Deng Turns 91, Little Noticed but Still Influential Offstage


Senior leader Deng Xiaoping was reported in good health for his 91st birthday Tuesday, but his 1.2 billion compatriots did not take much notice and his anointed heirs chose the day to show off who was in charge of China.

The birthday of the squat, gravel-voiced patriarch went unmarked in the state media in line with Deng’s abhorrence of personality cults after adulation of Chairman Mao Tse-tung led China along disastrous revolutionary roads.

Asked about a change in the condition of the man who led China out of leftist fervor and economic stagnation to a market revolution, the Foreign Ministry said he was healthy for a man of his age.

“I think there is at least one change--he is one year older,” spokesman Chen Jian joked at a regular news briefing.


His chosen successors used the day to turn the media spotlight on their grip on power and away from their patron who ditched orthodox Marxist egalitarianism and told his people that “to get rich is glorious.”

But diplomats said Deng’s influence remained apparent as President and Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng plastered their pictures across the front page of the People’s Daily, clearly basking in his backing.