Deng looks to 'paramount daughters' for support: As China's fast failing leader clings on to power, his two daughters take full advantage of their privileged positions, reports Teresa Poole in Peking

LIKE keepers of the Emperor, they shepherd his every movement. When China's ailing paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, appeared on state television earlier this month for the first time in more than a year, the two 'paramount daughters' were beside him every step.

At his left side, shouting into his good ear, Deng Rong was shown relaying comments for him at a suitable decibel level, and then interpreting her father's incomprehensible replies for wider consumption. On Deng's right-hand side, Deng Nan offered a steadying touch when he reached out to shake hands with senior officials. On the footage that was broadcast, the 89-year-old man never walked without a supporting arm from one or both women.

In China's opaque political system, Lunar New Year is when Deng offers the Chinese people annual proof that he is still functioning. This year, as Deng was shown staring vacantly into space, the lasting impression was of an alarmingly frail old man, whose powers of concentration have lapsed considerably over the past year, and whose daughters have become the paramount gatekeepers.

'They certainly restrict access,' said one Western diplomat in Peking. 'People are having to court the family to raise issues with him or seek his approval. It is quite possible they also put out things in his name.'

'The key question,' said another diplomat, 'is to what extent he is still lucid. Not even the full Politburo knows that.' The obvious parallel is with Mao Tse-tung's last months, when two female assistants translated his slurred words, with considerable leeway for manipulation by Madame Mao.

Deng Rong, born in 1950, is Deng's youngest daughter and has been his personal secretary since 1989. She is said to control all access to her father, as well as deciphering his heavy Sichuan accent. Writing under her nickname, Maomao, Deng Rong is also well on her way to becoming one of the world's best-selling authors; the first volume of her biography of Deng has sold more than 20 million copies. She is now at work on the second volume, which will also be required reading for the party faithful.

Deng Nan, a year older, is less high profile than her sister but these days is also in attendance when Deng ventures into public. Back in January 1992, the two women accompanied Deng on his pivotal visit to the South of China when he relaunched the reformers' push for faster economic reform. At the time, Deng Nan was thought to have helped write his key speeches, taken as the official go-ahead for speedier economic growth.

Two years on, it is harder to square the recent pictures of the tiny, ill old man with the view that he remains the most powerful person in China. But his influence exceeds his faculties, for instance as when a new collection of his speeches was published last Autumn. 'With Deng, as long as he exists, he is out there. He is still paramount leader in the sense that it is still his push that is guiding the system,' the diplomat said.

Analysts believe texts of important documents are still run by him. It is thought that he is much more alert some days than others.

Deng Rong's influence is said to be on the side of more liberal reformists. Hong Kong Chinese newspapers suggested she was instrumental in persuading Deng to agree the early release of the dissident, Wei Jingsheng, last September just before the Olympics 2000 decision, convincing him that it would be good public relations for China. She is also the only member of the family who might seek a political role after her father's death; she is a member of the National People's Congress.

But in the factional fighting within the Chinese Communist Party that is likely to follow Deng's death, his children are not expected to play a key part. 'I do not think they would have much of a role. I think they are under no illusions about what will happen after Deng dies. So they are furthering their interests now,' the Western diplomat said. 'I think they are using the fact that they are able to control access to their own advantage, knowing that those days are numbered.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas