08/23/2004, 00.00
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Deng Xiaoping's legacy comes in for praise and criticism

The celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the birth of the "Great Architect" are a backdrop for judging the Communist Party's policies.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated the 100th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's birth yesterday. Known as the "Great Architect of China's economic reforms", Deng died in 1997 at the age of 93. Purged by Mao Zedong he came to power after the death of the Great Helmsman and set China on a pragmatic course towards a market economy.

Newspapers are full of photos, stories, and articles about him. Huge posters praising him overlook many a street. Exhibits and seminars about his life, accomplishments, and role in making China an economic giant are running in Beijing, Shenzhen, Quanzhou, and Guangan, his home town.

In the Great Hall of the People, in Tiananmen Square, China's President Hu Jintao said in live broadcast yesterday that "in his whole life comrade Deng Xiaoping kept his words: to spare no efforts to do things that are good to the people." Hu's speech was enthusiastically received by the many party leaders present.

Standing next to a larger than life portrait of Deng, President Hu praised the Great Architect's concept of "one country, two systems", which led to the peaceful reunification of Hong Kong and Macao with the motherland.

In his eulogy Hu lauded Deng's simple lifestyle, his decision to step aside and retire early setting in place a succession mechanism that prevents party leaders from staying in office till death.

Hu also defended Deng's decision to send in the army to kill protesters in Tiananmen Square. "Facing the political upheavals at home and abroad of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Deng [...] firmly supported the party and government," Hu said, "thus helping party and nation stand the severe tests and uphold the correct course of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

The accomplishments and problems China's economy is now facing have however led to different assessments of Deng's role.

"Without Deng, China would have taken much longer on the road to exploring ways for reforms and opening up policies," Li Hao, former Communist Party Secretary in Shenzhen, one of four special economic zones Deng created for market-oriented reform, told Xinhua news agency.

Others, especially among the intelligentsia, consider him a conservative who never questioned the Communist Party monopoly over power.

If Deng's economic reforms have turned China into an economic powerhouse, they have also worsened the situation for peasants and urban blue collar workers widening the gap between haves and have-nots.

"Deng's policies," said Liang Deming, a driver in Guangdong, "have furthered economic growth, but corruption, too. Allowing someone to get rich before the rest flies in the face of our dignity," he said. "Ordinary people did not get rich; party members did."

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