Deng's ultimate legacy: an ungovernable China?
Feb. 22, 1997
BEIJING (AP) _ In the perfect world portrayed in China's official media, people bow before black-bordered pictures of Deng Xiaoping atop homemade altars and bureaucrats offer teary tribute in small memorial meetings.
Yet life on the streets tells a different story. Families jam department stores and teens munch on McDonalds. For entrepreneurs selling dusty Deng memorabilia, the passing of the Communist revolutionary and economic reformer equals capitalist opportunity.
``There's been a lot of official mourning for Deng Xiaoping, but most people have no such misconceptions. People are staying home if they want or going out if they have something to do,'' said a 40-year-old taxi driver who only gave his surname, Wang.
``What am I supposed to do? Sit at home and not drive for two days?''
Of all the powers Deng's free market revolution unleashed, none is as potent _ or as troubling for his successors _ as the freedom to ignore the government to pursue profit.
Deng has bequeathed a China brimming with as many expectations as its 1.2 billion people, a dynamic mass of aspirations that without his determined hand could spin beyond Beijing's control.
Since Deng's death Wednesday at 92, his anointed successors led by Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin have quickly pledged to follow Deng's policies. They have little choice.
``All the common folk have tasted the fruits of his policies,'' Zhang Baifa, the vice mayor of Beijing, told reporters in December. ``If you wanted to make changes, the common folk wouldn't go for it.
``It's like a fried egg. Once you've fried it, it tastes good, and if you wanted to make it raw again, you can't.''
Deng's reforms, begun in 1978, breathed life into an economy that for generations bred little more than poverty. By ending the totalitarian government's petty intrusions into private lives and rejecting Mao Tse-tung's creed of egalitarianism, family farms blossomed, markets filled, factories hummed.
At the same time, Deng placed firm limits on dissent. Evidence of his steely resolve came in 1989 when he ordered the military to open fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
Within this ferment of economic freedom and political constraint, some of China's oldest problems have revived and new ones sharpened: ethnic strife, defiant regional politicians, superstition, corruption, mounting layoffs and a widening gap between haves and have-nots.
``They've been fed a massive diet of economic reform and so little political reform,'' said Orville Schell, a Berkeley, Calif.-based China watcher and author. ``It's created a hidden instability.''
In the past two weeks, Beijing has hectored local governments for refusing to follow economic plans. Deadly riots between Muslim separatists and Chinese swept a city in far western China and the long persecuted dissident community has bestirred.
By official count, the riot Feb. 5 in Yining near China's border with Kazakstan left 10 people dead and 144 injured. Beijing has blamed rising violence between Chinese and members of the Turkic Uighur minority on local officials too busy making money or practicing Islam to crack down.
A few hours after Deng's death, a group calling itself the Chinese Independent Democratic Party released a statement calling on people ``to prepare for the collapse'' of the Communist dictatorship.
Although its authenticity could not be verified, the statement indicates that democracy campaigners remain eager for signs of greater tolerance after years of persecution that have jailed or exiled its most prominent members.
Much of the orchestrated mourning in the state-run media is intended to show that Jiang and other senior leaders are Deng's true successors, that they have inherited the ``mandate of heaven.''
But with broad economic goals fixed and appeals for changes falling on local government's deaf ears, Deng's heirs lack the authority and charisma their mentor often relied on.
Like emperors of old, Deng preferred to exercise power from behind the scenes. His public appearances were rare and thus exhilarating. His presence at a soccer match in 1977 _ his first appearance since being purged the year before _ brought the crowd to its feet, applauding.
Many Chinese credit Deng single-handedly for giving them a taste of affluence, even though he only set the reforms' direction and let others work out the details.
``Without Deng Xiaoping, we wouldn't have had the reforms,'' said Peng Ying, a 43-year-old former postal worker. ``Do you really think Jiang is up to it?''
Winston Lord, former U.S. assistant secretary of state, said: ``It's hard to imagine that they will have the authority Deng had. That's not all bad. There's a danger in one person trying to rule the lives of 1.2 billion people.''