As Chinese President Jiang Zemin delivered the official eulogy yesterday for Deng Xiaoping, the words and funeral dirge were broadcast from Beijing to the farthest corners of China.
The speech may be one of the most important of Mr. Jiang's life. It could be a prologue to Jiang becoming the third "helmsman" of Communist-run China - or a swan song to his own political career.
Jiang's speech, and the lineup of leaders included in the official funeral committee, gave the world its first glimpse of post-Deng China.
Standing before a banner reading "Comrade Deng Xiaoping is Eternal" and a blown-up photograph of the man who ruled China for two decades, Jiang sobbed as he reviewed Deng's legacy. Although he was the only speaker, he was surrounded by the six other members of the party's ruling standing committee, not only fellow rulers but also potential contenders for power.
"Jiang, whose stature pales in comparison with Deng, has got to be worried," said a lecturer at a Chinese university. "There are plenty of other senior leaders who are saying, 'Why shouldn't I be the head of the party or the Army.'"
Jiang praised Deng as "a great proletarian revolutionary, statesman, military strategist, and diplomat."
"Because Jiang seeks to become the first leader of the People's Republic of China who did not rise to power as a revolutionary guerrilla, he must try to take on as many of Deng's other mantles as possible," says a government worker in Beijing.
Jiang studied at Qinghua University in Beijing, and in the 1950s worked in the Soviet Union. He is a technocrat who rose to power based on his ability to build coalitions and achieve pragmatic results rather than survive the sometimes violent ideological conflicts that produced the previous generation of rulers.
Jiang used the speech to outline both Deng's past and his own vision of China's future as its Communist founders fade into history. He said the theory of "market socialism" was Deng's "most precious legacy" and vowed to continue the policy of opening to the world.
One day after meeting with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Jiang said that China must "absorb and draw on ... advanced civilization created by all countries in the world, including developed capitalist countries." Yet he also promised to protect the party's rule and strengthen the 3-million-strong Army.
Deng's cremated remains, draped by the party's red hammer-and-sickle flag, seemed dwarfed inside the massive Great Hall of the People. But Jiang in turn appeared to struggle to lay claim to the formal trappings of power held by Deng, a founder of both the party and modern China.
While Deng ruled China's Army, party, and state, "Jiang must try to hold his balance atop the three-sided pyramid of power by forming alliances," says a Chinese scholar here.
Unlike Deng, whose Army career spanned six decades, Jiang has no military experience. His fate has been intertwined with that of the military since the spring of 1989, when Deng plucked him from relative obscurity just days after martial law was slapped on Beijing to stop massive student-led protests.
Deng stripped general secretary Zhao Ziyang of power for opposing the use of troops to quash the demonstrations, and quickly bestowed the post on Jiang.
In a speech Deng made days before the Army's march on Tiananmen, he called on the "new leading group" to "unite closely around Comrade Jiang Zemin."
In the talk, which Deng called his "political testament," he warned that the breaking up of the party into factions could spell the end of Communist Party rule.
The warning undoubtedly worries Jiang. He has already come under pressure from party leftists who oppose capitalism and from liberals who want to refer to demonstrators killed in 1989 as "martyrs for democracy" rather than "counterrevolutionaries."
Deng also forecast that the people would be ruthless in judging the new leadership that Jiang headed following 1989. "The people will judge you on the basis of the impression you make," Deng said. "If they feel that the leadership is ... mediocre and that it does not represent the future of China, there will be more disturbances and never any peace."