By Eva Cheng
Rumours are circulating in Beijing that Deng Xiaoping's second son, Deng Zhifang, has been questioned about alleged economic crimes. The reports follow the shock arrests recently of high officials and business associates close to the Deng family.
These moves by Communist Party secretary Jiang Zemin are daring by Chinese standards and have raised questions whether the sick and aged Deng is too near death to retain control.
The recent purges are shocking in the extent to which they have undermined Deng's "face", but they make perfect sense politically in preparation for the period after Deng.
The purge of Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong last month is particularly telling. As mayor in 1989, Chen played a direct role in the Tienanmen massacre. Removing him can help Jiang put some distance between himself and the bloody move, increasing his legitimacy.
It can also widen Jiang's differences with the Deng camp, which is also trying to downplay Deng's responsibility for the massacre. Deng's youngest daughter, Deng Rong, his hearing aid and semi-official spokesperson since 1992, told reporters in US a few months ago that her father based his decision to order the crackdown on reports prepared by Chen.
Any moves to weed out major sources of graft would win hearty applause in China. Beliefs that the Deng family had manipulated powerful connections for private gain were widely shared in Tienanmen Square in 1989.
Deng's five offspring have all done very well for themselves. However, they are only some of the most visible examples of the offspring of high party officials enriching themselves by means of state resources.
Oldest son Deng Pufang, crippled during the Cultural Revolution, was disgraced in the late 1980s when the Beijing-based Kang Hua Enterprise and a welfare fund for the disabled which he headed were repeatedly caught wasting state property and engaging in various corrupt practices. Official actions against them were first taken in September 1988, but the decisive move came two months after the Tienanmen massacre, when Kang Hua was dissolved.
In a statement on five top corrupt enterprises, the official Xinhua News Agency revealed that Kang Hua had evaded tax, squandered key production resources and engaged in illegal trading through its 171 branches.
Second son Deng Zhifang was rumoured last week to have had his passport confiscated. He was reportedly being held for interrogation related to "major economic crime" involving the Beijing-based state firm Shougang. This company, of which he is a director, was hailed as a model by his father in a highly publicised visit in 1992.
Shougang's chief, Zhou Guanwu, a close associate of Deng since the 1930s, announced his retirement hours after his son, Zhou Beifang, was arrested on February 13. Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong made a special visit to Shougang to announce the arrest, probably unaware that he himself would be fired two months later. Chen's son, Chen Xiaotong, is also believed to be under arrest.
Deng Zhifang also plays a key role in China International Trust and Investment Corporation, China's international fundraising arm, especially in dealings in the US, where he won a doctorate in physics in the mid-1980s.
Eldest daughter Deng Lin, a painter, fetched a price of HK$600,000 for one of her works in Hong Kong a few years ago. Husband Wu Jianchang heads China's key state monopoly in metals trading and is a director of listed companies in Hong Kong such as Silver Grant.
Second daughter Deng Nan, also a graduate in physics, became a vice-minister of the State Commission for Science and Technology in September 1989. The pro-Beijing Hong Kong China News Agency reported speculation last year of her possible appointment as deputy chief of the General Political Department (GPD) of the People's Liberation Army.
Deng Rong, the youngest of Deng's daughters and the author of My Father Deng Xiaoping, the English translation of which is published by Rupert Murdoch, worked in the Chinese embassy in Washington in the early 1980s after holding a senior post in the GPD. As chairperson of the Shenzhen Surpass Industry Corporation — a State Council unit — she was active last year in Hong Kong in marketing the company's property in China.
Her husband He Ping, the son of top PLA commander He Biao, has long held key posts in the army. He also heads the army's listed unit in Hong Kong, Poly Investment Holdings.