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China airs documentary celebrating life of 92-year-old Deng

Deng January 10, 1997
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EST (2415 GMT)

From Beijing Bureau Chief Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- Deng Xiaoping, China's ailing senior leader, has not been seen in public for nearly three years. But ever since New Year's Day, the 92-year-old Communist patriarch has been prominently displayed on prime time television, thanks to a state-run television documentary celebrating his life and accomplishments.

To many, it's a telling tribute to the man whose pragmatic, open-door economic policies improved their lifestyle.

"It's the kind of thing you can't just sum up in a sentence or two," one man told CNN.

film

The 12-hour documentary has been broadcast as a nightly prime-time special, and it includes rare film footage and extensive interviews with more than 100 senior officials who have nothing but glowing praise for Deng.

The irony of the series is that it's just the kind of fawning, flattering propaganda that Deng -- in his prime -- would have loathed and refused to allow on TV.

And critics of the documentary claim the film is proof that Deng -- and his clout -- are being used by President Jiang Zemin, the man who stands to gain the most from the series. Jiang was Deng's hand-picked successor and is the narrator of the documentary.

Deng in 1994

"(Jiang) thinks that if he is seen as the person who can carry forward Deng Xiaoping's reform into the new century, then his position within the party and the government will be more entrenched," analyst Willie Wo-lap Lam said.

He added that the documentary speaks as much for Jiang's ambition as it does for Deng's accomplishments.

Deng gave up his last top state and party posts in 1990, but has continued to wield considerable influence in China.

Meanwhile, speculation about the seriousness of the leader's health persists. The night before the documentary began airing, reports surfaced that he had been hospitalized for emergency treatment.

The government has refused to release information about his condition.

 
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