Uncertainty gnaws China as Year of the Rat dawns
Saturday 17 February 1996
Will he, won't he? For the first time in recent years, no one in China expects to see Deng Xiaoping on the television news tomorrow, the eve of the Chinese New Year. Last year's guessing game, which ended in his first non-appearance, means the suspense has gone out of the New Year ritual of gauging the declining health of the paramount leader, now 91.
Other customs, however, are still going strong as China prepares to usher in the Year of the Rat. The railways are groaning as the world's biggest annual migration of people gets under way; officials expect at least 143 million passengers during the 50-day peak travelling period. The Civil Aviation Administration has added an extra 3,600 flights because so many more people can now afford to let the plane take the strain.
Families will reunite for the evening and make the indispensable festive dumplings. After that, it will be time for the nation's favourite leisure activity; China Central Television officials are confidently predicting that their New Year's Eve variety shows will attract an audience of 800 million.
In Hong Kong, the feng shui (soothsayers) are urging caution. The rat is crafty and in the fabled race of the animals, it hitched a lift on the ox, only to jump off at the last moment and dash first across the finishing line. The Credit Lyonnais Securities (Asia) annual feng shui outlook said: "The Year of the Rat will generally not be a good one. The theme that repeatedly comes up is a warning that things will be worse than they really look."
The Year of the Rat poses all sorts of questions for China. For RAT, one can in the first instance read "Rage Against Taiwan". In his address to the nation last New Year's eve, President Jiang Zemin unveiled his "eight-point plan" for peaceful reunification. This New Year is instead set to open with another round of provocative war-games by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in the Taiwan Strait, before the 23 March presidential elections in Taiwan.
At home, political uncertainties persist. Mr Deng has outlived myriad forecasts of his imminent death but the Year of the Rat is expected to be the first in which he is no longer a real factor in policy-making. Apart from being too ill to be shown on television, no one outside the inner circle can be sure just how frail he is. But few analysts believe he carries much direct influence. In a country which sets great store by symbols, Mr Deng's name was conspicuously missing from the list of senior leaders last week paying or sending respects to a murdered senior parliamentary official, Li Peiyao.
For Mr Jiang - the designated "core" of the new generation of leaders - it is now the timing of Mr Deng's departure which matters most. The longer he lives, the greater opportunity for the heir apparent to secure his position. The one reference last week in the official media to Mr Deng was a full-page spread in the Worker's Daily headlined "My greatest hope is to live until 1997", an old quote by Mr Deng referring to the return of Hong Kong to China next year. Mr Jiang must share the old man's wishes.
This weekend, the Xinhua news agency will no doubt report that the "collective leadership" has conveyed seasonal greetings to the patriarch.
But in everyday politics the post-Deng era has begun. Mr Jiang has again been putting his mark on the country's top line-up.
The governors of Guangdong and Sichuan provinces have been replaced by younger, pro-Jiang figures. Earlier this month, the President promoted four more newgenerals in the PLA, the latest move to boost his military support.
- 1 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 2 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 4 Chilling drone footage captures Auschwitz ahead of 70th anniversary of liberation
- 5 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Greece elections: Greek PM Alexis Tsipras takes aim at 'neo-liberal' Europe as country gears up for prolonged austerity battle
Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary: Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
Pornhub star Mia Khalifa receives death threats after being ranked the site's top adult actress
Prince Philip set to be knighted by Australia: Celebrate by reading his greatest gaffes
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Leaked documents show Ukip leaders approve NHS privatisation once it becomes more 'acceptable to the electorate'
£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Tradewind are working with this secondary s...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: We are working with a school that needs a t...
£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A long established media compan...