It is the first picture of Mr Deng since film of him was televised on China's new year's eve last February. The photo appeared the same week that a Japanese newspaper reported he was seriously ill - a story denied by the Foreign Ministry.
In a country where symbolism is all important, it is inconceivable that the photo was issued by chance. What is unclear is whether it will allay fears that Mr Deng is reaching the end of his life. Anticipation now focuses on this year's new year's eve, 30 January. Will he appear? Is China in for a year of turmoil?