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China Mourns Deng's Death With State-Run Ceremonies

By Steven Mufson
The Washington Post

China began six days of mourning for Deng Xiaoping Thursday as officials announced plans for a grand but tightly controlled farewell to the man who reshaped China's economy. Deng will be cremated, and 10,000 invited guests will honor his memory Tuesday at a "memorial meeting" to be held in Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People.

Unlike Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, whose death in 1976 caused a vast national outpouring of grief and whose embalmed body rests on display in a mausoleum in Tiananmen Square, Deng requested that his corneas be donated to an eye bank, his body dissected for medical research and his ashes cast into the sea, his family said in a letter released Thursday by the official New China News Agency.

"Comrade Xiaoping always believed in simple and frugal funerals," Deng's family said in the Feb. 15 letter sent to President Jiang Zemin, head of the official funeral committee, and to the Communist Party's Central Committee. "We hope that the last thing we do for him will reflect the essence of his mental outlook, and express our grief in an utterly plain and solemn way."

They asked that the casket containing his ashes be covered with the flag of the Chinese Communist Party, with a color photo on top "that displays the superb mental outlook of Comrade Xiaoping and to express the solemn atmosphere."

No foreigners will be among those invited to the memorial service, apparently because of Deng's formal status as a private citizen since he gave up his last official post in 1990.

Thursday flags in China's capital flew at half-staff and the streets were calm. State television repeatedly replayed this morning's news broadcast announcing Deng's death Wednesday night of complications from Parkinson's disease and a lung infection, and other programs showed highlights of Deng's life followed by dirges and a smiling photo of Deng with the words "eternal glory." All newspapers carried the same 5,000-word eulogy prepared for the occasion.

The official news agency carried tributes from various dignitaries, ranging from school administrators to military leaders, from President Clinton to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Still many people, especially in rural areas, were slow to learn of the death of Deng, architect of a new economic order that transformed China without loosening his political grip.

The funeral will not only be the closing political act for Deng, who entered politics in his mid-teens, but it will also be the opening act in a highly political year that will climax in a major Communist Party congress in the fall that is expected to reshuffle several of the top government and party posts.

For President and party chief Jiang, Deng's funeral offers an opportunity to further cement his position as the country's top leader. Jiang will be seen on national television inheriting the mantle of leadership from the man who handpicked him in 1989, and leading the Communist Party's call to rally around flag, party and leadership.

"Party organizations at all levels should organize officials and the masses to listen to or watch the live transmission of the memorial meeting," the funeral committee said in a statement.

Although funeral committees for top Communist leaders frequently have one or more deputy chairmen, Deng's has none, which some analysts saw as an attempt by Jiang, as chairman, to set himself apart from potential rivals.

The committee is an unwieldy group with 459 members, twice the size of the Communist Party's Central Committee. That was seen as an effort to include a wide variety of national constituencies, including the Communist Party, nonparty members, military leaders and even newly appointed leaders and civil service figures from Hong Kong and Macao.

The funeral will showcase people believed to be busy jockeying for position at the party congress.

At that time, because of constitutional limit of two terms, Premier Li Peng will have to step down, setting off a chain reaction of new appointments. Some leading candidates for the position include deputy premiers Li Lanqing and Wu Bangguo as well as Li Ruihuan, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress.

In the past, funerals for Chinese leaders - Zhou Enlai in 1976 and Hu Yaobang in 1989 - helped launch protest movements that shook the hold of the party or government. This time, the government has asked Beijing students, who are just drifting back from Chinese new year's vacations, to limit their going out at night.

The funeral presents not only an opportunity for Jiang to alter his image, but also a chance for China to change the most memorable images of the past eight years. Those are still the images of 1989: student demonstrators for democracy, tanks firing on the protesters, and an individual standing alone to keep a tank column from advancing before he was dragged away by friends.