Former top Chinese official Wan Li, 98, dies: State TV

Then National People's Congress (NPC) Chairman Wan Li (left) chatting with Chinese President Yang Shangkun at the opening of the NPC on March 15, 1993. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Wan Li, a major Chinese Communist political figure who served as vice premier and who was seen as a liberal voice in the Communist leadership, has died, state television reported Wednesday. He was 98.

CCTV said among the opening headlines of its main evening news bulletin that Wan died in Beijing.

Wan was classed by some analysts as one of Communist China's so-called Eight Immortals, a reference to a group of elite, elderly revolutionaries who survived the purges of Maoism and backed the ascent of Deng Xiaoping - one of their number - to power.

He was chairman of the rubber stamp legislature National People's Congress (NPC) for five years from 1988, a tumultuous time that saw the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protestors at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June 1989.

Like many Chinese officials Wan was persecuted during the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, though he was rehabilitated and became vice premier in the 1980s before being named head of the NPC.

Online Chinese news outlet The Paper reported that Wan died of illness on Wednesday afternoon, citing his son.

A fine tennis player and known for an affable personality, Wan was close to Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party general secretary who was ousted after opposing the use of force to clear Tiananmen Square of protesters. Zhao died in 2005.

Wan's successor as NPC chairman, Qiao Shi, died last month. He was 91.

Qiao was also widely seen by analysts as opposing the military crackdown on the Tiananmen demonstrators, though he and Wan, unlike Zhao, apparently were largely undamaged politically by their stance.

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