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Passing of Chinese Hero May Affect Who Leads

THE death of Chen Yun, China's most senior statesman after Deng Xiaoping and an outspoken critic of the leader's free-wheeling market reforms, could influence the power equation in the leadership tussle to succeed Mr. Deng.

Chinese officials confirmed on April 11 that Chen died the day before. The news of his death was expected to plunge China into official mourning for one of the last surviving Communist revolutionaries and the only party leader with as much stature as Deng.

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Although they were close colleagues during more than a half-century of political upheaval and Communist revolution, the two economic architects of modern China were at odds over Deng's enthusiastic embrace of capitalist-style reforms.

Chen, a committed Communist and Marxist central planner, urged adherence to state planning and warned that too-fast change would fuel inflation. His influence helped slow the pace of economic reform during the last year as the government grew alarmed over soaring prices and stalled key parts of Deng's program.

At one time, Western analysts say, the future of China's economic liberalization rode on which of the senior rivals, Deng or Chen, died first. Now that Chen and his technocrat disciples have nudged the economy back toward central control, that impact will be smaller, diplomats say.

Still, conservatives such as Prime Minister Li Peng have lost an influential backer and will miss that support in the succession scramble triggered by the failing health of Deng. Mr. Li is part of the transition team headed by President Jiang Zemin who is now believed to be running China.

A party leader who enjoyed stature almost equal to Deng's, Chen had a longer and almost as distinguished a career. Born in Jiangsu province in 1905, Chen moved to Shanghai at the age of 16 to become a typesetter and trade unionist and joined the infant Chinese Communist Party in 1925.

After the Communist victory over the Nationalists in 1949, Chen masterminded the aid and trade program with the Soviet Union in the 1950s, but encountered Chairman Mao Zedong's wrath when he opposed the disastrous Great Leap Forward (1958 to 1960).

After being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, he resurfaced in 1976 as Deng regained power and became a rallying point for the Marxist-Leninist line during the 17 years of market reforms. Although Deng eased him out of the party central committee in 1987, he backed the military crackdown on Tiananmen Square protests two years later.

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