China's premier-in-waiting schooled in free thought

Wed Nov 7, 2012 1:18pm EST
 
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Where other top Chinese leaders can only stand around and look awkward in the presence of English-speaking dignitaries, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang stands out for his casual and disarming command of the language.

Li's English skills say more about the man who will run the world's second-largest economy than just an ability to schmooze U.S. CEOs and European prime ministers - they were learned as a part of a surprisingly liberal university education.

Over three decades ago, Vice Premier Li entered prestigious Peking University, a member of the storied "class of '77" who passed the first higher education entrance exams held after Mao Zedong's convulsive Cultural Revolution, which had effectively put university education on hold.

More than any other Chinese party leader until now, Li, 57, was immersed in the intellectual and political ferment of the following decade of reform under Deng Xiaoping, which ended in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that were crushed by troops.

As a student at Peking University, Li befriended ardent pro-democracy advocates, some of whom later became outright challengers to party control. His friends included activists who went into exile after the June 1989 crackdown.

He was caught up in the fervor of political and economic reform, helping translate "The Due Process of Law" by Lord Denning, the famed English jurist, into Chinese.

Li arrived at university in early 1978 from Anhui province in eastern China, dirt-poor farming country where his father was an official and where he was sent to toil in the fields during the Cultural Revolution.

He chose law, a discipline silenced for years as a reactionary pursuit and in the late 1970s still steeped in Soviet-inspired doctrines.   Continued...

 
China's Vice Premier Li Keqiang addresses an EU-China High Level meeting on Energy at the EC headquarters in Brussels May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Thierry Charlier/Pool