CONSERVATIVE patriarch Deng Liqun has assembled a high-powered team to run the Contemporary China Research Institute (CCRI), regarded as a base for leftists or remnant Maoists. The institute, which has taken under its wing a large number of leftist members of the now-disbanded Central Advisory Commission (CAC), has co-ordinated activities to celebrate the centenary of Mao Zedong's birthday. It has also sponsored articles in official journals which criticise various aspects of market reform. Chinese sources said yesterday Li Li'an, 73, formerly secretary-general of the CAC and party secretary of Heilongjiang province, had recently been made director of the institute. You Lin, editor of the leftist theoretical journal Seeking Truth, is the vice-director. Other big-name leftists also serve on CCRI's management committee. In an apparent attempt to play down his role in the unit, Mr Deng resigned from the committee recently. However, the veteran ideologue, sometimes known as the ''underground general secretary of the party'', retains his position as honorary president of the Research Society for Communist-Chinese Historical Figures, of which Mr Li is president. Beijing sources said Mr Deng, who is in robust health, had since 1991 been trying to propagate a ''Mao Zedong craze'' among the intelligentsia. The sources said in spite of the campaign to cut down on public expenditure, Mr Deng and his colleagues had had no problem securing funds for the CCRI, which has ministerial status. Mr Deng has also been successful in preventing his leftist colleagues from being expelled from key units, including the Propaganda Department, People's Daily and various universities. Meanwhile, sources in the dissident community said the administration of Beijing University had tried to persuade rebel lecturer Yuan Hongbing to call off his activism by offering him a professorship. Mr Yuan, a lecturer in the law faculty, tried to stage a sit-in in mid-November to protest against alleged ''political discrimination''. He said he had been denied opportunities for promotion and that he was denied permission to visit Hong Kong on an academic exchange programme. Campus security and police prevented him from staging the protest, but his protest letter subsequently appeared in Hong Kong and Taiwan newspapers. ''Late last month university authorities told Yuan he would be promoted to professor if he were to withdraw his protest letter and stop engaging in political activities,'' a source said. ''However, Yuan tore up the application form [for the professorship].'' Last year, Mr Yuan masterminded the anti-leftist anthology The Tides of History, some of whose authors and editors are reportedly under police surveillance.