Another student leader, Wang Dan, who lives in exile in the US, said (link in Chinese) in a statement that “Li was the executioner and butcher of the Tiananmen massacre, and whether he’s dead or alive he has already been nailed firmly to history’s pillar of shame. In the future, when the case of the Tiananmen massacre can finally be re-opened, people will not let him off the hook just because he is dead.”

Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, however, said that Li’s death meant that accountability for what happened in 1989 “got a bit dimmer.”

Li was born in 1928 in Sichuan, to a family that had deep personal ties to core members of the then nascent Chinese Communist Party. He was arranged by the party to study engineering in Russia in 1948, where he learned Russian, and returned to China in 1955.

Though Li is largely remembered for his central role in the Tiananmen crackdown, he was also key to the development of the Three Gorges Dam infrastructure project on the Yangtze River, which began in 1994 and cost $59 billion. Despite warning from scientists and even some officials who said that the project could bring serious financial and environmental disaster to the country, Li pushed ahead with it and argued that it would lead to unprecedented business opportunities from foreign investors. More than a million people had to be moved to make way for the dam, with hundreds of landslides recorded near the dam after it caused water levels to rise, according to China Dialogue, a website focused on environmental news about China.

More recently, the dam had to reassure citizens that it was safe after satellite photos from Google Maps circulated allegedly showing evidence that the Three Gorges Damn had warped.

In the 1990s, Li Peng and his family dominated the energy business in China. Later the monopoly was broken up into five companies, with two of his children going on to head two of them. Li’s son, Li Xiaopeng, became transport minister in 2016, after earlier serving as governor of Shanxi province. His daughter, Li Xiaolin, known in China as the “power queen,” in 2015 became vice president of China Datang, one of the country’s largest power-generating firms. He offshore holdings featured in the Panama Papers investigation in 2016, which examined how the world’s wealthy reduced their tax burden.

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