China's new-generation leaders have launched a high-profile propaganda campaign in memory of late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, in a move thought to be aimed at establishing their credentials independently of former president Jiang Zemin.
Speaking to a hand-picked audience of Communist Party members in Beijing recently, President Hu Jintao lauded Deng's contribution to the last two decades of economic reform, which he instigated in 1979.
”The glorious life of Comrade Deng Xiaoping, which struggled continuously for Chinese people, had made indelible contributions towards the leadership of the party," Hu told a keynote speech to a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing convened to mark the 100th anniversary of Deng's birth on Aug. 22.
Deng was the "chief architect" of China's economic reform and a statesman driven by the passion he had for his people, Hu said.
But he also applauded Deng's determination to maintain a tight grip on the country in the face of "political upheavals,” when China's supreme leader authorized the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square student protests, in which hundreds died.
State-run media have carried lengthy tributes to Deng in the run-up to the anniversary.
In Hong Kong, which Deng is credited with regaining for the motherland, business groups organized photo displays of Deng's life, while TV stations aired documentaries as Beijing stepped up a patriotism drive ahead of legislative elections in September.
Meanwhile, the former Portuguese enclave of Macau issued a set of postage stamps for the centenary, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Yang Liyu, East Asian studies professor at Seton Hall University in the United States, said the propaganda campaign aimed to establish a direct political lineage between Deng and the current leadership of Hu, and Premier Wen Jiabao, while minimizing the influence of the previous generation of leaders.
"I think that Hu and Wen are using the memory of Deng Xiaoping to oppose the power of [former president] Jiang Zemin," Yang told RFA's Mandarin service.
The editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's Kaifang , or Open magazine, Jin Zhong, agreed that the ceremony had real political meaning in the here and now. "One hundred years is a big milestone in Chinese culture. But the other reason is that Deng is the source of power for Hu and Wen," Jin told RFA.
Yang said he remembered meeting Deng during a visit to the United States in 1983 during which the Chinese patriarch first publicized the "one country, two systems" formula now used to govern the former British colony of Hong Kong.
"His mind was still extraordinarily clear even though he was over 80 years old, with fine-tuned reactions and a thorough knowledge of the outside world," said Yang, whose photo with Deng made headlines in 1983. "He had very clear views on the questions of Taiwan and Hong Kong, that they should exist under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle."
"But I realized that he was strongly opposed to political reforms. He said that what China needed was stability and development. The political reforms could wait, as far as he was concerned," Yang said. "Politically speaking, Deng was a conservative, and an authoritarian...even though he knew that there were many political problems in reality," added Jin.
Ordinary people in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen told RFA they were deeply grateful to their former leader, whose trip to the south of the country in 1992 launched a new era of economic openness.
"I think what people in Shenzhen remember best is his way of doing things, because that made an indelible contribution to Shenzhen—he made this town," a woman surnamed Zhang told RFA. "He had a bold vision. He really had no way of knowing it would develop as far as it did."
A woman identified by her surname, Chen, agreed: "For us in Shenzhen he brought everything we have," she said.
But others pointed to greater social injustice as a result of the reforms he ushered in.
"Since the reforms, the gap between rich and poor has got much wider," a woman surnamed Lu from Shanghai told RFA. "There is still a large proportion of people who are very poor, so Deng really allowed only a small number of people to get richer...so it wasn't really ideal."
The memorial event in Beijing was attended by the country's most senior figures, including the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and former premier Zhu Rongji.
Hu recounted how Deng was "wrongly criticized and was stripped of all his posts" during the Cultural Revolution and again when he ran into conflict with the powerful Gang of Four, of which Mao Zedong's wife Jiang Qing was a part.
Deng was rehabilitated in 1977 and set about shifting the party's focus to economic reforms and modernization. Known for his pragmatic, laissez-faire approach to prosperity, Deng, who died in February 1997 aged 92, launched capitalist-style market reforms in 1978.