Wan Li

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For the Ming Dynasty emperor, see Wanli Emperor.
Wan Li
Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
In office
13 April 1988 – 27 March 1993
Preceded by Peng Zhen
Succeeded by Qiao Shi
First-ranking Vice Premier of the PRC
In office
1983 - 1988
Premier Zhao Ziyang
Li Peng
Preceded by Deng Xiaoping
Succeeded by Yao Yilin
Minister of Railways of the PRC
In office
1975 - 1976
Preceded by Lü Zhengcao
Succeeded by Duan Junyi
Personal details
Born (1916-12-01) 1 December 1916 (age 98)
Dongping County, Shandong, China
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Bian Tao (邊濤)
Children Wan Jifei
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Wan.
Wan Li
Traditional Chinese 萬里
Simplified Chinese 万里

Wan Li (born 1 December 1916) was during a long administrative career in the People's Republic of China Vice Premier, National People's Congress Chairman, and a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, its Secretariat and its Politburo. He was born in Shandong.[citation needed]


Wan Li joined the Communist Party of China in 1936,[1] and served in party administrative positions, many in Shandong province, from county level on up. In 1937-38, Wan was CPC Secretary (i.e., head) of Dongping County, in 1938-40 Propaganda and Organization Department director in Taixi Prefecture, deputy head of propaganda for Western Shandong regional CPC committee in 1940, and Secretary of the party's 2nd, 7th and 8th Prefectural Committees in the Hebei-Shandong-Henan Border Area in 1940-47.[1] In the last phases of the Civil War, he was Secretary-General of the Border Area committee (1947–49).

Early Liberation years[edit]

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Wan was named deputy director of the finance department of the Nanjing Municipality Military Control Committee, director of the Economic Department and Chief of the city Construction Bureau,[1] all within a few months. He served as Deputy Director of the CCP South-west Military and Administrative Committee's Industrial Department (1949–52), where he would have encountered Deng Xiaoping.

In 1952 Wan moved into national-level politics.[2] He shortly became the Vice Minister of Architectural Engineering (1953) followed by the post of Minister of Urban Construction (1955). From 1958, he was a secretary of the Beijing Municipality CPC Committee (under Peng Zhen) and Vice Mayor of the city government.[1]

Post-Cultural Revolution[edit]

After being purged in the Cultural Revolution, Wan was restored to his Beijing posts in 1973. He was named Minister of Railways in January 1975 (to April 1976) and 1st Vice Minister of Light Industry in 1977. In May of the same year, he took over Anhui Province as CPC 1st Secretary and Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee (i.e., government).[1]

In Anhui, Wan Li was responsible for the earliest post-Mao agrarian reform. On his own authority, he instituted a contract responsibility system whereby farmers divided communal lands and assigned them to individual farmers. His six guidelines (the Anhui liu tiao) relaxed controls on trading as well, permitting farmers to sell surplus produce independently. Peasants were allowed to grow vegetables on 3/10th of a mu and did not have to pay taxes on wheat and oil-bearing plants grown on private plots.[3]

After their initiative was supported by Wan Li, and later in Sichuan province by Zhao Ziyang, it became national policy. The Anhui agricultural reforms were heralded as brilliant innovations by the central government. Wan Li was immortalised in the folk saying "If you want to eat rice, look for Wan Li." (要吃米, 找万里)

National politics[edit]

Wan was elected to the 11th Central Committee in 1977, and to the CC Secretariat in February 1980, where he worked under General Secretary Hu Yaobang. In April he was made Vice Premier to fellow agrarian reformer Zhao Ziyang, and in August Wan was named Minister of the State Agricultural Commission. He was also made a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress in September of that year.[4]

Wan Li became the Vice Premier in 1984 and the Chairman of the National People's Congress in 1988. Wan backed Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in arguing to spread the household land contract scheme nationwide in 1979-81.[5] He also supported Zhao in curtailing the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign in the mid-1980s.[6]

After the January 1987 resignation of CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang, Wan Li was named to the interim five- member party Politburo Standing Committee; he was confirmed in that role at the September 1987 13th National Party Congress. The appointment was opposed by party elder Bo Yibo and others in the Chen Yun faction such as Yao Yilin. While resistance to Wan remaining on the PBSC had to yield to Deng Xiaoping's wishes, the conservatives were able to block Wan's elevation to the State Presidency, a position handed to General Yang Shangkun. As a compromise, Wan was named Chairman of the National People's Congress.[7]

He was on an official visit to Canada and the United States during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and made speeches sympathetic to the student movement. Some of the protestors planned a demonstration to welcome him back to Beijing in late May.[8] But instead he returned to Shanghai, where he was met by Jiang Zemin and others who tried to persuade him to oppose the protests. It's been suggested that he was temporarily put under house arrest. He expressed conditional support for the leadership on May 27, suggesting that a tiny minority of the protestors were conspiring to overthrow the government.[9] He kept his position until he retired in 1993.

In 2004, he called for more democratic decision-making procedures in China to improve the country's "imperfect" Socialist system and boost economic development. Along with 20 other retired Politburo members, they openly asked the Central Government to rehabilitate former General Secretary and Premier Zhao Ziyang’s name and hold memorial services for him for his many important contributions to China.


  1. ^ a b c d e Editorial Board, Who's Who in China: Current Leaders (Foreign Language Press, Beijing: 1989), p. 662
  2. ^ Leung, Pak-Wah (2002) "Wan Li" Political Leaders of Modern China: A Biographical Dictionary Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, pp. 163-165, ISBN 0-313-30216-2
  3. ^ Becker, Jasper, Hungry Ghosts: China's Secret Famine, John Murray (London: 1996), p. 261.
  4. ^ Lamb, Malcolm, Directory of Officials and Organizations in China, 1968-1983 (M.E. Sharpe, New York: 1984).
  5. ^ Zhao Ziyang, Prisoner of the State (Simon & Schuster: London, 2009), ISBN 978-1-84737-697-8, p. 141.
  6. ^ Zhao, p. 163.
  7. ^ Zhao, pp. 210-211.
  8. ^ The Tiananmen Papers, page 289
  9. ^ The Tiananmen Papers, page 305
Government offices
Preceded by
Lu Zhengcao
Minister of Railways of the People's Republic of China
1975 – 1976
Succeeded by
Duan Junyi
Political offices
Preceded by
Song Peizhang
Secretary of the CPC Anhui Committee
1977 – 1980
Succeeded by
Zhang Jinfu
Preceded by
Song Peizhang
Governor of Anhui
1978 – 1979
Succeeded by
Zhang Jinfu
Preceded by
Peng Zhen
Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
Succeeded by
Qiao Shi