State seals Deng mourning with karaoke curfew

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The Independent Online
Centrally planned mourning may have thwarted many of those looking for a rowdy eve-ning out last night, but on the streets of Peking it was business as usual throughout the sunny winter's day with little to suggest that the country had just passed a watershed in its modern history.

Deng Xiaoping, who died last Wednesday aged 92, would no doubt have taken it as a compliment that just 48 hours after his passing, the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges both rose sharply on confidence that China would weather this period of political uncertainty.

Yesterday, the central govern-ment's attempts to stage-manage a city's grief seemed prim- arily designed to curtail people's evening entertainment. Notices were sent to karaoke lounges, bars, dance halls, and cinemas telling them to stay closed for the six-day mourning period, and the annual "lantern festival" public celebrations due last night to mark the end of the Chinese New Year holiday were cancelled. The question is whether the ban is intended to create an atmosphere of respect- ful solemnity, or whether the government does not want large groups of people gathering.

The state media is still offering saturation coverage of Mr Deng. During the peak evening slot, the main television channels broadcast a special two-hour documentary, The Great and Glorious Life of Deng, followed by repeats of two epi-sodes of last month's 12-hour series on the life of Deng, rounded off by episodes from another historical drama about him. Deng, who in life shunned attempts to create a personality cult around him, is now at the mercy of China's official media and propaganda machines.

After instructions were sent out across the country, government and party offices yesterday afternoon held meetings for employees to discuss Deng's policies and ideology. Work units were decorated with the official slogan: "Comrade Deng will live in our hearts forever."

None of these party strictures, however, has altered the sense of normality which has persisted since news of Deng's death broke. In Peking, people are well aware of the uncertainties, but seem determined to get on with their lives as usual.

"I feel a little bit sad, especially when I hear the mourning music," said a 27-year-old woman working at a state tour-ism office. "I feel that the last great political figure whom we can look up to is gone. On the other hand, it is also a good thing. One feels more free, because in front of the present or future Chinese political leaders, I do not feel the necessity of standing up on ceremony."

When asked. most people expressed a feeling of loss and sorrow, but not the sort of un- critical adulation that the official media is throwing out. "I admit he was a great man," said a 58-year-old primary school teacher. "But I can never forgive him for allowing soldiers to shoot at students in 1989."

There will be no farewell ceremony, no mourning hall at home, and a private cremation. On Tuesday, at the end of the official six days of mourning, a memorial service for 10,000 people will be held in the Great Hall of the People and transmitted live on radio and television. The funeral committee has instructed party organisations to organise "officials and the masses" to listen or watch.

Afterwards, Mr Deng's ashes will be scattered at sea. Regardless of whether this is what the family really wants, it avoids the difficult questions of how to avoid a public ceremony getting out of hand and whether or not Mr Deng should have had a mausoleum on the same lines as Chairman Mao's eyesore in the middle of Tiananmen Square.