The new members of China's most powerful body paraded before the klieg lights of an unprecedented news conference Monday in a tribute to the political acumen of someone who wasn't there: Deng Xiaoping. The appointment of the largely reformist Politburo Standing Committee significantly advances Mr. Deng's efforts to engineer the first stable succession of power in China's modern history.
Deng will probably face further opposition from conservative party veterans as he shapes significant matters of state, like many former emperors in the Chinese imperial court, even after retirement.
But the opposition is likely to be insignificant because Deng's chief antagonists, while averse to some aspects of reform, have followed him into retirement and support efforts to strengthen China's economy and promote a collective leadership.
Consequently, the anointment of the five-member Standing Committee solidifies the successes of Deng's 34-year-old effort to mold post-revolution China.
Crafting the transition, Deng has prepared the party for the ultimate succession when he passes entirely from the scene.
The transition to leaders supporting reform further vindicates Deng's policies before the leftist extremists who twice purged him from the party.
His most significant political achievement has been to strengthen stable group leadership and prevent a recurrence of the one-man, fanatical rule of the Mao era, say Chinese scholars and foreign diplomats.
Deng first sought to uphold party consensus above the autocratic dictums of Mao Tse-tung at the 8th party congress in 1956. Appointed party general secretary, Deng emphasized the primacy of laws and constitutional government and joined party allies in an unsuccessful attempt to curb Mao's power.
The leadership changes on Monday demonstrate the comparative deference of Deng to group decision-making and stability. The roster of China's nominal leaders emerged from weeks of horse-trading among top leaders before the party congress and reflects the range of their views, from outspoken reformers to a cautious central planner.
This mix within the top party bodies will help ensure that when the 83-year-old Deng can no longer wield power, China will suffer less political turmoil than after Mao demise in 1976, according to Western and Asian diplomats.
``While Mao did very little to prepare for a succession, Deng has certainly done as much as he could to make the succession as smooth as possible,'' a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Moreover, Deng has advanced a consensus leadership based on rational planning by proposing administrative reforms aimed at curtailing party power over day-to-day state management.
After his first political comeback in 1975, Deng called on the party to stop interfering in the work of scientists and other civil servants, a meddling that peaked in the Cultural Revolution. The next year, Maoist zealots purged him a second time.
At the congress that ended Sunday, party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang said the party would distinguish between ``political'' and ``professional'' members of the civil service.
Promoting consensus and stability further, Deng has justified his reforms and upstaged the strict-Marxist argument of conservatives by upholding the notion that China is in the first stage of socialism. The theory, based on the view that China must bolster its economy before advancing further toward communism, reconciles Deng's market reforms with Marxist-Leninism and subordinates ideology to pragmatic state policy.
Moreover, Deng has undermined the primary symbol of the ideologues by demoting Mao from status as a demigod to that of a mortal. Trumpeting his economic reforms, Deng has repeatedly called on Chinese to ``seek truth from facts,'' a phrase coined by Mao. By highlighting how Mao contradicted many of his own early slogans, Deng has popularized the view that in the second half of his career Mao failed to judge policies on the basis of concrete results and betrayed his early support of collective leadership.
Also, Deng has successfully contained the power of the Chinese military. In 1975, he noted that the armed forces had grown unjustifiably powerful during the Cultural Revolution. He characterized the military as ``thick-skinned, disunited, arrogant, soft, and lazy.''
Today, Peking devotes 8.8 percent of the annual state budget to the military, compared to 17.5 percent in 1979, according to official figures. And it is in the midst of a program announced in 1985 to reduce the armed forces membership.
But the new leadership profile that Deng plotted at last week's 13th party congress shows he has also consolidated the gains from economic reform - his brightest and most controversial success.
Since he initiated the first economic changes in 1978, gross national product has doubled and, according to official statistics, per capita income of peasants and urban workers has risen 216 percent and 162 percent respectively. Inflation, however, has reached double-digit levels.
Deng's reforms unleashing market forces mirror those he proposed in 1953 despite Mao's insurmountable opposition.
The leader who has guided China away from the political and economic irrationality of the Maoist era, however, has frequently resorted to Draconian social control. As party general secretary in 1957, he oversaw the purge of 300,000 intellectuals in the ``anti-rightist campaign'' and more recently he has approved movements against ``spiritual pollution'' and ``bourgeois liberalization.''
And, as his opponents claimed his reforms had incited more crime, Deng launched a crackdown on criminals in 1983. He told the Standing Committee last year, ``... we are too soft on criminals. As a matter of fact, execution is one of the indispensable means of education.'