BEIJING – Former Chinese premier Li Peng, who was behind the government’s crackdown against the 1989 Tiananmen square protests, has died on Monday at the age of 91 due an unspecified illness, State news agency Xinhua reported.
Li, who served as the premier between 1987-1998, ordered the military to forcibly clear the protests in Tiananmen Square with approval from then president Deng Xiaoping.
The subsequent crackdown led to an unknown number of deaths, although some sources have put the figure at over 1,000. Li was dubbed the “Butcher of Beijing” after the incident.
It is said that Li strongly supported ending the civil protests by any means, considering it a serious threat to the survival of the regime.
That led to him clashing with the pro-reform section of the Communist Party of China, led by then general secretary Zhao Ziyang.
Li’s proposal for the iron first prevailed in the internal debate, and resulted in the declaration of martial law in Beijing, military intervention, and the violent repression of protests along with Zhao’s fall from grace.
Li’s obituary in the Chinese state media begins with the different organs of the CPC announcing, with “great sorrow,” the death of “an excellent member” of the party, a “real communist fighter,” and distinguished leader of the Party and State.
The article specifically mentions the 1989 protests, calling them “political agitation,” and adds that Li “took decisive steps” at the time with the support of the “senior-most generation of proletariat revolutionaries,” represented by Deng Xiaoping.
It goes on to add that the former premier “stopped the disturbances,” suppressed “counterrevolutionary riots” – the official term for the protests, and “stabilized national situation.”
The Tiananmen Square crackdown was not mentioned in Li’s autobiography, published in 2014, as it only covered the period up to 1983, the year when he took charge as the vice premier.
After his stint as the premier, Li held the post of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the highest legislative body in the country, until 2003.
The obituary said his death was a great loss for the CPC and the country.