Tiananmen Square crackdown

Li Peng goes out with a whimper amid dwindling public interest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2003, 12:00am

Li Peng's departure from the No 3 position in the political hierarchy came and went with little fanfare from the general public.

While the foreign media wrote at length about Mr Li's pending retirement - inevitably re-examining his role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre - people on the streets of Beijing were more interested in less controversial issues, if at all.

Zhao Cang said he sent Mr Li a copy of his report on property problems in his neighbourhood and was still waiting for a reply from the outgoing chairman of the NPC.

'According to principle, he should look at it,' Mr Zhao said. 'Because of his position, he should care about this matter.'

Like many people yesterday, Mr Zhao did not have much to say about Mr Li's legacy, either out of fear of criticising such a senior leader or simply in keeping with general disinterest.

Han Jia, a play promoter in Beijing, said: 'He's not a man of the common people. He's not done any bad deeds, but nothing especially great either, not like [Premier] Zhu Rongji or other leaders.'

Mr Li spent much of his career managing China's public utilities but did little to improve water or electricity services, said Li Chunming, a history expert from Beijing.

He said that while Li Peng did not improve utilities, he did find ways to make money from them.

Beijing residents tended to lump Li Peng in with other state leaders, saying they had helped Beijing prepare for the 2008 Olympics with new subway lines, wider roads and green spaces.

City dwellers saw his stepping down not as a decisive retirement, but as a natural part of the change in leadership.

'All the leaders are fine,' said Mr Tang, a Beijing citizen who makes his living selling telephone calling cards. 'They've allowed Beijing to advance.'

He said he was too busy earning money to consider Li Peng's accomplishments or reputation.

A common sentiment echoed by Mr Zhao. 'I'm numb to politics, too busy minding my own things,' he said.

Privately, some people said Li Peng had remained in power by avoiding mistakes but had done nothing special for China.

One person said his advocacy of the Three Gorges Dam project - which many Beijing people oppose on environmental grounds - may be seen later as an error. His image will also be forever linked to the Tiananmen killings by people of student age in 1989.