Four still amid this mortal coil

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The Independent Online
Peking (AFP) - The death of Chen Yun leaves only four of China's "Immortals" still alive. These veterans of the Long March do not hold any official posts but are revered by many Communist Party cadres and, health permitting, continue to influence the country's political life.

In addition to Mr Deng, who will be 91 in August, the other immortals are:

Bo Yibo, 87 - A faithful ally of Mr Deng and supporter of economic reform. In fragile health, he appeared to have difficulty walking when he was last seen on Chinese television.

Peng Zhen, 93 - Eldest of the Immortals, Mr Peng is a former mayor of Peking, an ultra-orthodox ideologue, and the man behind the hardline Prime Minister, Li Peng. He has been confined to a wheelchair for several years but appears to be in good health.

Yang Shangkun, 88 - A former president and vice-chairman of the military commission, still has considerable influence in the armed forces and the Communist Party. He appears in excellent health and is regularly seen on Chinese television. He is the Immortal to watch after Mr Deng goes.

Originally there were eight Immortals. The others were Li Xiannian, a former head of state who died in 1992, Deng Yingchao, widow of the former premier Chou En-lai (1992), and Wang Zhen, a one-time vice-president (1993).