Li Peng (b. 20 October 1928) was the Premier of China between 1987 and 1998, the Chairman of the Standing Committee 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 (CPC) behind Jiang Zemin on the Politburo Standing Committee until 2002.
Concerned about maintaining social and political stability, Li backed the use of force to quash the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and due to his relatively uncharismatic personality, Li became one of the least popular Chinese leaders following the protests. Li promoted a cautious approach towards Chinese economic reform. As Premier, he oversaw a rapidly growing economy, with the GDP rising by almost 10% a year.
Li advanced 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.
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 of the People's Republic of China. Beginning in 1985, he served concurrently as minister in charge of the State Education Commission.
While in this position, political dissent as well as social problems like inflation, urban migration and school overcrowding became a significant problem in China. Li shifted 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.
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.
The death of Hu Yaobang on 15 April 1989, coupled with growing economic hardship caused by high inflation, provided the backdrop for the largescale protest movement of 1989 by students, intellectuals, and other parts of a disaffected urban population.
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 causing the mood of confusion and frustration rife among college students.
Closer to the revolutionary elders, especially his mentor Chen Yun, Li was 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.
However, Li is one of the most unpopular politicians in China, mainly for his lack of charisma, image as a hardliner, corruption among his family members, and role in suppressing the Tiananmen square protests. Some opponents of the Chinese government, especially international human rights groups, 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. More critics also partly blamed Li for causing the economic troubles under Zhao's rule in the first place by objecting to proposed reforms so strongly that they were watered down and made inefficient.
In the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen protests, Li helped tackle 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. While Deng and Jiang later loosened these controls when they were no longer necessary, such policies are often viewed as vital for the steady, rapid, and uninterrupted economic growth in the years that followed.
In early 1998, over four thousand people invested in a company named New Nation Great (新国大), lured by the promised return that was as high as 30%. The investors had a false sense of security because Li Peng’s wife, Zhu Lin, his youngest son and daughter-in-law, Li Xiaoyong and Ye Xiayan were all among the board members. However, in August of the same year, half a billion ¥ of the company asset simply disappeared, and the company bankrupted and closed. When the case was finally settled, investors were only able to get 40 million ¥ back. Although four culprits were executed by the Chinese court sentence, none of Li Peng’s family was touched. The general Chinese popular believe was (and still is) that Li Peng used his power to ensure that his family remain unscathed.
Although originally kept a secret, the Chinese investigation was later leaked to the Chinese general public, and subsequently widely published on many domestic Chinese website (which eventually were banned), which further outraged the Chinese public: during the brief existence of New Nation Great Co., Li Xiaoyong (李小勇) and his wife Ye Xiaoyan (叶小燕) transferred over 34 million (in Hong Kong dollar) company asset to buy two very expensive home in Hong Kong (Wanzi Huijingge 湾仔会景阁 and Yangmingshanzhuang 阳明山庄). In fact, Li Xiaoyong (李小勇), his wife and their only daughter already obtained permanent legal residence in Hong Kong using the fake name Zhu Feng (朱峰) for Li Xiaoyong. Subsequently, they also obtained permanent residence in Singapore.
The money allegedly embezzled by Li Peng’s yonger son Li Xiaoyong and Ye Xiaoyan were not limited to purchasing expensive homes in Hong Kong, because they also spent over 2.8 million Hong Kong dollars to purchase another expensive home in Singapore, located on Tanjongrhu Rd (丹戎禺路). While in Singapore, Li Xiaoyonng always eats at his favorite restaurant, the Singapore branch of the famous Hong Kong restaurant chain that specializes in abalone Aiyi Abalone (阿一鲍鱼), frequent the restaurant four or five times a week, spending at least 55 thousands Hong Kong dollars. Such allegations of corruption was so shocking that even some of the oversea anticommie Chinese media found it was difficult to believe, and initiated their own investigation in an attempt to confirm the truth of these allegations. As it turned out, all of the allegations resulted from the Chinese investigation were true, and this information was subsequently published in many oversea Chinese media, such as 壹周刊
As the findings of the investigation leaked to the general Chinese public, the Chinese government took a stand that surprised everyone. As the victims of New Nation Great (新国大) Co angrily demonstrated outside the Zhongnanhai for more than a dozen times, hold up the banners that claim “Li Peng return the money to us for your son”, none of the demonstrations were dispersed and none of demonstrator were arrested. Each time, the Chinese government only sent police to watch the demonstrators and did nothing else. As the information of the investigation was leaked and circulated on the internet, it was not immediately censored, instead, it was allowed to circulate for quit sometime before the eventual ban, and none of the domestic Chinese website that published the info were shutdown by the Chinese governmental censorship. However, the Chinese government did not respond to the victims’ and public demands either. China analysts postulate such unusual move by the Chinese government served several purposes, including pressuring Li Peng to retire from his post of chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress when he reached his age limit, as well as putting the distance between Li Peng and the government itself for the future leadership. Whatever the reason, the investigation result on the corruption charges of Li Peng’s family leaked to the public and tolerated by the Chinese government for a short period of time certainly made Li Peng and his family become further unpopular among the general Chinese populace.