4 December 2023

Misleading: Tiananmen crowd and car honking videos are not related to the late Li Keqiang

Two videos show China’s National Day celebration more than three weeks before Li’s death; the other is a three-year-old clip showing drivers mourning COVID-19 victims in 2020.


Three videos widely circulated on social media at the end of last month after the death of former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang — with claims that they show large-scale gatherings in the capital city to mourn his passing.

Some posts said massive crowds gathered at Tiananmen Square and Changan Avenue while over 10,000 drivers honked their horns to pay tribute when Li’s body arrived in Beijing.

Li, aged 68, died of a heart attack on Oct. 27, state media Xinhua reported.

His sudden death prompted the authorities to closely monitor online and offline messages of mourning, according to CNN, for fear of unrest.

These posts on X have at least 5,000 likes and nearly 1,300 retweets at the time of writing.

However, the claims are misleading. Annie Lab looked into the videos and found them unrelated to Li’s passing.

The first video posted on Oct. 28 shows a huge crowd at Tiananmen Square, purportedly gathering on the day of Li’s death. The overlaying text says it was filmed at 6 p.m.

But a reverse image search led to another tweet saying the clip actually shows China’s National Day celebration on Oct. 1. This post included a Douyin video identical to the one in the video under investigation.

Caption: The misleading video (left) is identical to the Douyin video posted on Oct. 1.

We tracked the original Douyin video on the platform, which was indeed posted on Oct. 1, 2023, the National Day of China.

The video is titled, “Let’s see how many people celebrate the National Day at Tiananmen Square.”

The second video has a voice-over in Mandarin bidding farewell while melancholic music is playing in the background.

We found another X account that posted the same video through a reverse image search, and this version had a visible Douyin handle.

While Annie Lab could not find the video under that particular Douyin account, in the process, we found another similar video from the same user on Oct.1 showing the National Day countdown at Tiananmen Square.

This video shared multiple similarities with the video claiming to show Li’s mourners.

Caption: At least four people can be identified appearing in both videos, proving that they were taken on the same occasion.

We can conclude that these two video clips, which were uploaded more than three weeks before Li’s death, have nothing to do with the former premier’s passing.

Another X video was posted on Oct.29 with a claim that more than 10,000 drivers honked together in Beijing to pay tribute to Li.

The user wrote, “When the hearse carrying Li Keqiang’s body left the Beijing airport and entered the ‘Fourth Ring Road’, over 10,000 vehicles in Beijing were honking together…”

The same video was also uploaded to YouTube with a similar claim.

A U.S.-based Chinese language website known for its anti-Communist Party content carried an article based on this video, with the headline, “Beijing drivers honking together to welcome Li Keqiang, but they were actually expressing discontent against Chinese authorities,” when translated to English.

The video’s overlaying text and a bridge sign in the footage indicated that it was recorded near the Jianguomen Bridge (建國門橋) in the center of the capital city.

However, according to Baidu Map, Jianguomen Bridge is actually located on the East Second Ring Road, not the Fourth Ring Road. The distance between the bridge and the closest point of Fourth Ring Road is over 4.7 km.

Caption: The distance between Jianguomen Bridge (left) and Fourth Ring Road is over 4.7km.

On Douyin, we found an identical video posted by the Beijing News on April 4, 2020.

Caption: The video on X (left) and the one by the Beijing News (right) are the same clip

In this three-year-old video, the drivers were responding to a State Council’s call to mourn COVID-19 victims.

According to news reports, people were asked to observe silence for three minutes at 10 a.m. on that day, while air raid sirens, as well as horns of vehicles, ships, and trains, wailed.

The Beijing News also posted other videos relating to the national mourning of pandemic-related deaths, including this one showing people observing silence at Tiananmen Square with the national flag flying at half-mast.

Li’s body was cremated and laid to rest in Beijing’s Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery on Nov. 2, while flags lowered to half-mast nationwide. At least hundreds of people reportedly gathered and laid flowers under tight security near Babaoshan and his childhood hometown of Hefei in Anhui province.

Li was China’s former second-ranking leader and the top economic official for a decade. He was dropped from the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee last October and officially left office in March, despite being two years below the informal retirement age of 70 for China’s top leaders.