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
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
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
Some Chinese in Beijing reacted with grief, others with
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. …