YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Blowout Marks Chinese Anniversary : Asia: Jubilee commemorates 45 years of People's Republic. Rumors about Deng Xiaoping's health cast pall.


BEIJING — People agreed that it was the biggest party the Chinese Communists had thrown in years.

Brilliant fireworks lit the autumn sky, and 100,000 carefully screened party faithful assembled in Tian An Men Square and sang the "March of the Volunteers." The national anthem's inspiring strains echoed over the adjacent Forbidden City, ghostly palace of fallen emperors.

Cynics said the party Saturday night was an especially big one because it might be one of the last. Such was the edgy mood of China on the 45th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China.

The National Day party, the first full-scale jubilee held here since 1989, was said to have more dancers, more fireworks and more colorful floats than ever before. Even the famous painting of Mao Tse-tung in Tian An Men Square was retouched and enlarged for the occasion. The painting, its colors softened and now measuring 33 square feet, hangs under the rostrum where Mao declared on Oct. 1, 1949: "China has stood up."

Some people saw Saturday's celebration as a fitting send-off for 90-year-old paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, said to be hospitalized and widely rumored to be gravely ill. Few expect Deng to last until the People's Republic silver anniversary in 1999.

"He's alive, but his brain has stopped working. There is no way he can make it for five more years," said one foreign resident who has worked for 20 years in China.

Hoping to pave the way for a smooth transition, the official People's Daily newspaper in an editorial named Jiang Zemin, the nation's president and the Communist Party general secretary, as the natural successor to Mao and Deng.

But Deng's frailty lent an end-of-a-dynasty atmosphere to the nationally televised festivities. The question in many people's minds these days is: Will the death of Deng also herald the disintegration of a Communist Party that no longer seems in control of a country riding one of the world's hottest economies?

Some of the problems that have historically plagued China in times of dynastic change are now in evidence. Inflation, the bane of the fallen Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek, is running at an annual rate of 27% in China's major cities.

Freed to travel under Deng's economic policies, a huge "floating population" of between 80 million and 100 million peasants roams the country seeking work, mostly in the cities.

With the economic liberalization has come widespread corruption and crime. More than 80,000 police officers, out of sight of television cameras, were positioned on the periphery of Tian An Men Square to guard against trouble. But in the back of the minds of many Beijing residents was the bloody shooting incident that took place only the week before a mile west of the sprawling central square.

In that incident, an army lieutenant stationed in a suburb of the capital, reportedly angered after being disciplined for beating a soldier, killed his superior officer and four other soldiers. He then hijacked a jeep and drove to Beijing, where he killed eight more people, spraying bullets into rush-hour traffic on a major road.

The incident spooked at least part of the populace. A Beijing woman married to a party cadre, asked if she was planning to attend the celebration Saturday night, answered, "Do you think I want to get shot dead in Tian An Men Square?"

In contrast to previous National Day celebrations in the square, a touch of market economy rhetoric replaced political dogma.

Directly in front of the rostrum where the nation's senior leaders were assembled, one banner proclaimed, "Seize the Opportunity to Deepen Reform, Expand Opening Up, Promote Development and Maintain Stability."

Watching from the leadership rostrum was Jiang, the heir apparent. Directly opposite him in the sprawling square was Mao's tomb, and written above the entrance to the tomb was a giant dedication to Mao. The calligraphy of the dedication was that of Hua Guofeng. Hua, like Jiang today, was once the dauphin chosen to assume leadership. In a historical footnote that may be sobering to Jiang, he lasted in power only a year after Mao died before fading into obscurity.

Los Angeles Times Articles