Deng Xiaoping, China’s “paramount leader” and a steely pragmatist who broke the spell of Maoist ideology and forged the world’s most populous nation into an economic powerhouse, died here Wednesday night at age 92.
The Communist Party leadership, conscious of upheavals that have often accompanied political change here, moved quickly to establish an orderly transition.
Following an obviously well-rehearsed plan, security was heightened immediately at key locations in the sleeping Chinese capital, including the gates leading into the walled leadership compound at Zhongnanhai and in the city’s central Tiananmen Square.
Only hours after Deng died at 9:08 p.m. Beijing time, party leaders announced the creation of a funeral committee headed by President Jiang Zemin, the 71-year-old former Shanghai mayor who also serves as general secretary of the party and commander in chief of the armed forces.
That move was a clear signal of support for Jiang, who was plucked from relative obscurity in 1989 and groomed as Deng’s handpicked replacement.
In an effort to avoid the spontaneous popular demonstrations that have followed the deaths of previous Chinese leaders, state television, radio and news agencies made no public announcement of the news until long after it had been released abroad.
Beginning at 6:30 a.m. today, Beijing time, China’s Central People’s Broadcasting, the main national radio network, began airing somber, funereal music.
On China Central Television, a network anchorman wearing a dark suit solemnly read the official announcement, never varying from the official script.
Afterward, a black-and-white photograph of a smiling Deng--who had been crippled by Parkinson’s disease and lung disease caused by years as a chain smoker--filled the screen, underlined by the Chinese characters stating: “Comrade Deng Xiaoping Is Immortal.”
The same words, common to many tombstones, were used when leader Mao Tse-tung died in 1976.
Meanwhile, as the initial announcement was made on the country’s main network, Beijing’s municipal television station broadcast the finals of an American skateboarding competition.
President Clinton and other world leaders praised Deng as a dynamic engine of change in the people’s republic.
“Over the past two decades,” Clinton said, “Mr. Deng was an extraordinary figure on the world stage and the driving force behind China’s decision to normalize relations with the United States.”
In Taiwan, the office of President Lee Teng-Hui, the target of vitriolic criticism from the Beijing government, sent condolences to Deng’s family and called for a “peaceful, cooperative, prosperous new era” between the oft-feuding island and the mainland.
At the time of his death, Deng held no title, no official position--and was unable to walk or feed himself.
Yet in keeping with centuries of dynastic rule that preceded the Communist victory here in 1949, his unspoken power lingered until he drew his last breath, analysts said.
No Chinese official dared speak without reference to the ideas of Deng’s economic theories of “market socialism.” No critical review of his rule was possible.
His death, with a finality that distinguishes Chinese politics, ends the immunity for him and his family, opens the way for an assessment of his career and marks the beginning of what will become known as the “post-Deng era.”
Initial reactions on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai ranged from sorrow to shock to indifference.
Jing Guifei, 28, a research scientist at Beijing University, said: “I heard it over the radio a few minutes ago and I cried. This time it is not like when Mao died. Circumstances are different. China has developed under Deng’s policies.”
Meanwhile, Xie Chunghua, a sharply dressed 16-year-old whose parents are successful in business, shrugged his shoulders and sniffed: “I’m not concerned about politics. I haven’t thought about what will happen.”
In Shanghai, people greeted each other with “Did you know Deng is dead?” instead of the standard “Good morning, have you eaten yet?”
Deng’s death had been foreshadowed for several days by wild fluctuations in the Chinese stock market.
For those who had watched China evolve under Deng’s rule from a collectivist to a consumer society, the nervous market tremors seemed a perfect symbol of the vast economic reformation of the Deng era.
Before Deng came to power in 1978, there were no stock markets, no entrepreneurs and virtually no business except that controlled in the giant maw of centralized state planning.
But under Deng’s rule, China was transformed from a dreary, monochromatic order in which factory workers were celebrated above intellectuals to a free-wheeling society in which people enjoy once-unimaginable freedom of choice in work and lifestyle.
At the same time, dissent remained brutally suppressed.
Virtually all of China’s handful of dissidents are now either in jail, under house arrest or in forced exile abroad.
Deng himself proudly took responsibility for the bloody June 1989 army crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square that left hundreds dead.
Deng said in a November 1989 meeting that, under similar circumstances, he would take the same action. The statement was aired for the first time in a recent television documentary on his life.
One of the main questions of the post-Deng era, in fact, will be what blame for the Tiananmen incident China’s new leadership will assign to Deng.
Some early risers in Beijing were initially incredulous when told of the news.
An old man, wearing mittens and a worker’s cap, striding briskly in the street near the Forbidden City, sighed when he was informed of Deng’s death. “It’s a shame,” he said. “I had heard that his last wish was to be in Hong Kong for the return to Chinese rule.”
Indeed, several times before his death, Deng had said that the last remaining goal in his full, turbulent life was to witness the July 1 repatriation of Hong Kong after more than a century of British colonial rule.
Jia Yaduo, 50, a peasant from Manchuria’s Liaoning province, said: “I was passing by Tiananmen Square and saw the flag at half-staff. I’m just a peasant and uncultured, but in the countryside, Deng Xiaoping’s reforms did a lot to improve our lives. So I feel very sad.”
Meanwhile, in a statement issued through its international news services, the Beijing leadership made it clear that it considered Deng’s death a strictly Chinese affair, announcing that foreign leaders will not be invited to attend the funeral of the 5-foot-2 Communist Party veteran, a tough leader who survived three purges to reach the pinnacle of power.
“In accordance with China’s practice,” said the announcement issued by the official New China News Agency, “foreign governments, political parties and friendly personages will not be invited to send delegations or representatives to attend the mourning activities.”
It was unclear today if Deng’s death will affect the scheduled visit to China on Monday by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The Foreign Ministry announced today that the mourning for Deng will last from today until Feb. 25.
During that period, officials said, all Foreign Ministry press conferences will be suspended. No foreign journalists will permitted to attend Deng’s funeral.
If past practice holds true, Deng will lie in state at the Great Hall of the People for several days before the funeral. As China’s president and Deng’s designated heir, Jiang will preside over the funeral ceremony.
After Deng suffered his first physical breakdowns in 1993, Jiang has been effectively running the opaque Chinese regime.
But in keeping with China’s milleniums-old dynastic traditions, it was not until Deng’s death Wednesday that Jiang, an affable, Soviet-trained party cadre from the Yangtze River city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, could stand on his own.
Although Jiang has carefully cultivated relations with China’s all-powerful military--including the 1995 appointment of his close ally, Defense Minister Chi Haotian, to a key position in the Central Military Commission that oversees China’s armed forces--his future as China’s new leader is by no means secure.
Within the closed ranks of the party leadership are several other men who are known to have ambitions for the job--including Qiao Shi, the smooth operator who is National People’s Congress chairman, and hard-line Premier Li Peng.
Jiang’s challenge as the first post-revolutionary Chinese leader is to maintain China’s surging economic growth while enforcing strict party control over the mechanisms of power. Any slip with either could quickly end his leadership.
China’s modern history is littered with those who have fallen after they were designated as successors to ultimate power in the world’s last great Communist regime.
All 18 members of the Communist Party Politburo were on the funeral committee. Also on the committee were two veterans of the Chinese revolution: former President Yang Shangkun, 89; and former National People’s Congress Chairman Peng Zhen, 95. Both are close colleagues of Deng who are still seen as behind-the-scenes kingmakers.
After television stations in Hong Kong and Taiwan first broke the story of Deng’s death, the official New China News Agency issued its own report through its international services. The announcement, in the form of a letter to “the whole Party, the whole army and the people of various ethnic groups throughout the country,” came at 2:51 a.m. Beijing time.
Meanwhile, the Chinese-language domestic news services and state-owned television made no announcement until hours later. As a result, when most Chinese woke and headed to work this morning, they had no clue that the man who had led them from the terrors of Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s Cultural Revolution and launched sweeping economic reforms had died.
In Tiananmen Square this morning, only a handful of people--under the scrutiny of plainclothes police and a flock of foreign television camera operators--were present to watch the raising of the flag in front of the gate leading into the Forbidden City, ancient home of China’s emperors. The banner was first raised to its full height, then lowered to half-staff as the strains of China’s national anthem, “The March of the Righteous and Courageous Army,” played over loudspeakers.
A young man in a black leather jacket smirked at the scene and said: “The old man’s gone.”
Anthony Kuhn, Wang Jilu and Li Ping of The Times’ Beijing Bureau and Bao Lei of The Times’ Shanghai Bureau contributed to this report.
* SUCCESSOR LIST: Six names have come up repeatedly as kingmakers or possible successors to China’s “paramount leader.” A17
* IMPACT ON WEST: California’s Chinese communities express concern about the future of China’s trade ties with the West. A18
* PERSPECTIVES: China specialists Michael D. Swaine and Liu Binyan offer outlooks on political and labor issues. B9
* OTHER GRAPHICS, PHOTOS: A14-18
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China’s Deng Xiaoping, 92, Dies
“Whether a cat is black or white makes no difference. As long as it catches mice, it is a good cat.”
--Deng Xiaoping, during argument with Mao over farming policies.
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China Fact Sheet
Size: slightly larger than the U.S.
Population: 1.2 billion
Life expectancy at birth: 68.08 years
Infant mortality rate: 52.1 deaths per 1,000 live births
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 78%
Labor force: 60% agriculture, 25% industry and commerce, 5% construction and mining, 5% social services, 5% other
Exports: textiles, garments, footwear, toys, machinery and equipment, weapon systems
Ancestry groups in the United States:
1. German: 57.9 million (23.3%)
2. Irish: 38.7 million (15.6%)
3. English: 32.6 million (13.1%)
4. African: 23.7 million (9.6%)
5. Italian: 14.6 million (5.9%)
6. American*: 12.3 million (5.0%)
7. Mexican: 11.5 million (4.7%)
8. French: 10.3 million (4.1%)
9. Polish: 9.3 million (3.8%)
10. American Indian: 8.7 million (3.5%)
25. Chinese: 1.5 million (0.6%)
* Answer given on census bureau form
Source: CIA World Factbook, Census Bureau