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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London