Chinese official, Chen, is dead at age of 90

April 11, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

BEIJING -- Chen Yun, one of China's most powerful Communist Party leaders and a leading opponent of the scope and pace of economic reforms in recent years, died yesterday at the age of 90, government officials confirmed today.

A spokesman for the Chinese State Council said Mr. Chen, patron of China's hard-line Premier Li Peng, died in a Beijing hospital yesterday afternoon.

The tough, outspoken Mr. Chen, a former typesetter in Shanghai and leader of the 1927 Shanghai insurrection, was a longtime ally of Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Both men were purged from the Politburo by Chairman Mao Tse-tung during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

But at a Communist Party conference in 1985, Mr. Chen implicitly rebuked Mr. Deng for abandoning the central, planned economy and going too far with economic reforms.

"The planned economy's primacy and the subordinate role of market regulation are still necessary," declared Mr. Chen, who served as one of China's top economic managers between 1949 and 1958.

Since the 1985 speech, Mr. Chen was generally considered to be Mr. Deng's most powerful rival and patron of the conservative faction of the Communist Party that opposes rapid liberalization of the economy. Some analysts even argued that the direction of economic policy in China depended on which of the two men, Mr. Chen or Mr. Deng, died first. Mr. Deng, also 90, has been reported ailing in recent months.

Ironically, the last time the two men were both seen in public was in Shanghai during the Spring Festival in 1994, and Mr. Chen, interviewed on television, appeared healthier and more alert than Mr. Deng.

Despite differences over the pace of economic reform, Mr. Chen never completely broke with Mr. Deng and supported him on other key issues not related to the economy, including the 1989 order to send troops from the People's Liberation Army to break up pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.

Nevertheless, Mr. Chen's death will be viewed as a blow to supporters of a go-slow approach on economic reform.

"This will be good for Deng Xiaoping for sure and bad for the central planners like Li Peng," said one Chinese intellectual today when informed of Mr. Chen's death.

Mr. Chen was one of the first senior Chinese leaders to lash out at the widespread corruption that has accompanied the economic liberalization taking place in China.

"There are now some people, including some party members, who have forsaken the socialist and Communist ideal and turned their backs on serving the people," he said. "Some of them have become rich by unlawful means, such as speculation and swindling, graft and acceptance of bribes. In their dealings with foreigners, they have no consideration of personal or national dignity."

However, as is the case with many senior Chinese leaders, Mr. Chen's own family appeared to benefit from his high position and to profit from the reforms. His son Chen Yuan is deputy governor of the central bank and a daughter runs a venture capital company.

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