Wan Li, a Chinese politician known for his economic reforms, publicly chose the side of the hardliners in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Wan died Wednesday at the age of 98 in Beijing.
He was a strong supporter of the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping, who as China’s paramount leader was the chief architect of the country’s opening up to the outside world in the 1980s and early ’90s.
In 1989, Wan was chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the body assigned supreme power by China’s constitution.
He began a 21-day visit to Canada and the United States on May 12, 1989, when students gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square demanding democracy.
While Wan’s stance on the protests was never made clear, he was a close ally of Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party’s general secretary at the time, who was later ousted for his support of the students.
On May 13, the students went on a hunger strike, and the pro-democracy demonstrations began to go out of control.
Wan was summoned back to China to convene a meeting of the NPC Standing Committee in an attempt to decide what could be done to stop further deterioration of the situation.
Zhao later recalled in his tape-recorded memoirs that he sent a telegram to Wan on May 21 asking him to return to China ahead of schedule in the hope that the NPC could take action to ease the tensions.
However, when Wan arrived in Shanghai on May 25, he was picked up at the airport by then Shanghai party secretary Jiang Zemin, who would soon replace Zhao as general secretary of the Communist Party of China.
Instead of proceeding to Beijing — where the country’s top leaders were engaged in heated debate on what to do as the number of demonstrators grew daily, swelled by people coming to Beijing from elsewhere in the country – Wan stayed in Shanghai for six days.
On May 27, while in Shanghai, he issued a public statement in support of Deng, who eventually ordered a violent crackdown on the demonstrators.
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