In Feburary, 1989, Li Honglin co-signed the open letter by Beijing intellectuals. After the death of Hu Yaobang, he was part of the commemorator session by intellectuals hosted by the World Economic Herald.
During the 1989 movement, his activities were mostly in accordance of those with other intellectuals. Most significantly, he was part of the "Twelve Scholars" who went to Tiananmen Square to pursuade students stop hunger striking on May 14. Later, he co-signed a statement by intellectuals on May 16.
He was arrested after the massacre. After being detained for almost a year, he was released without charge.
Li Honglin died on June 1, 2016, in Beijing. He was 91.