Deng hangs on for `golden' Pig

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The Independent Online
FESTIVITIES to mark the Chinese Year of the Pig this Tues-day will give anxious investors pause for relief. The death watch over the bedside of China's 90-year-old leader, Deng Xiaoping, is being suspended in the belief that the government would never allow the beginning of the lunar new year to be marred by news of his death.

This is, in fact, no ordinary pig year but the year of the golden pig, which comes around only once in 60 years and is supposed to promise greater prosperity.

From Hong Kong to San Francisco, department stores and jewellers are tempting customers with statues of the golden pig, often surrounded by an auspicious litter of golden piglets, signifying fruitful abundance.

Were Mr Deng's death to be announced at the beginning of the year it would cast a shadow over the following 12 months and those delivering the message would be held responsible.

It is therefore a reasonable certainty that China's finest medical minds will ensure the paramount leader's demise could not coincide with the New Year - and that the media will withhold bad news until an appropriate time.

But the Deng cult is already growing - though it does not match the nostalgia threatening to envelop the memory of the late Chairman Mao, who has now passed from Great Helmsman to demigod status. Superstition and sheer irrationality have also g ripped the financial markets which tremble with every new rumour about the leader's health.

Stockbrokers in Hong Kong say that his demise has already been discounted in the markets. This view hardly accords with the share price plunge following the publication of a picture of a very weak-looking Mr Deng in a Shanghai newspaper recently. Nor were investors pleased to read of an interview with his daughter Deng Rong in which she confirmed that her father was confined to a wheelchair - though she has since denied this.

In a development that will further unsettle markets, talks between the US and China on the vital issue of intellectual property and copyright ended without agreement yesterday.

l China's leadership and Deng's family yesterday made a concerted attempt to defuse the speculation about his health, writes Teresa Poole from Peking.

The main evening television news led with the story that the entire top echelon of the politburo had called on Mr Deng to wish him a happy New Year. But there were no photographs or film footage of the leader Meanwhile, Deng Rong backtracked on earlier remarks about her father's deteriorating state. "I may not have expressed myself clearly," she told the Weekend Australian newspaper. "I was trying to say that he is having some problems with his legs. He does not walk as long as he did perhaps some time ago. However, when other people help him he continues to walk."