IT takes guts of an other-worldly dimension for a mortal to aspire to the ranks of the gods. Deng Xiaoping, perhaps the last of the Eight Immortals who still calls the shots, has made a bold bid for the pantheon. The publication of the Third Volume of his Selected Works last week, as well as the personality cult that is being built around the New Helmsman, represents a feverish, though very un-Marxist, attempt at deification. Aside from the Kim regime in North Korea, whose ''lips-and-teeth'' relationship with Beijing was severed last year on personal orders of Mr Deng, such canonisation of the leadership has gone out of fashion. That the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) should invest so much resources on the apotheosis of Mr Deng reflects of the desperation with which the party needs a ''new'' creed to hold together the nation. Deng Thought has, on a de facto basis, displaced Mao Zedong Thought as a key component of the Four Cardinal Principles. The Deng cult also adds to the legitimacy of such of his anointed successors as President Jiang Zemin. Above all, however, the Selected Works, which Mr Deng reportedly touched up throughout the summer, is an attempt by the patriarch to ensure his place in history. The senior leader, who has studied Marxism for at least 70 years, seems oblivious to the fact that it does not exactly square with dialectical materialism for any one, let alone a Communist cadre, to lay down rules by which posterity should judge him. While much of the 418-page tome, including the now-famous talks given during his nanxun, or ''imperial tour of the south'' in early 1992, has already been leaked to the Hong Kong press, it provides a fascinating glimpse of Mr Deng's statecraft, and in particular, his psychology. The Selected Works is a grand way of saying ''I told you so''. As befits the holder of the heavenly mandate, the New Helmsman wants to dispel all doubts that he has always steered the ship of state in the right direction. On the suppression of the June 41989 ''turmoil'', Mr Deng told a Chinese-American scientist five months later: ''It is lucky that I was still around. The matter was handled without difficulty.'' THE patriarch offered neither excuses nor apologies for his equally tough ''handling'' of thestudent movement of December 1986, including the expulsion from the party of dissidents whom he called ''mad and reckless in the extreme''. Mr Deng also defended his very harsh treatment of his two earlier heirs apparent, former party chiefs Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, who were accused of ''succumbing to the tide of bourgeois liberalisation''. On the late Mr Hu, Mr Deng said in 1987: ''Our treatment of the question of comrade Hu Yaobang was reasonable.'' The patriarch can claim prescience on a number of issues, including Hong Kong and the Western world's ''neo-imperialist'' plot against China. In his talk with the then British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe in 1984, Mr Deng hinted at British-inspired plots to destabilise Hong Kong in the run-up to 1997. Selected Works also contains elaborate arguments of why the patriarch is convinced that Washington is spearheading a Western conspiracy to subvert China through ''peaceful evolution''. Albeit in a veiled manner, however, Selected Works provides ample evidence that Mr Deng has regretted a number of crucial decisions. More important, because of both character and circumstances, Mr Deng has failed to live up to promises he has made to theparty and the people. During his nanxun talks, the patriarch indirectly expressed regrets over dumping Mr Hu and Mr Zhao, saying both had made contributions to the economy. Chinese sources have revealed that while Mr Deng had lambasted Mr Zhao for ''standing on the side of turmoil'', the 89-year-old leader had since 1991 privately offered olive branches to his ex-protege. The vehement protestations of the ''absolute correctness'' in suppressing the Tiananmen Square democracy movement could not mask the fact that, in private, Mr Deng had agonised over that indelible blemish. And in spite of his reputation as the ''Chief Architect of Reform'', his shortcomings in both economic and political liberalisation are obvious. On the record, Mr Deng would only concede to one error in economic policy. He admitted in 1992 that ''my major mistake was not to have included Shanghai when I started the four Special Economic Zones [in the early 1980s]''. Yet in view of the dangerous overheating of the economy in both 1988 and this year, the un-Marxist nature of Mr Deng's Great Leap Forward approach to economic development is apparent to all. As Mr Deng said in 1991: ''Our economy should develop wave after wave. Have a leap forward and cross a new threshold after a few years . . . If we do not seize the opportunity, others will out-distance us''. The publication of the Selected Works has, of course, coincided with yet another attempt by Mr Deng to impose a highly inflationary annual growth rate of ''10 per cent or more'' on the economy. The patriarch's lapses on the front of political reform are glaring. In the letter to the politburo in September 1991, the then chairman of the Central Military Commission said he had retired from his last remaining post in order to ''abolish the system of life tenure for cadres''. Twelve days after the June 4 killings, Mr Deng vowed to ''severely deal with corruption and to at least crack 10 to 20 major cases''. In talks with foreign dignatories in 1986, the patriarch promised to make political change keep pace with economic liberalisation, citing specially the need to ''separate the party from the government''. A highlight of his nanxun edicts was his pledge to make it the party's priority to fight ''leftism'' or remnant Maoism. Mr Deng's failure to deliver on these goals could, of course, be due to circumstances, specially the need to preserve the CCP's monopoly on power. Yet it is also due to a flaw of character: a willingness to compromise on principles for political expediency. While commenting on his style of governance, historians have cited Mao's remarks about Deng being as steely as ''a needle buried in a ball of cotton''. What Mao actually told his one-time antagonist, however, was: ''You should be [as hard to break] as a needle buried in a ball of cotton''.