Deng Xiaoping Dead after 19-Year Rule Potent Leader Leaves China Richer, More Open

Article excerpt

Deng Xiaoping spent his final years out of China's limelight, an ordinary Communist Party member with no title higher than "comrade." Yet, in reality, he remained the most potent leader in the world's most populous nation.

He died Wednesday (Feb. 19, 1997) after ruling for almost two decades. As leader, he rescued China from poverty and anarchy and restored its prominence in the world.

He leaves behind a China more open and richer because of his economic reforms, but also a nation that many say remains repressive and resistant to social and political change. Xinhua, China's official news agency, said Deng was 93, although the birth date in most records would have made him 92 when he died. China adds a year to a person's age after the lunar new year, which fell earlier this month. Though he retired from his last official post in 1990 and had not been seen in public for three years, Deng spent much of the past decade heavily influencing Chinese politics as the country's "paramount leader." Deng believed China could modernize only by adopting Western technologies. To that end, he opened diplomatic relations with the United States, concluded a peace treaty with Japan and oversaw an agreement with Britain for Hong Kong's return to Chinese control this year. He also sent Chinese to study abroad, including tens of thousands to the United States. He ruled with an iron fist. The military suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests - believed to have taken place on his orders - killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, and, in the West, put a blot on Deng's record. He died at 9:08 p.m. (7:08 a.m. St. Louis time) of respiratory and circulatory failure brought on by lung infections and the Parkinson's disease that had stricken him long ago, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The first test of Deng's legacy will be whether his handpicked successor, Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, and the other younger technocrats he installed in the 1990s will weather events of the c oming months. These include a meeting of China's national legislature next month, the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule on July 1 and a party congress to reshuffle top posts in the fall. Deng's death was announced on state-run television and radio about 3 a.m., six hours after his death, when most of the nation was sleeping. China's Central Committee proclaimed "with profound grief to the whole party, the whole army and the people of all ethnic groups throughout the country that our beloved Comrade Deng . . . passed away," Xinhua said. No large numbers of troops or police were dispatched around the city. Some Chinese in Beijing reacted with grief, others with indifference. The funeral committee announced a six-day mourning period, to begin today and end after a memorial meeting, Xinhua said. Deng succeeded Mao Tse-tung in the nearly two-year power struggle that followed the revolutionary leader's death in 1976. China was riven by fear and poverty after the decade-long Cultural Revolution, an experiment in radical policies during which millions were persecuted or killed for political reasons. Deng immediately put China on the road to a market economy, seeking foreign investment and encouraging the world's most populated nation to se t about making money. …

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