Promotion of Deng's son seen as unity move

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2008, 12:00am

Anybody with an iconic state leader for a parent is bound to live in their shadow and carry some of their legacy, especially in an authoritarian country where the political mandate comes from the ruling party rather than the people.

The promotion of Deng Pufang, 63, to vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - an appointment that carries the rank of a state leader - is largely seen as a tactic by President Hu Jintao to bolster legitimacy by indirectly honouring a former leader.

Deng Pufang is the eldest son of the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who freed the mainland from the shackles of Maoism by introducing economic reforms 30 years ago.

Pundits said the president wanted to woo children of the party's elite to his side and, in this case, the candidate had contributed to society.

Nobody knows the blessing and the curse of being the son of a state leader better than the wheelchair-bound Deng Pufang.

His family ties earned him relentless persecution by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, so much so that in 1968 he was paralysed from the waist down after jumping from a window to escape the harassment.

But as his father's fortunes rose after the death of chairman Mao Zedong, so too did those of Deng Pufang.

He used his new influence to create a multimillion-dollar charity for the disabled, becoming an international icon. Since 1993 he has been chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation.

Nevertheless, his name was tainted in the 1980s over his involvement in Kanghua, a major investment company which was accused of corruption. There were reports that Deng Xiaoping gathered his family soon after ordering the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989 and, realising that popular anger against corruption was the main reason behind the unrest, he ordered Deng Pufang to shut down Kanghua.

Deng Pufang was never implicated in any wrongdoing and he took pains to distance himself from the company once allegations of profiteering and illegal trading began to surface.

But the dubious business venture made him unpopular within the party. He suffered a major setback in 1997 when he finished second-last on the list of alternate members in the party's Central Committee election.

The influence of the Deng family dwindled after former president Jiang Zemin took the helm.

'Although he suffered for Kanghua, politically his effort in promoting the welfare of the disabled helped him to regain respect,' veteran observer Johnny Lau Yiu-siu said.

But Mr Lau added that Deng's son was unsuited to politics.

'He is not a calculating person, not good at playing politics,' he said.

Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at the City University of Hong Kong, said the decision to make Deng Pufang a CPPCC vice-chairman was largely an effort to pay respect to party elders in the interests of solidarity.

'It is a traditional Chinese political manoeuvre for a new regime to enhance legitimacy and call for solidarity by elevating the sons of the regime's past leaders when there is no conflict between the past leaders and the present ones,' he said.