Li Keqiang was born on 1 July 1955 in Hefei, the capital and largest city of Anhui. His Father was a local official in Anhui.
Li graduated from Hefei No.8 Senior High School in 1974, during the Cultural Revolution, and was sent for rural labour in Fengyang County, Anhui, where he eventually joined the Communist Party of China and made his way in becoming the party head of the local production team. He was awarded the honour of Outstanding Individual in the Study of Mao Zedong Thought during this time.
In 1980, Li became the Communist Youth League secretary at Peking University. He entered the top leadership of the national organization of the Communist Youth League (CYL) in 1982 as a member of its Secretariat, and has worked closely with former Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who also rose through the ranks of the CYL, ever since. Li became the organization's First Secretary in 1993 and served until 1998. He is a representative member of the first generation to have risen from the CYL leadership.
Li is known to be outspoken and led economic development in Henan, transforming the poor inland region into an attractive area for investment. Li did not spend time pursuing superficial projects. He trekked through all regions of the province trying to search for a comprehensive solution to its growing problems. Henan jumped in national GDP rankings from 28th in the early 1990s to 18th in 2004, when Li left Henan. However, his government was relatively ineffective at curbing the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was affecting the rural areas of the province.
Li refused his father's offer of grooming him for the local county's party leadership and entered the School of Law at Peking University, where he received his LLB and became the President of the University's student council. He earned a PhD in economics in 1995, and the prominent Economist Li Yining (no relation) was his doctoral advisor. His doctoral dissertation was awarded the Sun Yefang Prize, China's highest prize in economics.
Li became the youngest Chinese provincial governor in June 1998 when he was appointed governor of Henan at the age of 43. According to provincial officials working with him at the time, Li refused to participate in any banquets or large fancy events not related to government activities. During his time as governor, a public sense of his "bad luck" grew due to the occurrence of three major fires in the province.
Li was transferred to work as the Party Secretary in Liaoning in December 2004, taking on the top political office of the province. There he is known for the "Five-points to one Line" project, where he linked up Dalian and Dandong, as well as a series of other ports into a comprehensive network to improve trade flow.
During his first term in the PSC between 2007 and 2012, Li took on the most important portfolios in the Chinese government, including economic development, government budgets, land and resources, the environment, and health, ostensibly to prepare him for his upcoming premiership. He also became the head of central commissions overseeing the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project, as well as the leader of steering committees in charge of health care reform, food safety, and AIDS-related work. In addition, Li was the principal lieutenant to Premier Wen Jiabao in the broad portfolios of climate change, Energy, information Technology, northeastern China revitalization, and developing the Chinese far west.
In February 2010, Li gave a speech to ministerial and provincial-level Leaders about the importance of changing the economic structure of the country in order to be better poised for Future growth. The speech was published with minor omissions in the 1 June issue of Qiushi, the Communist Party's political theory publication. Li said that China had come to a critical historical inflection point where a fundamental shift in the structure of the economy must take place in order for the country to continue its path of growth. Li particularly emphasized the need to boost domestic consumption, and emphasized the importance of continued urbanization. Li also emphasized that China should be moving towards a more middle class-oriented society with an "olive"-shaped wealth distribution, with the majority of the country's population and wealth belonging to the middle class.
In August 2011, Li went on an official visit to Hong Kong, including a trip to the University of Hong Kong. The political sensitivities and heightened security surrounding the event resulted in the Hong Kong 818 incident, an event that caused controversy in the territory.
At the 18th Party Congress held in the fall of 2012, Li was elevated to the number two spot on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) and thereby became one of the top Leaders of China. As he was expected to become Premier, this was a shift from previous convention on the PSC set in 1997 whereby the Premier ranked third, after the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, who ranked second. This change showed that the party intended to project Li as the number two figure in the Chinese political hierarchy, behind only party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Also in that same year, he had personally met with the openly gay Ma Baoli (a policeman turned businessman) to discuss the threat posed by HIV. In the same conversation, they discussed LGBT issues on preventing discrimination which has been interpreted as a sign that the People's Republic is slowly coming around to the idea even as major Chinese businesses have already begun tapping into the purchasing power parity of the LGBT community.
Following the Third Plenum of 2013, Xi amassed a series of leadership roles on four new powerful supra-ministerial bodies overseeing "comprehensively deepening reforms", the internet, military reform, and also the National Security Commission. The "deepening reforms" leading group was said to be encroaching on the affairs in the economic realm normally handled by the Premier, and was seen as having the effect of reducing Li's institutional power. However, Li appeared in official press releases as Xi's foremost lieutenant, being named Vice Chairman of the National Security Commission, in addition to becoming the deputy leader of leading groups on "deepening reforms", internet security, and the economy and Finance.
When Li initially entered office, China was facing numerous structural problems inherited from the previous administration. Namely, the large abundance of non-performing loans, that many of the giant infrastructure projects the country embarked on since the global financial crisis was overloaded with crushing debt and lower than expected revenues, and the increasingly large wealth gap. Under these circumstances, Li was said to have responded with what became known as "Likonomics", a term coined by economists at the investment bank Barclays Capital. Likonomics consisted of a three-prong approach that included the across-the-board reduction of debt, an end to massive stimulus practices of the Wen Jiabao government, and structural reforms. However, by 2014, global economic pressures and a decrease in demand of Chinese exports led to lower than expected economic growth rates. Year-on-year GDP growth amounted to less than 7.5% for the first time since 1989. Li's government then responded with tax cuts for small businesses, renovation projects of poor urban areas, and another round of rail construction, particularly focused on the country's interior.
On March 18, 2018 Li was reappointed Premier after receiving 2,964 votes in favour and just two against by the National People’s Congress.