Date
30 May 2017
Wan Li oversaw the dismantling of farming communes as party boss in eastern Anhui province after Mao's death in 1976, helping pave the way for wider reform. Photo: Internet
Wan Li oversaw the dismantling of farming communes as party boss in eastern Anhui province after Mao's death in 1976, helping pave the way for wider reform. Photo: Internet

Wan Li, last of China’s Eight Immortals, dies at 98

Wan Li, the last of China’s revolutionaries who helped shape the post-Mao Zedong era, has died.

He was 98.

Li oversaw the dismantling of farming communes as party boss in eastern Anhui province after Mao’s death in 1976, helping pave the way for wider reform.

He rose to chairman of the National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislature, from the ranks of Communist Party elders known as the “Eight Immortals”.

Wan died of an illness in Beijing on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg which cited state-run CCTV.

The official broadcaster said his death is “a great loss to the party and the state”.

The Shandong native joined the party in 1936 and was among a handful of one-time revolutionaries like Deng Xiaoping who suffered during Mao’s Cultural Revolution only to re-emerge and lead the country’s economic resurgence in the 1980s and 1990s.

Wan was commonly included among the Eight Immortals, although opinions have differed on the group’s membership.

He was seen as a close ally of Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief purged after supporting students whose protests were suppressed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Wan was on a trip to North America when the pro-democracy movement broke out and returned home to profess support for Deng.

“Wan Li was one of the earliest reformers inside the party,” said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based historian who previously worked at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“He belonged to the same reform camp as Zhao Ziyang did.”

Born in Dongping, Shandong, Wan held administrative positions during China’s war with Japan and the subsequent civil war between the Communist Party and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

He rose to national politics after the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China, serving as urban construction minister and vice mayor of Beijing before being purged during the Cultural Revolution.

Like Deng, Wan was rehabilitated toward the end of Mao’s reign, becoming Beijing’s party chief and then railway minister.

He helped carry out Deng’s “reform and opening up” policy as Anhui party chief and vice premier before taking the top legislative job.

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CG/RA

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