At the Communist Party Congress opening Sunday, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping seeks to ensure that his ultimate retirement from politics will not touch off a succession crisis. Since staging the second of two political comebacks in 1978, Mr. Deng has struggled to groom a stable, collective leadership to succeed him and other party veterans.
Before retiring, Deng hopes to establish the method for a smooth power transfer to a younger generation for the first time in China's postrevolutionary history.
China lacks a rational, democratic system for promoting and retiring leaders. As in the Soviet Union and other totalitarian communist states, power in China is highly personal, transferred through an old-boy network rather than by well-established political procedure. Chronic succession crises have been resolved, sometimes violently, either by a supreme leader or by his survivors.
Yet step by step, Deng has orchestrated the withdrawal of his veteran colleagues from the Communist Party. In late 1985, he managed to persuade 40 percent of the members of China's powerful Politburo, including all but one military man, to retire in a mass exodus.
Meanwhile, roughly half of all government ministers and provincial party chiefs were replaced by younger leaders.
The retirements are to culminate at the party congress when Deng is expected to step down from the elite five-member Politburo Standing Committee, taking with him three other veteran members: orthodox Marxist Li Xiannian, Central Planning Advocate Chen Yun, and former party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, a staunch reformer who was one of Deng's prospective successors before his ouster in January.
The remaining member is to be Premier Zhao Ziyang, another Deng prot'eg'e, whom the congress is expected to confirm as party general secretary to replace Hu Yaobang.
Chinese sources and Western diplomats predict that the congress will also promote the following three middle-aged technocrats from the party Politburo to the Standing Committee:
Hu Qili, 58. A strong advocate of reform, he has been particularly active in directing the party's ideological and propaganda affairs.
In 1982, Hu Qili was elevated to the party's influential Secretariat, which handles the party's day-to-day affairs, where he is currently the second-ranking member next to Mr. Zhao. Hu also joined the party's 20-member Politburo, which formulates major policies, in 1985.
Li Peng, 59. He is a specialist in hydro-electric power who has spent most of his career as an engineer and bureaucrat in China's energy industry.
In 1985, Mr. Li won seats on both the party Politburo and Secretariat. He has major responsibility in the fields of science, technology, energy, and education. Some analysts believe that Li's Soviet education and involvement in the state-dominated energy sector make him an advocate of central planning; others disagree.
``Since Li has experience in the Soviet Union, he best understands the problems with its system,'' said a Chinese source who is personally acquainted with Li.
Qiao Shi, 63. He is a mild-mannered organization man with more experience than Hu or Li in party affairs - especially in matters relating to state security, law, and inner-party discipline.
Mr. Qiao is currently in charge of combatting corruption in party ranks, an assignment that some Chinese analysts believe will lead him to succeed Chen Yun as head of the party's influential Central Discipline Inspection Commission.
The party congress is also expected to promote younger leaders to replace nearly all Politburo members over the age of 70, including conservative ideologues Deng Liqun and Hu Qiaomu. Moreover, it will elect a new party central committee, which currently has 209 full members and 133 alternate members.
Chinese sources and Western diplomats agree that despite the major rejuvenation of party ranks at the congress, Deng and other veteran leaders will continue to have a say in important national decisions. Nevertheless, they say the promotion of younger, more competent leaders will mark a victory in Deng's drive to abolish China's life tenure system, ensure a smooth succession, and create a stable political atmosphere vital for the success of his reforms.