HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of mourners lined the streets and laid flowers near former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s childhood residence on Saturday, a day after he died of a heart attack.
Li was born in Hefei in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, where he spent most of his childhood and youth. People came overnight to Li’s former residence at Hongxing Road No. 80 with bouquets of chrysanthemums and other flowers. Some bowed in respect, while others cried.
"Everyone is in sorrow," said Fei Wenzhao, who visited the site on Friday night. She said that the flowers laid out stretched 100 meters (yards).
The road leading to the residence was closed to traffic Saturday afternoon to allow people to pay their respects. The line stretched hundreds of meters.
Li, 68, was China’s top economic official for a decade, helping navigate the world’s second-largest economy through challenges such as rising political, economic and military tensions with the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was an English-speaking economist and had come from a generation of politicians schooled during a time of greater openness to liberal Western ideas. Introduced to politics during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, he made it into prestigious Peking University, where he studied law and economics, on his own merits rather than through political connections.
He had been seen as former Communist Party leader Hu Jintao’s preferred successor as president about a decade ago. But the need to balance party factions prompted the leadership to choose Xi, the son of a former vice premier and party elder, as the consensus candidate.
The two never formed anything like the partnership that characterized Hu’s relationship with his premier, Wen Jiabao — or Mao Zedong’s with the redoubtable Zhou Enlai — although Li and Xi never openly disagreed over fundamentals.
Last October, Li was dropped from the Standing Committee at a party congress despite being more than two years below the informal retirement age of 70.
He stepped down in March and was succeeded by Li Qiang, a crony of Xi’s from his days in provincial government.
His departure marked a shift away from the skilled technocrats who have helped steer China’s economy in favor of officials known mainly for their unquestioned loyalty to Xi.
Associated Press researcher Chen Wanqing in Beijing contributed to this report.