China has seized Friday’s 110th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s birth to highlight similarities between President Xi Jinping and the paramount leader who set the country on the road to economic prosperity while crushing dissent.
A heavyweight official biography of Deng was published this week, and Chinese television viewers were being regaled with a 48-episode dramatisation of his life, broadcast nationwide in prime time.
But the series only covers the eight years up to 1984, reported the AFP news agency, avoiding much of the
tumult of the Cultural Revolution and, crucially, stopping five years before Deng ordered the deadly crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
State and Communist Party media have carried lengthy articles on Deng, lauded as the “chief architect of China’s reform and opening-up”, and compared him to Xi.
“To reignite a nation, Xi carries Deng’s torch,” the official news agency Xinhua headlined one story.
‘A great figure’
On Wednesday Xi and other top leaders attended a symposium on Deng at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, which fronts Tiananmen Square.
Xi told the audience that because of his predecessor’s “outstanding leadership” and actions China was now able to “stand like a giant”.
“The contribution by Comrade Deng Xiaoping not only changed the historic destiny of the Chinese people but also changed the course of the world’s history,” he said, describing him as a “great creator of an era, a great figure”.
Deng, known for his diminutive height and ferocious political survival skills, rose to power following the death of Mao Zedong and the fall of the Gang of Four, heralding the end of the Cultural Revolution.
He went on to loosen the bonds of stultifying state control on China’s economy and open it up nternationally, heralding a decades-long boom that transformed it into the world’s second-largest.
But while what Deng would have made of the commemorations cannot be known, when alive he was adamantly opposed to the deification of leaders.
He eschewed titles, never formally led the Communist Party, and was not head of state.
After resigning as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 1989, he continued to lead the country even though his only official position was as honorary chairman of the Chinese Bridge Association.