TO no one's surprise, the watershed Communist Party Central Committee's third plenum topped a list of the 10 major news stories of 1993 selected last month by editors of 11 Chinese national newspapers. This is how they ranked last year's pivotal events: Publication of the Third Volume of the Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping; Jiang Zemin's Seattle summit with United States' President Bill Clinton; The anti-corruption campaign launched in August; National People's Congress plenum in March; The ''Wang-Koo'' summit between heads of unofficial bodies across the Taiwan Straits; Centenary of Mao Zedong's birth; Start of construction of the Beijing-Kowloon railway; National conference on rural work in November; World records broken by athletes. Wide-ranging as the list is, the top 10 news stories are but part of the waves and undercurrents of the political, economic and social changes in China in the past 12 months. If the past 15 years of economic reform have been marked by the ''stop-go'' cycle, 1993 was no less exciting and volatile than any year under the Deng Xiaoping-orchestrated reform. Signs of economic overheating at the beginning of last year culminated in a financial fiasco nationwide mid-year. The Zhongnanhai leadership soon awakened to the disastrous effects of soaring inflation, chaotic fiscal order and excessive money supply. The sacking of the former People's Bank of China governor, Li Guixian, and the naming of Zhu Rongji as the economic trouble-shooter set the stage for a short-lived 16-point austerity programme. The top post in charge of fiscal revamp and the overall economic surgery soon proved to be a hot seat, for what some in the West described as China's Gorbachev. While the booming southeastern region complained that the austerity measures had dampened their economic momentum, the poorer neighbours grumbled that their economies had not even heated up. Against the backdrop of fierce opposition from regions and calls for a revamp of the fiscal structure, the four-month-old austerity programme virtually came to an end with the opening of the third Central Committee Plenum in November. For the first time since Mr Deng opened the hermit kingdom in 1979, China endorsed a bold economic blueprint to bury the Stalinist-type planned economy and lead the country into a quasi-capitalist economy. If the four-day conclave is remembered in history as a watershed in the country's modern history, it is because the ruling communists have abandoned virtually all socialist dogmas and upheld but one principle - the Chinese Communist Party leadership. Few, however, have to be reminded of the influence of the 89-year-old patriarch in Chinese policy last year. Weeks before the November plenum, state-owned printing houses rolled out millions of words about the pre-1949 days of Mr Deng in a biography written by his daughter Deng Rong. As the celebrations for the centenary of the birth of Mao Zedong drew near, a national wave of Deng cult swept the nation. Unlike the Mao memorabilia dominated by commercialised activities, like the issuing of stamps or the selling of products carrying the image of Mao, the ''Learn from Deng Xiaoping Campaign'' has had wider bearing on China's modernisation. Mr Deng's book, which carried speeches since 1979, became the bible for the ruling party. Twenty million copies have been sold. Analysts saw the Deng cult as part of the strategy of the leadership to buttress their rule in preparation for the dawning of the so-called post-Deng era. Presiding over the Mao centenary celebrations, the party chief, Jiang Zemin, had his political status further cemented in the past year as the helmsman of the third-generation leadership. He also scored a diplomatic victory by stepping foot on US soil and shaking hands with leaders from the region at the Seattle summit. With Mr Jiang as party chief and Premier Li Peng as head of the executive branch, the Jiang-Li leadership remains clouded in uncertainty. Analysts and diplomats say the meteoric rise of Zhu Rongji, whose portfolio includes economy, has fuelled speculation Mr Li is now no more than a figurehead of the State Council. Put out of action by a heart attack in April, the hardline premier ''rested'' for a few months before returning to the political limelight, intent on trying to impress the world and the domestic populace that he was still in charge. The high profile of another Politburo Standing Committee member, Qiao Shi, in elevating the status of the National People's Congress that he chairs, is another sign that Mr Qiao was also jockeying for power in the post-Deng era. At the regional level, the undercurrents of political and social instability are also obvious. The violent confrontation between local cadres and peasants in a Sichuan county and ethnic unrest of Muslims in Qinghai province were believed to be the tip of an iceberg. A record number of 10 hijacking incidents last year across the Strait by mainlanders who were not happy with their life in one way or another, might also suggest the depth of unrest in Chinese society, which is in stark contrast to the ostensible economic success of the country in 1993.