Patriarch winds up on medallions

John Kohut

THE Deng Xiaoping personality cult has taken another leap forward with the issue of special medallions honouring China's paramount leader.

The move brings back unsettling reminders of the Cultural Revolution when factories churned out hundreds of millions of Mao Zedong badges.

More than 70,000 Deng medallions, measuring five centimetres in diameter, have been produced by the Communist Party Central Committee School and the Electricity Supply Bureau of Beijing.

The medals bear an image of Mr Deng on the front with the words ''Our Chief Architect'', and on the back have a map of China with ''To build socialism with Chinese characteristics'' written in both Chinese and English.

When he emerged as political supremo in the late 1970s, Mr Deng pledged to end the cult of personality, expressed by Mao's Cultural Revolution, in a political struggle which plunged China into chaos.

But during the past two years, a personality cult has been building around Mr Deng himself with billboards and posters of his image, a new biography published by one of his daughters, another volume of his private speeches hitting the book stalls and think-tanks set up in his honour.

Although the new personality cult has come to be accepted as part of everyday life in China, the medals - apparently produced out of both political and commercial motives - are a jarring development because they are reminiscent of the excesses of the Maocult.

''I can't believe they would do this,'' said a young Chinese intellectual. ''It's just like Mao Zedong.'' A spokesman for the Electricity Supply Bureau said the idea of the medals was the bureau's own, and it was not following instructions.

''We have been pushed into the sea,'' said the spokesman, using the colloquial expression for going into business. ''Why should we listen to the higher-ups?'' Inspectors from the Central Committee went to the bureau for a look at the new business, leaving with only one piece of advice: ''Don't over-commercialise it.'' The party school's precise role in all this is unclear. Officials at the headquarters said they did not know anything about the medals.

The Deng medals, gilt with 18 carat gold, sell for 38 yuan (about HK$51) each.