"This is a very clear and important signal," a government official said. "The central government is clearly hoping to ease the Chinese public into the post-Deng period."
Reference News, sold at many news-stands despite being a secret "internal publication", is a daily compilation of foreign news reports, many about China, prepared by the official Xinhua news agency for government officials. By many accounts, including those of Deng's daughter, Deng Rong, and a doctor, Wu Jieping, the health of the "chief architect" of China's market reforms has declined, fanning speculation that he may be near death.
Many Chinese say they are fascinated and frightened by the approach of what is widely seen as the death of an emperor, which could trigger a power struggle in China's leadership.
Reference News appeared to be trying to calm fears of post-Deng instability. "This is highly unusual, but it is not the first time," said a Peking resident who, like thousands of Chinese intellectuals, pores over Reference News every day for shifts in China's political winds. "This shows that the preparations [for Mr Deng's death] are basically complete."