Painting in the shadow of a powerful father: Teresa Poole in Hong Kong reports on the art of Deng Xiaoping's daughter

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The Independent Online
LIVING in the shadow of a famous parent can be difficult for any artist striving for genuine international recognition. And never more so than when Dad happens to be a reclusive paramount leader.

Deng Lin, eldest daughter of China's elder statesman, Deng Xiaoping, was in Hong Kong yesterday to launch the first solo exhibition of her work in the colony. She had, she said, been working for a long time to create a 'personal idiom' in her art which would reflect her own personality and China's 6,000-year-old culture.

'To save time,' she added, smiling at her audience, she also wanted to say that her father was 'in very good health'. Father and daughter had dined on 28 April in Peking, and he was 'in very good shape'. Mr Deng, 88, has not been seen in public since the Chinese New Year in January, and stockmarkets and governments worldwide hanker after any updates on whether he is still swimming and playing bridge.

The jovial Ms Deng, 51, was less forthcoming about China's sickly Prime Minister, Li Peng, who has been in hospital with an official 'bad cold' for more than a week. Ms Deng said she was 'not very clear' about his health. Diplomats suggest he may have pneumonia, and one Hong Kong Chinese newspaper reported he was suffering from heart disease.

The ageing Mr Deng usually appears in public supported by one of his close family, and his children are increasingly providing a channel of communication with him. Asked about any relaxed family chats around the dinner-table concerning China's policy over Hong Kong, Ms Deng said: 'My father is not a man of many words and, as my father, he does not usually discuss affairs of state with the family.'

The paramount leader's opinion on the colony's future was, however, 'bright, definitely'. As for his view of Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong's democratic reforms, Ms Deng displayed a relaxed humour normally absent in meetings between senior Chinese officials and the press: 'You'll have to ask him]'

Ms Deng was classically trained in traditional Chinese ink painting, but later shifted to more abstract work. The bold black and white designs in the latest series are based on Neolithic Chinese pottery designs. The 11 works on show in the exhibition are all large silk tapestry-carpet reproductions of a series of smaller-scale ink paintings in her 'Distant Echoes' series. There are two sizes, priced at HKdollars 180,000 (pounds 15,000) and HKdollars 360,000.

Deng Lin was born in Hebei province in 1941, but was left by her parents when a week old to be cared for by a peasant family. At two she was sent to the Yanan revolutionary base, but not reunited with her parents until 1945. According to the exhibition catalogue: 'Deng Lin bears the benefits and burdens of her father's power. She wants her work to be judged without prejudice, without the 'shadow of glamour' that comes from her family background.'

Away from the art world, Hong Kong was yesterday digesting revelations in a pro-Peking magazine that China's leaders are planning to station 10,000 specially-trained People's Liberation Army troops in the colony after the 1997 transfer of sovereignty, rather more than had previously been indicated. One battalion is to make a symbolic march across the Lowu border checkpoint on 1 July 1997. The troops will have special preparation on such matters as the society and customs of Hong Kong since the mid 19th-century Opium Wars, said the report.

Yesterday also saw further signs that China could be reverting to 'business as usual' while the Sino-British talks proceed. The joint Land Commission will finally reconvene again tomorrow for much-delayed discussions of the 1993/4 land disposal programme.

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