Following the sudden passing of former Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang due to a fatal heart attack on October 27th in Shanghai, strict censorship measures swiftly came into effect on China’s social media platforms. Weibo, often regarded as China’s equivalent to Twitter, witnessed extensive filtering and removal of comments under news related to Li’s demise. The surviving comments were simple and mournful, offering sentiments like “Have a good journey” and “You will live forever.”
It was widely acknowledged that many citizens perceived Li as the last high-level official representing the path of reform and openness in an increasingly closed-off China under President Xi Jinping’s rule. Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, pointed out that Li, a pragmatic economic technocrat, had been sidelined by Xi, resulting in widespread resentment against Xi for his emphasis on ideology and perceived economic mismanagement. In response, Xi’s government worked diligently to censor indirect criticism triggered by Li’s death.
Official control over the news extended to the exclusion of Li’s death in October 27 reports of the meeting between China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C., despite the White House offering condolences on the same event.
As news of Li’s death spread online, netizens began sharing the love song “Unfortunately, It’s Not You” by Malaysian singer Fish Leong, a song often posted when a leader passes away, expressing regret that Xi continues to lead. However, the authorities promptly blocked searches related to the song on platforms like Weibo, WeChat, and Bilibili.
Despite the stringent internet restrictions in China, some bloggers and netizens managed to discuss Li and the significance of his passing. They shared images of a legal text translated by Li and reflected on the end of the prosperity and growth China experienced in the early 2000s with his departure. Many also commented on the rarity of Li’s commitment to reform and opening up, highlighting his words: “The Yellow River and Yangtze River will not flow backward,” signifying the unstoppable nature of reform and openness. An article on WeChat commemorating Li, authored by Ze Yu, concluded with a tribute to his dedication and humility throughout his career.