Three issues are intertwined in the resignation of Chen Xitong, a Politburo member, as chief of the Communist Party of Beijing. All three will linger to bedevil China's transition to the post-Deng era, and its continuing attempt to reconcile economic capitalism with political communism.
The first is corruption. Mr. Chen was compelled to accept responsibility for scandal, and the arrest or dismissal of some 30 underlings. A vice mayor committed suicide after being implicated in bribes allegedly paid by a Hong Kong developer of a large Beijing building project. Another associate is held in a pyramid scheme. Mr. Chen's successor is Wei Jianxing, another Politburo member who headed the party commission charged with rooting out corruption.
That is straightforward stuff. The contradiction between market economics and a closed hierarchy awarding lucrative contracts invites corruption that corrodes communism and capitalism alike. The head of Beijing's biggest steel plant has stepped down in a corruption case. A power official in southeastern China was executed and four colleagues jailed for taking bribes from a construction contractor. China has a problem.
On the political level, the fall of Mr. Chen represents consolidation of power by Jiang Zemin, the president, party chief and designated heir of Deng Xiaoping. Mr. Deng is 90 and sick. Mr. Chen, a Deng protege, is a Jiang adversary. Curiously, Mr. Wei is not a Jiang man, but an ally of the parliament chief, Qiao Shi, a potential rival to Mr. Jiang.
On quite another level, this opens the door for reconciliation with supporters of the democracy movement whose leaders were gunned down in Tiananmen Square in 1989 or jailed. Mr. Chen was the mayor who declared martial law then. Mr. Wei was a protege of the late Hu Yaobang, a party reformer and accommodator of dissidents whose death prompted the demonstrations.
Mr. Deng has imposed China's contradictions. He believed that only market economics could lift China from poverty and weakness. But himself a victim of the Cultural Revolution, he feared and suppressed discontent and disorder. It would be natural for the first truly post-Deng regime to want to heal the wounds in the name of national unity.
Mr. Deng's final departure, when it is conceded, will reopen these issues. More is going to be heard about corruption, about political rivalry and about freer speech as China, still piloted by an elderly Communist elite, gropes for its future.