PATRIARCH Deng Xiaoping and several party elders discussed the national situation, particularly the need to maintain political stability, on the patriarch's 90th birthday on Monday. Chinese sources said yesterday the patriarch was spending most of his energy on ensuring the loyalty of the People's Liberation Army. They said Mr Deng, who was in ''generally good health'', had returned to the capital about 10 days ago after spending almost two months along the scenic coast of Shandong province. ''The patriarch's health is declining but he can still attend to basic matters of state for a short period each day,'' a source said. On his birthday, the patriarch spent some time with family members but there were no lavish banquets or celebrations. He met several party elders, including Long March veterans, who have continued to give him advice on economic and political policy. They included Bo Yibo and Wan Li, both former vice-premiers who are avid supporters of economic reform. It is not known whether former president Yang Shangkun, a one-time military strongman who fell out with Mr Deng in late 1992, showed up at the family residence. Sources close to the Deng household said because of his drastically reduced energy levels, Mr Deng had reserved his time to ''only the most essential subjects''. The sources said Mr Deng, a former chairman of the Central Military Commission, was most interested in the Army and its role in ensuring a peaceful transition. Partly under orders from Mr Deng and General Wang Ruilin, who is both Deputy Chief Political Commissar and head of the Deng Xiaoping Office, the army media has for the past few months dwelled on forging unity in line with Mr Deng's military teachings. One military analyst said the Deng personality cult being developed in the Army was almost on a par with that of Mao worship during the 1960s. On Monday the army mouthpiece, Liberation Army Daily, carried a commentary entitled ''Insist on using scientific theories to arm the brain and to guide our work''. Mr Deng's writings on the Army were touted as a scientific and comprehensive body of theories that would guide ''PLA construction'' through the next century. It is understood that the General Political Department is trying to standardise the study of Deng thought in all military academies. The army mouthpiece also ran a page-long commentary on the achievements of Mr Deng's theory of socialism with Chinese characteristics. One of the themes of the essay, penned by Major-General Kang Chengren, a political commissar, was how to use Mr Deng's ideas about military construction in the new era. ''We must implement systematic education in [military] academies so as to nurture qualified talents for running and building the Army in the next century,'' he wrote.