the instability opened up by the reforms threatened to undermine their very purpose: economic development, the central focus of Li's career.


Hu Yaobang, a protégé of Deng and a leading advocate of reform, was blamed for a series of protests and forced to resign as CPC General Secretary in January 1987. Premier Zhao Ziyang was made General Secretary and Li Peng, former Vice Premier and Minister of Electric Power and Water Conservancy, was made Premier of the People's Republic of China.

After Zhao became the party General Secretary, his proposal in May 1988 to accelerate price reform led to widespread popular complaints about rampant inflation and gave opponents of rapid reform the opening to call for greater centralization of economic controls and stricter prohibitions against Western influence. This precipitated a political debate, which grew more heated through the winter of 1988-1989. However, his insubordination during the Tiananmen Square crisis in May 1989 finally brought about his downfall.

The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15, 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for a largescale protest movement by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population. University students and other citizens in Beijing camped out at Tiananmen Square to mourn Hu's death and to protest against those who would slow reform. Their protests, which grew despite government efforts to contain them, called for an end to official corruption and for defense of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Protests also spread through many other cities, including Shanghai and Guangzhou. These protest were occurring at a time when Communist governments throughout Eastern Europe were collapsing. The PRC's leaders, especially Li, were horrified that the Tiananmen protests could topple the government, at a time when, as they argued, political stability was so crucial for economic reforms and modernization.

Li Peng, the premier since 1988, declared martial law during the Tiananmen Square protests (May, 1989); and was instrumental in the dismissal and arrest (June, 1989) of Zhao Ziyang.

Student demonstrators, taking advantage of the loosening political atmosphere, reacted to a variety of causes of discontent, which they attributed to the slow pace of reform. Li, along with the revolutionary elders who still wielded considerable influence, increasingly came to the opposite conclusion, regretting an excessively rapid pace of change for the mood of confusion and frustration ripe among college students. Closer to the revolutionary elders, especially his mentor Chen Yun, Li was and more politically orthodox than some of his contemporaries, favoring greater central economic planning and slower economic growth. Although a committed reformer like Deng, Li noted that economic growth and a successful transition to the market rested on social and political stability.

Li Peng on a 2002 state visit in Australia

After the Tiananmen crisis, Li was re-elected into the top policy-decision making body, the Politburo Standing Committee at the First Plenary Session of the 15th CPC Central Committee. It is also the third time in succession for Li to be elected into the innermost circle of CPC's third generation of collective leadership since 1987. Li with the support of conservatives like Chen Yun initially attempted to roll back some of the market reforms and increase the role of administrative planning. However, in this effort Li was oppposed by the provincial governors and by Deng Xiaoping, and Deng's famous trip to the south in 1992 was considered by many to be a rebuke against economic conservatives. A proposal drafted by Li after Tiananmen to reduce the role of markets faced a large amount of opposition from within the government and was dropped.

Li made quite a number of visits to foreign countries, contributing to the consolidation and development of friendship and cooperation between the PRC and other countries.

Chairmanship of the National People's Congress

He remained as premier until 1998, where he was constitutionally limited to two terms. Then he was made the chairman of the National People's Congress. His spent much of his time monitoring what he considers his life life's work, the Three Gorges Dam. Like many in his generation, the hydraulic engineer, who spent much of his career presiding over a vast and growing power industry, considers himself a builder and a modernizer.

During his tenure as Chairman of the National People's Congress, Li was a strong proponent of rule by law and in increasing the institutional perogatives of the National People's Congress.


Although retired and in his mid-seventies, Li retains some influence in the PSC. The current Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China member Luo Gan, is considered to be his protégé.

Li is widely believed to be one of the most unpopular politicians in China, mainly for his lack of charisma, image has a hardliner, and role in justifying the suppression Tiananmen square protests. Some opponents of the regime dubbed Li "the Butcher of Beijing" for being instrumental in the crackdown, although the amount of influence Li really had in ordering martial law is not exactly known.

Nevertheless, the economic success of the years unfolding after the Tiananmen Square protests have perhaps solidified Li's legacy and defended his notion that "social stability" would be required to ensure a successful transition to a market economy, and this premise is now accepted by the Communist Party.

In the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen protests, Li tackled the related problems of inflation and social unrest, taking a role in the austerity program, the tight money policy, price controls on many commodities, higher interest rates, and the cutoff of state loans to the private and cooperative sectors, which succeeded in reducing inflation to very acceptable rates. While Deng and Jiang would later loosen these controls when they were no longer necessary, these policies are seen as vital for the steady, rapid, and uninterrupted economic growth in the years that followed.

See also:

Preceded By:
Zhao Ziyang
Premier of the PRC
Succeeded By:
Zhu Rongji