Wen Jiabao has warned that the ruinous turmoil that engulfed China in the past could re-emerge unless the country tackles political reforms.
In a three-hour news conference, the Premier renewed a call for unspecified political reforms, particularly of the Communist Party leadership, saying without them China's hard-won prosperity might be lost.
The news conference was his last scheduled briefing before he steps down after a decade in office.
Mr Wen, 69, said he was "seized by a strong sense of responsibility" to speak out. Corruption, the gap between rich and poor and plummeting credibility of the government required institutional changes, he said.
"Without successful political reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic system reform. The gains we have made in this area may also be lost," he told reporters in the Great Hall of the People. "New problems that have cropped up in China's society will not be fundamentally resolved and such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again."