Deng Xiaoping's Star Has Lost Its Brightness
Analysts give bleak view of possible succession scenarios and new power balance in China
AS China's Communist Party old guard prepares to fete the 40th anniversary of their revolutionary victory, the Marxist state they fought to establish is in crisis. Soldiers have scrubbed the blood of Beijing citizens from Tiananmen Square, the symbol of the ``people's republic,'' and hoisted bright red flags around the capital for celebrations of the 1949 revolution on Oct. 1.Skip to next paragraph
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But since the crushing of popular protests for democracy, China's fate has been linked more precariously than ever to the longevity of one man: paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
Many Chinese say they will never again hail Mr. Deng as their nation's savior, a pioneer of bold economic reforms, a deliverer from decades of isolation and catastrophic political campaigns under Mao Zedong.
``People used to admire Deng,'' says a second-year Beijing University student. ``Now they hate him, they think he is terrible and worse than Mao.''
Deng lost more than prestige when he denied basic freedoms and sanctioned the Beijing bloodbath. He sacrificed power to conservative party elders and the military, scuttled his succession plans, and endangered his market-oriented economic reforms, diplomats and scholars say.
Ultimately, however, the Chinese people will pay the price for Deng's failings. Despite his blackened image, Deng remains the man holding this embittered country together. He is still the mediator between the party's die-hard revolutionaries and a generation of younger reformers. He is still the bridge, however weakened, between Maoist China and a modern nation.
As rumors of the 85-year-old leader's ill health persist, foreign diplomats and scholars offer bleak assessments of the new power balance in China, possible succession scenarios, and the future of Deng's modernization strategy.
``Deng is not as powerful as in the past,'' says an Asian diplomat. ``There are indications that he is losing control of the situation.''
One of the clearest signs of Deng's diminished power has been the reemergence of party conservatives such as Chen Yun and Peng Zhen, octogenarians who Deng had persuaded to withdraw into semiretirement in 1987. Deng enlisted the party veterans to suppress the democracy movement last spring, and has had to share power with them ever since, say Beijing-based diplomats on condition of anonymity.
``The old revolutionary leaders are very pleased to find themselves useful,'' says the Asian diplomat. ``It has been too peaceful for them.''
Recent decisions to intensify Marxist indoctrination, send city youths to farms for ``tempering,'' tighten state control over the economy, and bolster party committees in factories, schools, and government bodies all bear the stamp of party elders opposed to Deng's radical reforms.
Schooled in guerrilla warfare and the crude, heavily ideological politics of the Mao era, the veterans are out of touch with China of the 1980s, diplomats agree.
Party veterans ``still think they are dealing with the China of the 1950s, when the public was ignorant and isolated,'' the diplomat says.
While summoning back the old guard, Deng has also undermined his earlier efforts to remove China's generals from the political arena. By ordering an Army crackdown in June on unarmed demonstrators in Beijing, Deng revived a pattern of military dominance that has signaled the disintegration of Chinese dynasties for centuries.