From lawyer to leader, Li Keqiang will be China’s best-educated leader yet

Li Keqiang

SCMP’s Cary Huang reports from Beijing: “The next premier is likely to be the best educated since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, with Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who holds postgraduate degrees in law and economics from prestigious Peking University, due to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao in March.

“At university, Li studied the ideas of leading British judges and mixed with democracy advocates, leading some to hope his premiership will herald significant political change in the world’s last major communist-ruled nation.”

“A member of the first group of students admitted to university after late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ordered the resumption of the university entrance exam in 1977, following the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, Li studied law under Professor Gong Xiangrui , an expert on Western constitutional law who had studied in Britain in the 1930s. Li followed that with a PhD in economics under Li Yining, the mainland’s market reform guru.”

“Li is one of the few top leaders fluent in English, surprising observers during a visit to Hong Kong last year when he broke with protocol and addressed an event at the University of Hong Kong in English. His wife, Cheng Hong, is a linguistics professor and an expert on American literature who has translated several modern American works into Chinese.”

“He started his political career as secretary of the youth league at Peking University and went on to become a member of the secretariat of the league’s central committee in 1985, when Hu headed the secretariat. He was appointed president of the league’s Chinese Youth Political Academy in 1993 and also headed the league’s secretariat from 1993 to 1998.

“In 1999, Li became the mainland’s youngest governor – and the first with a PhD – when he was appointed to head the central province of Henan at the age of 43. He became Henan party secretary in 2003 and Liaoning party boss in 2004.

“He won promotion to the central leadership in late 2007, becoming a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, and was made executive vice-premier in March 2008.”

“Li reportedly plunged into campus politics as reformist ideas galvanised students, befriending freethinkers who went on to become dissidents in exile, and helping to translate The Due Process of Law by famed English jurist Lord Denning.

“Former classmate and prominent dissident Wang Jintao, who has lived in exile in the United States since 1994 after being sentenced to 13 years in jail for supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy movement, said Li was outspoken and quick-witted on campus.

“Both were active student leaders and Wang said he was so impressed with Li’s speeches he nominated him to be chairman of a student congress.

“Wang said he was surprised his former classmate had remained in the bureaucracy for so many years because Li had expressed his dislike for the bureaucratic way of doing things.

“‘On campus, Li Keqiang was a student with an active mind and sharp words,’ Wang wrote in a memoir. ‘He has his own independent thinking and preferences. But he will not challenge authority on major issues. He is also a person who wants to have big personal accomplishments.’

“Another exiled dissident, Hu Ping, recalled that in 1980 Li, then a member of the official student union, backed controversial campus elections contested by Hu and other pro-democracy activists. Party conservatives were aghast at the radical experiment.

“‘After the election, I talked to him about elections, democracy and the political future of China,’ Hu Ping told overseas media.

“At the university, Li attached himself to Professor Gong, whose classes became a seedbed for exotic, liberal ideas. Gong had earned his PhD at the London School of Economics and was also a student of Qian Duansheng, a Harvard professor in the 1930s who was the founder of constitutional law studies in contemporary China and also a key drafter of several Kuomintang and Communist constitutions.

“Gong organised Li and two other students to translate The Due Process of Law.

“‘As a student of Gong at an age when a person’s value framework is set and as a translator of the great British work, he must have deep belief in the rule of law and modern constitutional systems,’ another of Gong’s former students said.”

“Li, born into a traditional Chinese bureaucrat’s family, also underwent systematic training in Chinese philosophy and culture before he was admitted to university.

“His father was a county magistrate who later became the official in charge of relics and historical records in Anhui province. The younger Li was taught to recite many classical Chinese works when he was a child.”

“A former China Youth League official described Li as cautious and prudent. ‘He’s seldom the first to speak up or lose his composure in conversations or meetings,’ the former colleague said. ‘And he also never lost his temper, at least in my memory.’”

“Like the incumbent Wen, Li has been at the centre of reports about his family’s business interests. Research by Cheng Li shows that his brother, Li Keming, holds a key position in the tobacco industry as deputy director of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.”

Source: SCMP “Li Keqiang will be best educated leader yet”
 


Categories: Politics & Law

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