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Chinese paramount leader turns 92


August 21, 1996
Web posted at: 8:40 p.m. EDT (0040 GMT)

From Correspondent Andrea Koppel

GUANGAN, China (CNN) -- Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, who celebrates his 92nd birthday Thursday, is the hottest thing since spicy peppers to grow up in Sichuan Province.

Deng hasn't been seen in public for two years, although his son, Deng Pufang, said Wednesday that his father is in good health.

Even though the elder Deng hasn't lived in the county of Guangan for decades, hundreds of tourists still visit his former home in the village of Piafang every day.

The curator of the Deng family ancestral home says tourists are motivated by respect and gratitude for his policies.


"Since openness and reform, people have prospered," curator Chen Xiansong said. "Our lifestyles and standard of living have improved, so we cannot forget Deng Xiaoping's policies."

But the much-acclaimed rapid economic growth that began with a bang in the late 1970s has barely improved the lives of Deng's former neighbors in Piafang. In the village, there's enough food, and farmers can sell their surplus crops for cash, but the residents are far from comfortable.

Until three years ago, Guangan, home of more than a million people, was off limits to non-Chinese visitors because authorities felt it was too poor and underdeveloped for outsiders to see.

That ban has since been lifted, and local officials are trying to attract overseas investment to their landlocked county. But the sight of a Westerner is still rare enough to draw a crowd.

"Of course, we hope for even more preferential policies, but Deng Xiaoping is the leader of the whole country," said Liu Fengcheng, a Guangan County official.


"He must consider the whole country's needs. He can't only consider those of us here in Guangan County."

Not showing favoritism, even to a county considered to be below China's stated poverty level, is but one of Deng's many legacies.

Another is his strong distaste for a cult of personality. The only place in his hometown to find his picture or souvenirs for sale is at the ancestral home, fixed up just 12 years ago by the Chinese government.

Not that Deng has seen the renovation. In keeping with another of his famous character traits, Deng, who lives in Beijing, never looks back. In the 76 years since he left his hometown, he has never returned.


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