The Chinese public reacted with shock and grief at the sudden death of former premier Li Keqiang, whose death also drew condolences from foreign diplomats, business leaders and China watchers around the world.
The Anhui-born premier was visiting Shanghai. The news took China and the world by surprise. At 68, Li was healthy and energetic, and there had been no reports of him suffering any chronic illness.
Jiang Mingan, a Peking University law professor and a former classmate of Li, said he was saddened by the news that it was “beyond the power of any words” to describe it.
It was a reaction shared by many who took to social media to mourn the man remembered as “the people’s premier” for his down-to-earth but warm personality and caring and capable leadership.
Many who had first-hand experience of the former premier shared photos of him on Weibo, China’s social media platform, including of his visit to Yaan in Sichuan immediately after the region was ravaged by a strong earthquake in 2013 and his visit to a hospital in Wuhan in late January 2020. He was the first top Chinese leader to visit the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic when it broke out.
“It warmed my heart when Li told medical workers in Wuhan to call home every day,” one Weibo user wrote.
In Hong Kong, officials attending a press conference all changed to wearing black ties as a mark of respect for the late premier.
Tam Yiu-chung, who was Hong Kong’s sole member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said he was “stunned and saddened” by the news of Li’s death.
Since taking office in 2013, Li as premier received delegations led by Hong Kong chief executives every year to brief the country’s top leaders in Beijing on the city’s political and economic development over the previous year.
Tam recalled his encounter with Li in a lift in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, and described him as a warm and easy-going person
“Li was very much engaged in Hong Kong affairs and has all along been very supportive of Hong Kong’s development,” Tam said.
In a statement, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said it was “deeply saddened” by the sudden death of Li, who it said “always paid close attention to the concerns of European companies operating in China”.
It described Li as “an important interlocutor for the foreign business community”.
“He was a pragmatic, forward-thinking man who placed great importance on the reform and opening of China’s economy,” the chamber said.
Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, first met Li when he was the governor of Liaoning province, the biggest economy in China’s rust-belt industrial northeastern region.
“He always struck me as very committed to China’s development, intellectually curious, with a highly sophisticated understanding of the Chinese economy and how China could learn from international good practice in economic management,” said Hofman, who met Li several times as part of World Bank delegations when Li was vice-premier and then premier.
Additional reporting by Wendy Wu and Frank Tang
More to follow …