Remembering Li Keqiang: From divergence to convergence in Zhongnanhai


Asei Ito, Jaehwan Lim, and Hongyong Zhang

View Working Paper [PDF]

Abstract: The unexpected passing of Li Keqiang, the former Chinese Premier, has prompted widespread public mourning, reflecting a profound sense of loss for a time of economic potential and openness. In assessing Li’s representation, achievement, and limitation, this study explores his policy orientation concerning state–market relations in comparison to General Secretary Xi Jinping. Employing a semi-supervised machine learning method, our analysis reveals that Li favoured market-oriented policies, while Xi displayed a preference for state-centric approaches. Notably, the findings show an initial divergence between the two leaders, followed by a substantial narrowing of the gap during Xi’s second term. This study also finds that discursive differences between the two leaders were linked to a decline in firm-level investment, suggesting the gap in policy orientation may generate significant political uncertainty. As the first attempt to quantify Li Keqiang’s policy position and influence, this study contributes to the literature on the leadership dynamics in economic policy-making and its outcomes.

Keywords: Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, State–market relation, Policy orientation, Text analysis, Latent semantic scaling

About the authors: Asei Ito was a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2022-23. Jaehwan Lim was a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2018-19.

About the Working Paper Series: The Harvard-Yenching Institute is pleased to make available working papers by HYI affiliated scholars on topics in the humanities and social sciences, with special attention to the study of Asian culture. The HYI Working Paper Series welcomes submissions from all HYI-affiliated faculty and fellowship grantees (including graduate students). Scholars are invited to post papers either in English or in an Asian language. To submit a paper, please email

The views expressed in the HYI Working Paper Series are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Harvard-Yenching Institute. HYI Working Papers have not undergone formal review and approval. Such papers are included in this series to elicit feedback and to encourage discussion. Copyright belongs to the author(s). Papers may be downloaded for personal use only, and may not be cited without the author’s permission.