Crusades for Understanding on U.S. Trip : Deng’s Disabled Son Sets an Example

Times Staff Writer

Deng Pufang has been wheelchair bound and in almost constant pain since he was thrown from a fourth-floor window by Red Guards during the bloody Cultural Revolution of 1968.

Yet it has not stopped the son of China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, from embarking on what he considers a vital mission, a three-week trip to America to help increase public consciousness about the rights and concerns of the handicapped.

Deng, 43, who visited President Reagan and leading members of Congress last week, met at a Universal City luncheon Thursday with members of the Hollywood community for a discussion on the impact of the arts on society’s image and understanding of the disabled.


Both in China and the United States, Deng and other speakers said, recent film and stage productions have increased public consciousness about the problems of the disabled, while portraying them in a sympathetic, dignified light.

Yet, said actress Nanette Fabray, “We still have a long way to go. Forty years ago (in Hollywood) you just didn’t admit to having a hearing problem.”

“It’s only been very recently that attitudes have changed and we look to such a person as a normal person,” said Fabray, who has served as chairwoman of a presidential advisory committee for the deaf.

The director of broadcast standards for NBC, Theodore F. Cordes, emphasized that network entertainment programs are trying to place characters with disabilities in featured roles without calling special attention to their handicaps.

For example, in an upcoming episode of “St. Elsewhere,” Cordes said, one character without a hand and another without a leg will appear but “the disabilities these people have is incidental to the characters.”

‘Better Future’

In remarks to the group, Deng, who directs the China Fund for the Handicapped, responded:

“I think that the arts and culture should be very idealistic. They should reflect ideals and also . . . make a contribution to a better future.”


In China, he said through an interpreter, the first in a series of documentaries intended to introduce the problems of the disabled to the general public was recently televised.

Deng has emerged in recent years as a national spokesman for handicapped rights in China, where for centuries the disabled have been treated with little sensitivity or dignity.

During his current three-week trip, his first visit to America, Deng has met with leaders ranging from President Reagan to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and his son, Edward M. Kennedy Jr., who lost a leg to bone cancer at age 8. Deng also has visited hospitals for the disabled and spoken with leaders of national organizations for the handicapped.

On Thursday, Deng met with Mayor Tom Bradley and took a tour of Universal Studios.

“I’m very lucky to meet with you people here today because we might have been eaten by the big shark,” joked Deng.

According to his American host, Deng is “a very brave individual” and an apt role model for the handicapped.

“He’s in a great deal of pain a great deal of the time and he needs constant medical attention,” said Arthur H. Rosen, president of the National Committee on United States-Chinese Relations. “But he is seeking to raise public consciousness in China and the world to the problems of the handicapped.”


“His doctors don’t want him to travel--but he’s doing it anyway because he thinks it’s his mission.”