Deng Xiaoping did not live to visit Hong Kong after its 1997 handover. But ahead of the 110th anniversary of his birth today, two of his daughters brought a fitting symbol to the city.
"My father … read reports on Hong Kong every day in his later years," Deng Lin , his eldest daughter, said yesterday. "Although he couldn't make the trip, his wheelchair representing him has come to Hong Kong."
The wheelchair takes its place at a three-day exhibition at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai, commemorating Deng's life, including his years as paramount leader from 1978 to 1992. Deng died in February 1997, just months before British rule in Hong Kong ended with the handover he worked to achieve.
Deng Lin and her sister Deng Rong were guests of honour at yesterday's opening ceremony. The event is open to the public until tomorrow.
It features more than 400 photographs, including a set of four taken on June 9, 1989, as Deng made a speech to People's Liberation Army officers five days after the crackdown on pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square.
The caption, however, sidesteps the crackdown. It states that Deng was delivering an important speech "to officers with the rank of general or above in command of the troops enforcing martial law in Beijing".
A guide simply told viewers in Putonghua that the pictures were taken when Deng "was facing very important political turmoil".
Deng Rong also attended a commemoration in Guangan, her father's hometown, on Monday - despite saying at the time of the 100th anniversary of his birth that he had not been keen on memorials.
"He said: 'Instead of building these things, I'd rather you planted several more trees'," Deng Rong told China Newsweek in 2004. "We knew he wanted to go back to nature."
Peng Jianxing, chairman of the labour union at Deng Xiaoping Former Residence Management Bureau, said organisers started preparing the Guangan commemoration two years ago. Another memorial hall has been built there - one Deng's family was happy with, Peng said.
Deng Rong was joined in Guangan by another sister, Deng Nan , and his only grandson Deng Zhuodi , now Communist Party chief of Pingguo county, Guangxi .
A party cadre at the Hong Kong exhibition viewed it as a sign the family wanted to continue Deng's legacy. "With this opportunity they could bring the latest generation onto the stage," the cadre said.
A commentary by Deng Nan about her father's legacy was published in yesterday's People's Daily. She said her father's famous southern tour in 1992 enhanced the country's belief in Marxism and saved the nation's market-oriented economic reform at a "crucial moment".
CCTV will broadcast a 20-part documentary on Deng in primetime after a drama about him proved popular, said Zhao Xiaobo, a researcher studying Deng at the Sichuan Academy of Social Sciences.
An official of the Sichuan propaganda department told the South China Morning Post that this year's celebration almost equalled the scale of the 100th anniversary.
"The persistence Deng showed in his reform and opening-up initiatives should help back up [President Xi Jinping's ] push for reform, which explains why the commemorations are getting so much attention," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"And the role of Deng as the chief designer of the reform and opening-up was set as the highlight of all the activities."
Additional reporting by Andrea Chen