10th anniversary of Deng's death a low-key affair

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2007, 12:00am

The mainland marked the 10th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's death yesterday in a low-key fashion with minimum coverage by the official media.

There were no words of commemoration from state leaders and no reports about how the former patriarch was remembered in the prime-time news on CCTV, which was filled with rosy reports to depict how a 'harmonious society' celebrated Lunar New Year.

In an interview with a mainland internet portal last week, Deng's grandchildren said there would not be any special events.

There were few public activities to mark the occasion. Xinhua reported only that a seminar on Deng's theories was held recently in his hometown Guangan in Sichuan province .

In stark contrast, market-oriented newspapers and internet portals were enthusiastic, with leading newspapers such as Southern Weekend, China Business Post, and Economic Observer dedicating special sections to commemorate the former patriarch.

History has become a sensitive topic for the mainland media as authorities fear that digging too deep may upset stability before the 17th party congress - a period of power redistribution - later this year and the 2008 Olympics Games.

As a signal of the authorities' concern over discussion of contemporary history, mainland media has been ordered to stay away from sensitive topics such as the Cultural Revolution and the 50th anniversary of the anti-rightist campaign, sources in the media and academics said. The government is trying to strike a delicate balance by allowing the public to express remembrance of Deng while being careful not to stimulate new discussion about the contributions and mistakes of a founding figure of the Communist Party.

Despite the lukewarm attitude of the government, many Shenzhen citizens yesterday paid homage to Deng's statue on Lianhua Hill, which was dedicated to the leader for his role in developing the nation's first special economic zone.

'Without Deng's reform and opening-up policy, Shenzhen would not be like it is today. As an old Communist Party member, I come here each year with my family to pay our respects,' said Chen Hong , a retired teacher who, with his three children, placed a floral tribute at the statue.

Another Shenzhen resident, Cao Guangming , while praising Deng as a great man, complained about the situation now facing the mainland. 'The gap between rich and poor has widened while social security and welfare have worsened. Reform is a good thing. But it may be the time to think seriously about our future path,' he said.

Outspoken historian Yuan Weishi , from Sun Yat-sen University, would not speculate why the authorities wanted to keep the commemorations low key, but said the zeal to commemorate Deng shown by market-oriented media was obviously intended to encourage the government to accelerate reforms.

'It is very clear that they want to push for further reforms. China faces so many problems and we need to uphold the thoughts of Deng Xiaoping to reform and open up.'

Professor Yuan said the media still refrained from touching on two controversial issues in Deng's life: his role in the anti-rightist campaign 50 years ago and the June 4 crackdown in 1989.

But he said Deng's decision to implement market reforms in 1979 and his reversal of the conservatism of president Jiang Zemin during his southern tour in 1992 had made tremendous contributions to development.

'The biggest question left behind is perhaps political reform. But there are so many interpretations about his views on political reforms,' he said.

Reformists quoted what Deng said in 1986, that China's reform should include political reform; opposers of political reform quoted Deng's four cardinal principles in 1979, of upholding the dictatorship of the Communist Party, he said.

'So both sides are quoting different sayings to suit their needs.'