AS a revamped Communist leadership took charge yesterday, China still wondered who will succeed paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
In a rare appearance that underscored his political strength and physical vulnerability, a frail Mr. Deng slowly circulated among applauding delegates at the Communist Party's 14th congress, leaning heavily on his daughter's arm.
The visit of China's most powerful man to the Great Hall of the People came as Deng's political prescription for economic change and political control became the hallmark of the party summit; but Deng's health was the talk of China's capital.
"Now that the policies are decided upon, we'll get down to work and translate the spirit of the congress into reality," party chief Jiang Zemin was reported to have told Deng at the meeting.
Only hours before, the party unveiled an expanded slate of top leaders on the all-powerful Standing Committee of the policymaking Politburo. The Politburo was also overhauled as eight of the previous 14 members stepped aside and the body was enlarged to 20 members.
Although apparently favoring supporters of Deng's free-market overhaul of the Chinese economy, reformists were counterbalanced by conservatives, a move that mirrors the uneasy compromises struck during the party deliberations, analysts say. And no single leader emerged as strong enough to claim Deng's mantle.
On the Politburo, party leaders from areas that have been the engines of China's growth - including Guangdong and Shandong provinces and the port cities of Shanghai and Tianjin - joined the top ranks as a sign of growing decentralization within China, analysts said.
Renamed to head the inner circle was Jiang Zemin, the party's centrist general secretary who Chinese and foreign analysts say remains a weak but compromise choice within the party.
Also surviving the reshuffle was hard-line Premier Li Peng, who oversaw the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators by the Army in Beijing in 1989. Mr. Li remains influential among conservatives who worry that too rapid economic growth would trigger new political upheaval.
The reform side is headed by Zhu Rongji, economic troubleshooter for Deng's revamping and the high-profile chief of the government's new economic and trade super-agency.
Reformist ranks also include propaganda and culture chief Li Ruihan who remains on the standing committee from the last congress in 1987, and newcomer Liu Huaqing, a professional career soldier who serves as vice chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission and brings more military influence to the party's top ranks as China faces a key political transiton.
Also new to the committee are Qiao Shi, head of China's extensive state security apparatus and a longtime party fence-sitter who has joined Deng's reform bandwagon in recent years.
The seventh member is Hu Jintao, who at 49 is the youngest of the new party chiefs and an unknown.
Although he was close to the late reformer Hu Yaobang, Mr. Hu is known most as the head of the party in Tibet during a bloody crackdown on anti-Chinese demonstrators in 1989 and is also linked to party technocrats and aging hard-liners.
Chinese analysts speculate that Hu was a compromise between the Deng camp and hard-liners.
"Hu was the dark horse in this," says a Chinese journalist with close ties to top party officials. "Qiao Shi is emerging as one of the most powerful leaders in the party."
The new standing committee was introduced to the press briefly at the Great Hall of the People, although journalists were not allowed to ask questions.
The atmosphere was in sharp contrast to the congress of 1987 when the new leadership headed by Zhao Ziyang mixed freely with the press amid a new mood of openness among the ruling communists.
Mr. Zhao later was ousted for urging political reform during the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square and last week was reprimanded again during the party congress.
Despite pushing for faster economic change, the party made it clear that political opening was not part of its agenda.
"The Chinese Communist Party is the force at the core in leading the cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics," said People's Daily, the party newspaper. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics" has become a euphemism for market economics.
Li Peng, whose plea for slower market reforms was overruled by Deng's calls for faster change, expressed reservations about the party's new line to delegates last week and urged that industry remain under government planning, according to the party press.
"The market has its own weak points," Li said. "Therefore, in a socialist market economy, macro-control by the state is indispensible."
Some analysts say that Li, who is widely reviled for his part in suppressing the 1989 pro-democracy protests, may be eased out in the next year.
In the ascendency is Mr. Zhu, who is spearheading the drive to reshape China's planned economy into a market force and is a contender to become the next premier. Sometimes referred to as "China's Gorbachev," a sobriquet that he shuns, Zhu has won recognition at home and abroad.
"He's a very competent and shrewd politician, a little slick but with a reformist and modernizing ethos," a Western diplomat says.