Deng launches a Western-style TV ad blitz for economic liberalization

April 01, 1992|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau

BEIJING -- Chinese television viewers were treated to an extraordinary show last night that virtually amounted to a Western-style political ad for senior leader Deng Xiaoping and his drive for greater economic reforms.

The 45-minute special, announced only a half-hour before it was aired, focused on Mr. Deng during his January trip to southern China's freewheeling Guangdong province, which claims the fastest growing economy in the world.

The 87-year-old leader publicly kicked off his drive for economic liberalization during that journey two months ago, but the first reports about it in China's national newspapers did not appear until this week.

Last night's television show and the newspaper reports underscore the considerable personal political stock that Mr. Deng still enjoys, power he is now publicly summoning in an effort to lead the nation toward bolder experiments with capitalist methods.

Resorting to such a media campaign is a highly unusual move here. Political matters of substance are seldom carried out in public, let alone in a polished television production.

The Politburo, the Chinese Communist Party's leading body, already has endorsed Mr. Deng's concepts. But his media blitz suggests he may be encountering enough conservative resistance at lower levels of the party that he has been forced to take his case directly to the people.

Mr. Deng, retired from his last official position in 1990, has been shown briefly on television only twice in the last two years, both times on the eve of the Chinese new year.

Though Mr. Deng is rumored to suffer from prostate cancer, last night's lengthy footage showed him as surprisingly vigorous -- save for slight hand tremors. At one point, he even was filmed lifting dirt with a shovel to plant a tree.

Mr. Deng's power has long rested with his close ties to the military, and the TV program noted his long concern for the offspring of old military "revolutionaries." It also focused on the presence with him of two other leaders with strong military credentials: China's president, Yang Shangkun, and Gen. Liu Huaqing, a vice chairman of the nation's top military body.

The show, titled "The East Wind Comes and Fills Our Eyes With Spring," included a variety of unusually personal moments, including scenes in which one of Mr. Yang's sons familiarly addressed Mr. Deng as "uncle" and in which Mr. Yang and Mr. Deng warmly reminisced over how they have worked together for 60 years.

Mr. Yang's younger brother, Gen. Yang Baibing, last week reportedly called for the Chinese military to serve as "an escort" for Mr. Deng's reforms.

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